Strakka Racing will make a significant change to its sports car programs next year, having announced on Tuesday a switch to GT3 and the Blancpain GT Series with a large-scale McLaren effort.
The British squad will leave the FIA World Endurance Championship after several years and will focus solely on running a minimum of four McLaren 650S GT3s in the top tier of European GT3 racing.
“We’ve got a lot of loyalty to the World Endurance Championship and we’ve been involved since its inception,” team principal Dan Walmsley told Sportscar365.
“We’ve been there since the beginning and that takes some considerable decisions to move away from it. We’ve not taken those decisions lightly, but sometimes you have to work in a different discipline to find opportunities.
“LMP is very close to our heart, both LMP1 and LMP2. I think with the current set of regulations and commercial opportunities, we’d love to go back there. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time there and the people we’ve worked with.
“We’re certainly not turning our back on it, but again we have to do a good job with the program at hand and our focus is very much on Blancpain in the short term.”
The decision to go with McLaren GT for 2017 has been firm in Walmsley’s mind for a while now, he admits. While the jump from one program to another is fairly great, he believes it is the right move for the team.
“I think it’s fair to say that raising motorsport finance is a challenge at the moment and we really wanted to look at sustainable business opportunities for the wider organization, not just the race team itself,” he said.
“We’ve been looking at opportunities like this for a while, and clearly, this decision was made by a matrix of elements that came together that all together made a very attractive package.
“We want to race in a competitive category and Blancpain is clearly very cut and thrust, a very high level of racing competency.
“All these things started piecing together to make more sense than any other program we could look at, and by a considerable margin as well.”
Furthermore, the opportunity to work with a prestigious brand like McLaren GT was one that he couldn’t pass on.
“The prestige of McLaren, the fantastic brand, great road car products, they’re really trying to do a lot with their product at the moment, and that was attractive,” Walmsley said.
“There has been a lot of gossip flying around about what our programs were, but with all the little factors coming together, the decision was so easy to make and so sensible for business in the long-term, that we’re really proud to have gotten to a conclusion.”
Running as many as four cars allows Strakka to have a strong roster of both Pro and young drivers, Walmsley believes.
Among them will be young drivers in McLaren’s GT Academy Drivers, and the team will hold private tests throughout the off-season to fill the remaining seats.
“We’ve always targeted multiple-car programs, there’s logic behind it just from an economic sense,” Walmsley said. “Running more cars allows for the cost per car to be lower.
“We’ve looked at that in LMP2 for a few years and not been successful in getting a full car crew together, but in this, we’ve managed to piece it together quite nicely with the McLaren GT program.
“One of the cars will run a young driver crew which will be selected by McLaren GT as part of their academy.
“That has been an important philosophy from Strakka’s point of view for some time, especially in our founder and lead driver Nick Leventis. Something very close to his heart is developing and nurturing talent.”
Currently, however, Strakka has no contracted drivers for 2017, although Walmsley says “it goes without saying” that Leventis will compete in one of the Pro-Am cars.
For 2017, Walmsley expects to keep the program within the Blancpain GT Series, entering for the full season and in both the Sprint and Endurance championships.
However, he is eager to evaluate other GT3 races in the more distant future.
“In the longer term we have our eyes on some of the more [prestigious] one-off events; Nürburgring 24, Bathurst; Macau. These will follow once we’ve got established,” he explained.
“We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew and we recognize the quality and level in Blancpain already, and also the conversion from a single-car LMP team to a multi-car GT3 team shouldn’t be underestimated. You’ve got to do that properly before expanding into any more races.
“It will be a full season of Blancpain and we really can’t wait to get going.”