By Jack Phillips
KCMG’s Matt Howson believes the Hong Kong-backed squad will be able to challenge the dominant G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2 Nissans when the FIA World Endurance Championship arrives in Belgium for round two next month.
The Silverstone opener was the first competitive running for KCMG’s new Oreca 05 Nissan, which replaces the Oreca 03R that claimed three class wins in 2014. Howson admits the less-than-ideal testing mileage put them on the back foot.
“Usually a manufacturer will test the car and deliver it to you, [but] this has been a bit of a collaboration so we’d only done some testing at Paul Ricard but we hadn’t really done enough,” Howson told Sportscar365. “Silverstone was always going to be considered as a test.
“G-Drive has started with an advantage because they rolled the car out six months ago and have done a lot of testing. At the same time, full credit to them, they’re setting the benchmark and we have to work towards them.
“We’ll take it to them, but first we need to sit down and look at where we need to improve.”
Despite limited testing, the Brit thinks that but for a stone that punctured the car’s radiator and the one-minute pit stop penalty for rolling a wheel instead of carrying it in the pits, a podium was well within reach.
Porsche loanee Nick Tandy started the Oreca from third and even led the opening exchanges before succumbing to the Ligiers.
“Tandy made a really quick start and it seemed we were going to be in the mix with the G-Drives,” Howson said. “Being a high downforce circuit it really suits the wider P2, so we knew it was going to be our weak track. But, we looked like we would be in contention if they made any mistakes.
“Unfortunately we had a problem with the radiator – I don’t honestly know whether a stone has hit it – we had to bleed it and then ultimately replace it.
“Once that time has been lost, we just used the race as a test session really. The radiator was more than likely not reliability, just unfortunate, so other than that car had run flawlessly all weekend.”
As one LMP1 works driver steps out of the car, another steps in at Spa in Nico Lapierre. The Toyota reserve will join Howson and Richard Bradley and the 2014 Spa polesitters will be hoping to go one or two better than last year’s third place.
“We’re very lucky to have Nick, and Nico Lapierre for Spa and Le Mans, they bring a lot in terms of raw pace and everything else,” Howson said.
“You want to be measured against them and you never stop learning from people who have been around that environment. They’re very professional, they get in and go quick and have always got bits of feedback.
“It’s at tracks like Spa, Le Mans, Shanghai and Fuji where this car will come to the fore. Dunlop brought a new and slightly tweaked tire so we’re still getting our heads around those too.
“Last year, we didn’t finish at Le Mans or Shanghai so we need to ensure that if we don’t win, we pick up points. It’s there that championships are won.”