After a challenging start to its campaign with Ligier JS P2 Hondas, Tequila Patron ESM’s Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel feel they’ve turned a corner in adapting to the new LMP2 machinery in the second half of the FIA World Endurance Championship season.
The Florida-based team, embarking on its first full WEC season, is coming off a season-best fourth place class finish in last month’s Six Hours of Circuit of The Americas, following a shakeup in its engineering staff prior to the weekend.
“COTA gave everybody a boost,” team owner Sharp told Sportscar365. “The workload has been hard all year, especially for the entire team.
“It’s been a challenging year, going to all of these new tracks and competing against guys, for the most part, that isn’t new to them.
“I think to be competitive in almost every session [at COTA] and feeling like we had a good chance… We should have been on the podium.”
An unscheduled stop to clean the gearbox radiator of the No. 30 Ligier-Honda dashed hopes of a class podium finish for Sharp, Dalziel and David Heinemeier Hansson in Texas, after leading the race in the opening hour.
It came after a near-disastrous outing at the Nürburgring in August, where the team struggled all weekend on car setup, placing sixth and eighth in the class of eight.
“We were frustrated after Nürburgring and felt that we had gone somewhat a little backwards from Spa and Le Mans,” Dalziel told Sportscar365. “We struggled to get a handle on both cars for the weekend and had to hit the reset button.”
Significant changes were made in the pit box, with No. 30 engineer Steve Challis and longtime ESM strategist Leigh Pettipas being replaced by Onroak Automotive engineer Matthieu Leroy.
Leroy, who engineered OAK Racing to wins in the U.S. and abroad, entered the team with previous experience with the Ligier-Honda package, something that’s let the Frenchman hit the ground running with the American operation.
“We let Matthieu take the reigns and dictate the direction we go and also where we start,” Dalziel said. “It’s a fairly significant difference from what we were running. It was instantly a lot better.”
Sharp added: “[Matthieu] definitely has his own style of doing things. He’s very intense and very serious, which we love.
“I think we needed a little bit of that. He sets up the car a little differently. Immediately at COTA it was just more confidence-building for all of the drivers. It’s a welcome change.”
Heading into Sunday’s Six Hours of Fuji, a new circuit for four of six of ESM’s drivers, Dalziel is hoping the recent changes will help them get up to speed quicker.
“I feel like everybody’s putting everything into it right now,” Dalziel said. “We’re not doing anything crazy between COTA and now with the car setup.
“We’re going down a path that never got finished in COTA and we’re going to continue that direction. It seemed like whenever we made certain changes, the car was getting faster.
“Nürburgring was a low point for us. We went in with so much confidence and enthusiasm [after a positive test] and we got hit down pretty hard.
“I think everyone on the team left there looking to improve and we all stepped up in COTA.”
“We want to be podium every race we go to,” Sharp added. “I feel that’s where we should be and I think we’re all motivated to really finish the year strong.
“We just had so much to learn, you’d hate to ever say you take a season to prepare yourself for the next. But unfortunately that’s the way 2015 has transpired for us.”
With the team already committed to a return to the WEC, Sharp is hoping for further continuity within the crew for 2016.
“You try and keep changes to a minimum,” he said. “I look around here and there’s still a handful of guys that have been here since we started [the team] six years ago. I love that.
“You want to have long-term continuity. It’s not really the recipe in racing all that often but that’s what you strive for.
“I think most of the guys want to come back. Travel’s been tough on a few of them that either have brand-new newborn [babies] or what have you.
“We’re trying to keep changes to a minimum.”