Strakka Racing team principal Piers Phillips said he was proud of his team despite a mid-race retirement, which ended hopes of a repeat of its 2010 success in the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The British team headed to the Circuit de la Sarthe as defending LMP2 champions but was left on the back-foot when Nick Leventis crashed in the final stages of qualifying on Wednesday evening.
The team was forced to rebuild its damaged HPD overnight with the team then using the second day of qualifying on Thursday to effectively shakedown the car ahead of the race.
From second on the LMP2 grid, the HPD ran towards the head of the LMP2 field throughout before Danny Watts ran wide over a kerb at Tetre Rouge in the early hours of Sunday morning – launching the car into the air before it crashed back down with an impact measured at 15G.
That impact damaged something under the car and, having pitted to replace the front aero on the car, Watts suddenly found oil pouring onto the rear wheels of the car and coupled with a drop in oil pressure, he was forced to park on the Mulsanne and retire from the race at 02.30.
“I feel so sorry for everyone else in the team, because of the magnificent effort they've put in at Le Mans this year,” he said. “I'm annoyed at myself, because I don't often make mistakes, but I made two fundamental errors that cost us the race really. I locked up and flat spotted a tyre, so I had to come back into the pits and that cost us time, and then I went wide at Tertre Rouge and ran over the sleeping policemen on the exit of the corner. That launched the car into the air, landed very heavily and damaged the bottom of the engine.
“After the pit stop to replace the nose, I had a few moments in first few corners, which is very uncharacteristic for this car, so I knew there was something wrong. I thought it might be low tyre pressures, but it transpired that there was an oil leak and oil was pouring onto the rear tyres, so I didn't have any grip. Going down Mulsanne towards the first chicane, I felt the engine make a noise, it lost power and I could smell oil. I knew then we had a big problem and it would be terminal. We have a fantastic team and we'll bounce back stronger than ever after this, but at the moment I'm thoroughly disappointed and mentally drained.”
While disappointed, team principal Phillips said he was proud of the team and was keen to see it now bounce back for the next round of the Le Mans Series at Imola in just two weeks time.
“I'm extremely proud of every member of the Strakka Racing team, especially the guys on the shop floor who did such a fantastic job to rebuild the car overnight and put us back into a position where we were able to challenge for a good result,” he said. “We changed our strategy following the two big accidents involving the Audis – which we are all delighted to see the drivers emerge from. We made a very good driver call late in the night when the safety car was out, and this meant that Danny and Jonny were ready to push very hard during the five hours they were scheduled to be in the car and try to break the back of the opposition and get us back up to the front.
“Danny was on an incredible stint and ran wide at Tertre Rouge and launched the car into the air over a sleeping policeman, and soon after that the car stopped. We're disappointed that we didn't finish. We won't know until we get the car back exactly what caused us to stop, but clearly where has been a systems failure. We were once again down on performance against the Nissan engined cars, through no fault of our own. We were operating at one hundred and twenty per cent for the entire week, where possibly some of the other teams don't have to do that. You need some luck when you're working at that sort of level, and when you make a little mistake it costs.
“We'll take a lot of positives away from Le Mans, dust ourselves off, and get stuck into Imola in two weeks time.”