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Strakka Racing’s 2016 Column: Mexico City Technical Debrief

Jay Davenport looks back at the trip to Mexico

Throughout the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season, British LMP2 team Strakka Racing has been filing columns to DSC from a range of its team members, documenting its performances as well as commenting on the burning topics.

This is Strakka Racing’s sixth column of the year, with the team’s technical director Jay Davenport looking back on the challenges of the first flyaway round of the year at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez before the trip to Austin Texas for the Lone Star Le Mans meeting this weekend:

It wasn’t an easy ride, but we managed to come back from Mexico City with another strong points finish, one that we’re all proud of, racing at a new place and tackling the challenges that racing at altitude presents with relative ease.

From my perspective, there was a lot more to deal with than usual before and during the event, to ensure that the car was as prepared as it could have been.

Cool runnings

Before the event, we had to do a lot of prep work to ensure that the car would stay reliable and perform well with the levels of atmospheric pressure and altitude.

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The key was in our calculations and simulation work to ensure that the car’s cooling system would function, and that the Gibson wouldn’t be at too much of a disadvantage from being down on power.

Gibson worked with us and spoke to the radiator manufacturer to get advice on increased cooling efficiently. But also, it has an impact on the car’s drag, as the temperatures are higher.

When we arrived we didn’t need to change anything

Every car was given the chance to homologate a new cooling package before the race, and we went for the most efficient option that wouldn’t impact our straight-line speed. It meant that when we arrived we didn’t need to change anything, or modify the cooling system, or even the brake cooling system.

In terms of what sort of speed we could achieve, to find out the aero levels and the gear ratios we did a lot of lap time simulation and driver in the loop simulations. The DIL work also helped the with drivers familiarising themselves. We had to give them the right expectations of the circuit and car performance, because they would have been surprised by it, they would think that the engine was running flat because we were 25% down on power.

We got most of our sums right in the end, and therefore had no surprises.

Fresh start

As it was a new track for the series, the FIA WEC organised a Collective Test session prior to Free Practice 1, allowing everyone to get acclimatised to racing on the circuit before the real action started. It was a very useful session, giving all of us an indication of what to expect, as well as get ahead of the curve on car set up.

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A big part of it was choosing the tyre compound for the race. As we were 7000 feet above sea level, the air is so thin that it reduces grip levels. The track rarely gets used too, so it’s even more tricky, as it’s dirty and green. Prior to the event, Dunlop recommended that the LMP2 runners use the soft compounds to combat the lack of grip, but we found that the mediums were better, as they didn’t offset the car balance as much.

Dunlop recommended that the LMP2 runners use the soft compounds to combat the lack of grip, but we found that the mediums were better

The other key part of the Collective Test was getting the drivers used to the circuit, as Lewis Williamson is still learning the ropes, he did the majority of the early running, to get a feel for the circuit and give us feedback on any set up changes would need to make.

The ACO and FIA let us run varying configurations of the cooling system during that test, and then agree what we would run for the rest of the weekend.

Shy of the podium

We managed to finish fourth again in the race, which we are all pleased with, though we do feel that we deserve a podium. The Gibson 015S suited the circuit as a whole, as it had so many slow corners. We were the quickest in sector two, and that made up for our lack of straight line speed.

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The engine we used was down on power not just because of the circuit, but because it was due a rebuild. Because we blew an engine at Spa, we only have two left for the season, so it’s putting pressure on the remaining two which are getting more running as a result. The one we used in Mexico had done the entire Le Mans week. But it coped well.

All our drivers worked really hard to prepare for the conditions in Mexico. Lewis drove the car in the middle portion of the race and ran extremely well in the wet conditions on intermediate tyres, keeping us in the fight. That wasn’t easy at a circuit you don’t have much experience of. I think his experience racing in single seaters in Scotland really paid off, as it was his first time driving this car in the wet, yet he kept totally calm and committed. Jonny once again showed his class with pace throughout the whole weekend and together with Nick we’ve got three drivers that are so hungry for our first podium of the season. We’ve been so close in the past few races.

Finishing ahead of our closest championship rivals means we sit fifth in the team standings now too. Onwards and upwards.

Lasting impressions

The extra round this year obviously added to the cost of competing, but in the end, the 6 Hours of Mexico deserves its place on the calendar. The circuit is great, a real challenge – it’s always nice to visit somewhere new anyway – and the city is cool to visit too.

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Before heading out there, we heard a lot about Mexico City not being the best place to visit, but we all had a really good time out there and would be more than happy to return if we compete in the WEC next year.

We all had a really good time out there and would be more than happy to return

Next up is the trip to Austin this week, which is always a favourite for everyone in the paddock. Racing in the States is always special, and for me, the challenge of the circuit and the high temperatures only add to the enjoyment.

We can’t wait.