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DALZIEL: Silverstone Debrief

Ryan Dalziel files his Sportscar365 column following Silverstone…

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

To say it’s been a rough six months for the Tequila Patron ESM team would be an understatement.

As many of you know we switched back to our 2014 HPD ARX-03b cars two weeks prior to Sebring, and showed that the old girl still had some pace (I like to say she’s like a nicely aged Tequila). However her age was starting to show in reliability.

We knew that Sebring was going to be tough for us on a number of levels, but we wanted to have a good result, with no damage so we could get the cars packed up and shipped across the Atlantic in anticipation for our first FIA World Endurance Championship race at Silverstone.

Preparations leading up to Silverstone went pretty smooth especially when you consider the turnaround time we had as a team, from Sebring (March 21st), to Paul Ricard Prologue (March 27th), and on to Silverstone for load in on April 7th.

Myself, Scott Sharp and Ed Brown left for Silverstone on April 7th, but we made a stop in Spa-Francorchamps for Ed and Scott to get some laps in a Radical prior to our visit their in May for round two.

Seeing Ed and Scott’s eyes, wide as can be, accompanied with huge smiles after their first laps was really cool. We spent about half a day on track then headed to England that evening.

We spent Thursday morning modifying seats. I know your probably thinking why did we need new seats after driving this car at Sebring. So I’ll quickly explain. The HPD ARX-03b was actually not homologated for 2015 because we should have been in the new 04bs. However when we reverted we had to submit the cars for 2015 FIA homologation.

For this we had to have a number of safety updates, one of which was a quick removal carbon seat that would allow the driver to be extracted during an accident, strapped to the seat. Prior to this the 03b had a the seat molded directly into the chassis.

Additional updates included rear brake lights to be housed into the rear wing end fences, the rear diffuser to be strengthened so we don’t have bits flying off like an IndyCar at St Petersburg, an external clutch override function (for marshals to engage clutch), and finally the front floor/skid mounting had to be stiffened significantly to stop any flexing when car was bottoming out (we will come back to this one).

Thursday afternoon was the track walk with team, and I forgot just how fast Silverstone is, again let me explain… it’s bloody fast!

Practice and qualifying went pretty well. We knew we wouldn’t have the pace of the Ligier and Oreca coupes in qualifying trim but were hopeful to be better over a long run, like we saw at Sebring. We made a big setup change in qualifying and unfortunately we missed it so DHH and myself just hung on for a 5th place starting spot.

Race day was awesome. I had about 20 friends and family make the trip down from Scotland to watch along with bringing down a young karting kid from Scotland called Cameron Thomson.

Every year since 2013 I have brought a young karting star from the West of Scotland Kart Club to one of my races and this year Cameron was the winner so it was great to show him what life as a racing driver can be like.

Race strategy was for eight driver stints, and based on the physical nature of the track we opted for double stints only. The plan was myself x2, DHH x2, SS x2, and finish with another double stint from me.

The first stint was excellent. The car was really handling perfectly or #PatronWorthy as we like to say and I got the car up into the top-3 before handing over to DHH.

It was clear from the second hour that we didn’t have the race pace of the Ligier but with the Oreca having difficulties and us being faster than the rest we slowly opened up a comfortable 3rd place.

Both DHH and Scott had brilliant stints and with 90 minutes to go it was time to get back in and bring her home.

Third place to us was like a victory. Points make prizes and all we wanted to do was have a safe, reliable race and get to Spa where we will have our brand new Ligier-Honda to go for the win.

We brought her home in 3rd and let the celebrations begin, but only for a short time.

During my five-hour drive from Silverstone to Scotland Sunday evening I got a text from Susan Pollack (PR Rep for Patron ESM) around 10 p.m. that read, “Have you talked to SS??” My heart sank, as I knew that it had to be something regarding post race tech.

Within seconds I got a text from Scott saying “Sorry to tell u this dude – we got DQ’d.” I called Scott and got the full scoop.

As I said earlier one of the homologation requirements was to stiffen the front floor/skid/undertray of the 03b so it didn’t flex or bend as much as it did in previous years.

Per the rules we actually failed tech, not from being too low when stationary, but for wearing away the floor too much during the race.

We ran the same ride height as we did in COTA, China and Sebring but we did not have the experience with this floor to know what would happen during the race, and we certainly didn’t expect this outcome.

In summary, the car was bottoming out too much and instead of absorbing the track and flexing a little the car was rigid and beat up the floor too much.

It was a mistake on our part and we own that mistake. But as a team we are proud of our weekend and as a driver I’m really proud of our crew. Never have I heard a complaint from them during this very testing time since the end of 2014.

Post race, my wife (who came over to celebrate our anniversary, April 10) and I got to spend a couple of days in Scotland with my family and now I’m heading to the Long Beach Grand Prix with EFFORT Racing to compete in Round 5 of the Pirelli World Challenge.

I’ll be doing debriefs for Sportscar365 after each FIA WEC race so hope you enjoy taking this journey with me!

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