The FIA World Endurance Championship is one of the most competitive arenas in which to debut a new car but British team Strakka Racing, based close to the historic Silverstone circuit, decided to do just that by entering into a partnership with the renowned Japanese constructor DOME to run a new chassis, the S103b, in the 2014 WEC. Mark Atkins tells the story of that journey.
The entire project came about after an informal chat between Team Manager Karl Patman and DOME in the pit-lane at Le Mans in 2012, when DOME was running the Judd-engined S102.5 in LMP1. From this meeting the project was born and by Fuji 2013 the collaboration between DOME and Strakka in LMP2 was officially announced. However this was only the beginning of a long and sometimes fraught timeline.
With the chassis choice made, Strakka next needed to find a suitable engine. The team opted for the race proven NISMO engine which virtually all other P2 teams were using that season. Instead of the ORECA version which is fitted to the French constructor’s O3 chassis, Strakka chose the Zytek (now Gibson) engine which was due “simply to geographic location and Strakka’s existing good relationship with Zytek.”
In February 2014 the first tub arrived from DOME at Strakka’s Northamptonshire workshop and the team set about building up the first running chassis. The time zone and language difference between Japan and the UK lead some to expect problems in the co-operation between DOME and Strakka, however happily these projected issues did not materialise.
“The language difficulties have not been a problem and both sides worked hard to ensure communication wasn’t an issue,” said Patman. “DOME is a very experienced company (they built their first Le Mans car in the late 1970’s) and our staff crucially have experience of working with engineers in the Far East.”
The eight hour time difference to Japan could also have been an issue but to solve this both came up with some ideas to speed up development. “At some stages of the project we had to work simultaneously with DOME so we could communicate and co-operate directly. At other stages DOME could work normal times so while we were waking up, DOME was finishing their working day.”
The first deadline was to make the WEC’s prologue test weekend at Paul Ricard at the end of March. Sadly this was not to be, as Karl Patman explained: “A number of issues meant we couldn’t get the car to the official test so we opted for a Le Mans debut. Then, a pre-race crash in testing at Spa whilst preparing for Le Mans left DOME and Strakka with insufficient time to source replacement parts for the 24 Hour race so the entry was scratched. “We always said we would only debut the car when competitive and reliable and we took the tough decision to postpone the debut” continued Strakka’s Patman.
Strakka were not idle though, and they used the long break in order to resolve performance issues which entailed a complete redesign of the rear end. This meant first of all re-tooling among others the gearbox casing and bell housing, two of the components with the longest lead times, which pushed back the date for the debut to the final round in Brazil on 30th November.
The team used 3D printing to manufacture a number of components which had the advantage of being able to produce parts very quickly without the need for costly one-off tooling. This pioneering 3D printing process was jointly developed with Strakka by Stratsys, who won the Professional Motorsports World Innovation Award and was covered extensively in the media, not only by BBC and ITN but also in countries as far away as Iran and China.
With the Interlagos race date now the new deadline, Strakka took the by now redesigned car to The Hungaroring in October for a five-day test, covering over 3500 faultless kilometres, where all three nominated drivers (Nick Leventis, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane) took turns at the wheel. Then it was back to the UK for a pre-Brazil shakedown at Silverstone. This final outing confirmed the improvements the revised rear end had promised and proved to Strakka that the car was by now both competitive in lap times and crucially, also reliable.
Then fate once again intervened for one last time! Karl Patman: “unfortunately an issue with the headrest mounting meant that the car might not have received the FIA safety approval to race. Despite a huge effort from the entire Strakka team and its partners we had no choice but to withdraw and concentrate all our resources on 2015.”
This last turn of bad luck naturally came as an enormous blow to both Strakka and DOME, who had hoped to enter at least one race before the end of the 2014 WEC season. However the team is now engaging in an extensive winter testing programme which will achieve homologation in time for the S103b’s race debut at Silverstone on 12 April. Strakka’s main aim is now to demonstrate the competitiveness and reliability of the solo S103b on the racetracks of the 2015 FIA WEC before running a second car, announcements about which are expected in the next few months. We wish them the very best of luck!