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Webb (ByKolles): “There Are Possibilities For Overall Podiums In 2017”

ByKolles' Oli Webb reflects on the CLM's developments during 2016 and its future in the WEC

In conversation with DSC, ByKolles full-season WEC driver Oliver Webb was keen to express positivity about the team’s LMP1 programme during the 2016 season, stressing that going forward, the team has high hopes for the LMP1 L class as well as its own performances in the coming years.

This year, ByKolles took just one win in the two-team and eventually two-car LMP1 L category over the nine World Endurance Championship races, but the development curve of the CLM P1/01 has been noticeable.

Once a car that rarely completed races without significant issues, and with pace to outmatch the best of the LMP2 field, the CLM was able to take the fight to Rebellion Racing’s sole-remaining R-One towards the end of the year.

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“I love the team, I love what they’re all about,” he said to DSC when asked to give his overall thoughts of the 2016 season. “I Love Colin’s (Kolles) determination to stay in the category, it’s very hard. Yes we’ve had our issues, and I’m the first person to voice them, but what I will say is that what the team has done to work through it, especially at Le Mans where we suffered two fires, has been incredible.

“They can’t just call up Oreca for new parts, they have to go away, manufacture them and fly them across the world sometimes during race meetings to keep the car on track and progressing.

“The ByKolles team is Colin’s ex-F1 outfit from back in the day, they’re so professional, extremely hard working and they’ve created a car which is very demanding, but quick to drive. I’ve enjoyed it.

“Of course I wanted better results, and that’s been tough for us, but I’m open to staying with them next year. It’s like a mini private project, we’re determined and in three years that car has gone from something that couldn’t out-qualify LMP2s to being four or five seconds a lap quicker in qualifying. In the race we may be just one or two seconds quicker, but we’ve turned it around.

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“In the second half of the year, and especially in the final three races, we’ve had only a few small issues and we have been quicker than Rebellion on occasion.”

According to Webb, the team feels that in 2017 it has potential to get on the overall podium against the smaller field of LMP1 H runners and that by 2018 the LMP1 L class will have more entries for the Austrian-flagged team to compete against.

With BR Engineering stating its intentions back at the WEC season finale to run a Dallara-based privateer LMP1 chassis, there looks to be signs of life for the depleted class.

I believe from what I’ve seen of next year’s car that with DRS and the larger rear wings next year, there are possibilities for overall podiums

“I believe from what I’ve seen of next year’s car that with DRS and the larger rear wings next year, there are possibilities for overall podiums,” he said. “If there’s only four hybrids next year, what Colin’s (Kolles) vision is, is that we don’t care if we’re the only one in the class, we just want to keep finishing in the top four, or even top three. And to do that at Le Mans would be his dream.

“If one Hybrid has a DNF and we are where we should be, it’s not a daft dream either.”

As well as driving an LMP1 car for the first time this season as a full-time programme, Webb also had the chance to driver coach someone out of the ordinary. Ex-F1 star Robert Kubica tested with the ByKolles team at the post-season Bahrain Rookie Test, an experience which Webb described as a “surreal” experience.

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“It was so strange, I was sitting there in front of a laptop on the Sunday after Bahrain looking through data with Robert (Kubica) and teaching him how to drive it. He hadn’t been to the circuit since he was in F1, and the cars are obviously so different, so he did incredibly well to adapt so quickly in his runs.

“Him expressing just how physical it was to drive was really interesting to hear, as he’s used to driving the circuit in high-downforce F1 cars. Fair play to him, he’s an incredible man, and so humble too.”

Next season Webb is motivated to stay with the team and continue to work on its LMP1 project, though he admits that the allure of racing in LMP2, with its new generation of cars and a likely bumper entry list could sway him.

The 25-year-old has previous experience in the class driving for Team SARD Morand in 2015, and winning the ELMS LMP2 title with Signatech Alpine the year before let’s not forget.

“There is that temptation to stay with ByKolles and see through next year, because the year after is looking like it’s going to be a good class to be in. There’s a good chance that in 2018 there will be more LMP1 Ls than Hybrids,” he said when asked about his options for 2017.

“I also feel valued in the ByKolles team, we go out and we put in so much effort every weekend. A lot of my strengths from my F3 days are being put into use from an engineering perspective.

There is that temptation to stay with ByKolles and see through next year, because the year after is looking like it’s going to be a good class to be in.

“But there’s a whole range of things to consider. I love the LMP2 category, I’d love to be in a top team there,” he continued. “It’s a big choice. I do love developing the Kolles car and there’s a lot of doors opening in that category.

“You have mini wins within the team at each practice session when you drive in a class like LMP1 car where the car development is such a big part of it. So either way I’d be happy with my choice.”

A big draw of the 2017 LMP2 cars is their pace, as with the new aero and Gibson engine they are being touted as significantly faster than the current crop. At Le Mans, LMP2 cars in a straight line could be some of if not the fastest cars out on track if current speculation turns into reality, which leads Webb and the ByKolles team to believe that the ACO and FIA will reign them in.

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“If you put them both on track today,” he said. “I would put my career on the fact that an LMP2 would be quicker than the CLM. But what’s not been taken into consideration is how much work is going on with the CLM car. And also, what the WEC are going to chose to do with LMP2,” he pointed out.

“I’d be very surprised if you’ve got a manufacturer team paying 300 million to be in LMP1 and an LMP2 team paying four, that they would let LMP2s be quicker in a straight line, because at the moment they almost are. If that’s allowed to happen I’d be surprised.

What we might see is some form of BoP appearing in LMP2, in which case they’ll see a clear structure of LMP1 H, LMP1 L and LMP2

“I think what we might see is some form of BoP appearing in LMP2, in which case they’ll see a clear structure of LMP1 H, LMP1 L and LMP2. If the WEC lets everyone just go, then it’ll become silly. I’m hoping they’ll butt in and sort it out.

“I mean, you can’t put a Bronze in an LMP1, but there’s the potential for a Bronze driver to be going quicker in an LMP2? That doesn’t make sense.”

Featured image courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography