Racing Team Nederland is facing a busy period balancing its 24 Hours of Le Mans program with its upcoming switch to Oreca machinery for next season, which starts just a few weeks after this weekend’s race.
Team manager Mark Koense told Sportscar365 that the team’s main focus remains on its transition from the Dallara to Oreca LMP2 chassis for the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship season, despite competing in its biggest race of the year this week.
Experienced French Oreca outfit TDS Racing will take over the running of the car next season from Davytec, while the current lineup of Nyck de Vries, Giedo van der Garde and Frits van Eerd will remain.
“We’ll try to just focus on [next season] really because in a few weeks’ time, we’re into the next chapter,” Koense explained.
“But it doesn’t work like that. Especially at Le Mans, you have to be completely focused. I think, mostly since Fuji, we’ve been making a lot of progress, funnily enough.”
Koense hopes the Oreca will be easier to run next season, and says that although the team has had some good pace with its current Dallara P217 Gibson, including at last month’s Six Hours of Spa, the operating window for the Italian car is very small.
“There’s no secret that the window of the [Dallara] is very small but if you get it in there, we’re pretty competitive,” he said.
“What we hear is that window is a little bigger, so it’s not as critical as we’ve had with the Dallara.
“If that’s the case, then I think we’ve got two drivers who can really be on it straight away and if it’s true, that it’s really a car that is a little bit more easy on the driver, then of course Frits will make steps as well.
“He’s made huge improvements but still we sometimes have the problem that the car is like this on Friday and all of a sudden on Saturday it’s like that.
“It’s not down to the team, it’s not down to the drivers, it’s just what it is. I think, as we’ve said with the Dallara, we should be aiming for top-three positions at any given time and this is the goal with the Oreca.”
Koense explained that the decision to partner with TDS over staying with Davytec is to minimize the difficulties of the short transition period, as TDS is already used to running Oreca 07 Gibsons.
With the Prologue taking place at the end of July and the opening round at Silverstone on Sept. 1, the off-season is considerably shorter than usual.
“Obviously, we’re very grateful for what Davytec achieved with the Dallara, which is really amazing,” he said. “A lot, if not everything, we’ve achieved with the Dallara is down to those guys.
“You can’t ask them to make up three years with another car in a few weeks’ time when you are still running in WEC.
“We have a lot of faith in TDS and obviously this project started already quite some time ago.
“We’re going to test the car first, which we’re going to do very shortly after Le Mans, so between Le Mans and the Prologue, there will still be some testing.
“Then, it’s still going to be pretty hectic because this is how the WEC works nowadays. You have no off-season. I spent most of the last month not only working at Le Mans but will also on the Monday after Le Mans.”
Top-Six Target for Le Mans
Koense’s expectations for his final race with the Dallara remain modest, hoping for a top-six result.
“Last year, we had a good race car and the car was very competitive, to say the least, in the race,” he said.
“I think from the test we have proved we have a pace that could see us somewhere in the top ten and then in the end, you have to see where you are on Sunday morning.
“If we’re there on Sunday morning, we could be top six because that’s where we could have been last year when we had the exhaust problem.
“We’re definitely not slower than last year. If we can have a relatively problem-free race, which is a lot to ask for at Le Mans, then we should be in the top six.
Former single-seater standout de Vries joined the team mid-season, and so the Le Mans debutant takes the place filled by Jan Lammers in last year’s race, which Koense hopes will improve the team’s chances.
“We’ve got Nyck now, he’s a great asset because he’s really on it, and you’ve seen what he does in Formula 2,” he said.
“He’s completely tuned in and learning a lot from Giedo, and Giedo’s learning a lot from him. Frits is learning from the both of them.
“He’s bringing a lot of speed every time he’s in the car and although he’s a Le Mans rookie he seems to love it, and he’s not a prima donna as you can sometimes have when people come out of single seaters.”