So we entered Spa with our third chassis in four races of 2015. The team took delivery of the Ligier JS P2s on Sun. April 26th with the plan of a quick shakedown at Magny-Cours in France the next day.
However monsoon weather prevented us from accomplishing much more than a systems check. I was on route from the Barber World Challenge race, arriving into Paris at 7 a.m. Monday morning but we decided it wasn’t worth driving to Magny-Cours, so instead I went straight to Spa to meet the team Tuesday for seat fittings.
The shakedown went flawlessly as far as reliability and the quality/finish on the Ligier is very impressive.
Seat fittings were surprisingly tough since really none of the six Tequila Patron ESM drivers got any hard running and this car was new to us. It’s always tough to know exactly where you need to sit to be comfortable, safe, and functional. Getting it right the first time rarely happens, but we only had one shot.
The team took a huge step forward in organization since Silverstone and arriving at our Spa garage on Tuesday we very much looked like a veteran WEC team from the outside looking in. It was very impressive, and a testament to the continued hard work from our crew.
Thursday arrived quickly and it was time for Free Practice 1 and 2. Both sessions 90 minutes long. Unfortunately both sessions a complete wash out with rain. All six drivers managed to put some wet running in the books in FP1 but we opted to park the cars in FP2 and work on seat comforts and some additional car related work.
We knew Friday and Saturday were going to be dry so with very limited spares and crappy track conditions our time in the garage was more beneficial than on track.
I have driven so many different race cars over my 17 years as a professional but I can honestly say that turning laps in FP1, in a brand new car, with zero visibility, and zero knowledge of this car may easily have been the most intimidated I have ever been in a race car.
Friday morning the skies were clearing and I think the whole team breathed a sigh of relief and got a much needed boost of confidence to get our heads down and learn these new cars.
The Ligier/HPD package is relatively unknown in the WEC spec. Remember, other than MSR in the TUDOR Championship, we are the only other with this combo.
We run a different tire, different weight, different power and different ride heights to IMSA so we were going into practice a little conservative and cautious on set up.
With only 60 minutes of practice before qualifying we opted to split it evenly between myself, DHH and Scott. Twenty minutes around the lengthy Spa circuit was gone quickly, and just as I was trying to find a limit, it was time to hand over to DHH.
We were almost five seconds off in FP3 but we knew that wasn’t a true reflection of our speed. We knew we would make a big step for qualifying.
DHH and I were on qualifying duties and placed the car 6th in P2 about two seconds off pole. We were really happy with that.
As a team we were going into the race with the ‘lets use this as a test’ approach. With the big one at Le Mans up next, we wanted to leave Spa with a good understanding of this car and hoping to take another step in our lap times towards the front guys.
Sometimes a negative turns out to be a positive, and we had a small ACO-supplied sensor fail about 30 minutes into my first stint. We pitted and although only lost a couple of laps, we decided at that point to go into full testing mode.
We altered our driving rotation, (originally myself, DHH, SS, and myself to finish) and decided to keep me in the car longer than planned so we could start making changes.
I stayed in the car for the first three hours of the race and we made a bunch of set up changes, from ride heights, damper changes, aero changes etc. Some were great and some not so great but we made big gains on the car and around hour 2 we were within a second of leaders race pace.
We continued with our testing program, with DHH and SS sharing the final three hours of the race, and making more and more changes.
I really think what ended up happening with the sensor was a good thing for us. It forced our hand into making it not only a learning experience but allowed us to create some well needed notes on what this new car wants and needs, but more importantly the drivers got to experience these changes.
I think we are well prepared going into Le Mans and I cannot wait to get to France in June to see what this Patron ESM Ligier can really do.