Q&A with Highcroft Racing owner Duncan Dayton
Highcroft Racing has returned from its first assault on the world famous 24 Hours of Le Mans and have now set their sights on defending its points lead in the American Le Mans Series.
While the team recorded a race finish at Le Mans, a cooling issue sidelined the car for much of the final four hours in what was a tough introduction to French endurance classic.
After two consecutive ALMS race victories, team boss Duncan Dayton and the Patr¢n Highcroft Racing team will head for Salt Lake City's Miller Motorsports Park for round four of the 2010 title chase on July 11.
Q: WHAT WERE THE KEY ASPECTS LEARNED FROM YOUR FIRST ASSAULT ON THE 24 HOURS OF LE MANS?
A: "One of the biggest takeaways from Le Mans for the team is the realization of how big and important an event the 24 Hours of Le Mans is.
"The guys have been working toward this race for a long time but most of them had never done the race previously.
"Several of the guys hadn't been out of the country and one of the boys hadn't even been on a plane before. To get them over there and to experience the race and give them a full understanding of what it takes to compete there will make the team far better prepared in the future.
"We will be so much stronger next time because everybody will know what to expect. It won't be such a strange environment for everyone so that will serve us well in the future."
Q: DO YOU THINK THE FACT THAT WE DIDN'T ACHIEVE A VICTORY ON DEBUT WILL BE A POSITIVE FOR THE TEAM IN THE LONG RUN?
A: "I was incredibly pleased with the performance of the team overall considering some of the hardships that we overcame.
"Many people had us as favorites for the LMP2 class which I believe was rather unjustified given the fact that we had never been to Le Mans before, never done a flyaway race and it was the first time we had run the HPD ARX-01c with the low-drag bodywork.
"We were a little on the back foot early because of delays in getting the bodywork thanks in part to the volcano ash issues in Europe. We were a little unfamiliar with the package and throughout the course of the race we continued to tune the car at every stop and towards sunrise on Sunday, we had just started to really get a handle on what was required.
"Missing nearly an hour on Wednesday night practice with an o-ring issue also cost us valuable time. That was one less hour of track time we could have used to tune the car.
"When you are up against very strong and professional competition like Strakka, RML and the other top LMP2 teams, it clearly showed us that we need to raise our game even further when it comes to winning at Le Mans.
"The adversity that we faced with the cooling problem and three punctures were all out of our hands. The team itself however really did perform faultlessly - we didn't incur any pit stop penalties or do anything else as a team which would of prevented us from winning the race."
Q: DOES LE MANS ALSO HAVE A REPUTATION FOR BITING THE 'NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK'
A: "Things like the punctures were really outside of our control. For Marino to get his puncture entering turn 1 and have to drive around the entire 8.5 miles at a slow pace is really just one of those things that can happen at Le Mans.
"You have to deal with what the place throws at you and I think the guys did an amazing job given the circumstances.
"If we had an in-car camera on board Marino's car during that slow 10 minute lap at night, we might have been able to gauge whether we could have gone quicker with the puncture without damaging the bodywork.
"There was no way for us to monitor that and I was quite surprised there weren't more camera feeds around the track allowing us to take a look at what was happening.
"For next year, we definitely look at securing an in-car package so we could monitor that situation better."
Q: HAS THE HIGHCROFT CREW CAUGHT THE LE MANS "FEVER" THAT KEEPS DRIVING PEOPLE TO COME BACK YEAR AFTER YEAR TO WIN THIS RACE?
A: "It clearly has caught their attention and they all came up after the race to say thanks for the opportunity to compete at Le Mans..
"For all of us, we really want to come back, put our best foot forward and ultimately win the thing.
"To come away with a disappointing result makes us all the more hungry to go back. It also helps us now focus even more directly on the next challenge at hand which is to win the American Le Mans Series championship again."
Q: HOW BIG OF A CHALLENGE DOES THE TEAM NOW FACE TO REGROUP AND FOCUS ON THE NEXT ROUND OF THE ALMS AT SALT LAKE CITY?
A: "Salt Lake is not a track that is going to suit our car at all unless the ALMS does a better job in balancing the performance of the different types of cars and engine combinations in LMP1 and LMP2.
"We are clearly going to be at a disadvantage considering the top speed performance between ourselves and the turbo cars like the Mazda and Jon Field's LMP1.
"At Laguna Seca we were 18mph down on top speed and that is at a place with a relatively short straight. You can only imagine what it will be like with those turbo cars at a higher altitude at Salt Lake - we could really be at a significant disadvantage.
"Points pay when it comes to championships and we have to do the best possible job we can and keep our eye on the prize of winning the championship at the end of the season."
Q: HOW CHALLENGING IS IT FOR THE ALMS TO BALANCE THE PERFORMANCE OF THE VARIOUS LMP PACKAGES?
A: "The ALMS has looked at the average lap time of each of the entrants and tried to balance performance in that regard.
"While the average lap time is certainly an element to performance balancing, top speed needs to be taken into consideration.
"If you have a higher top speed, you can still stay in front on the straights and not let somebody by in the twisty bits.
"At Laguna we had an absolutely faultless race and had four perfect pit stops - spending less time in the pits than any of our competition.
"The guys at Dyson had nine stops including a stop-go penalty yet were still on the same lap with us and challenging hard with 20 minutes to go.
"Straight line speed is a significant issue. With nine stops, they literally should have been several laps down. It just goes to show how important that straight line speed is."
Q: WILL THE AERO PACKAGE HIGHCROFT RAN AT THE 24 HOURS OF LE MANS BE INTRODUCED INTO ALMS COMPETITION?
A: "There are some tracks where that low-drag configuration aero package could prove handy like Road America, Mosport, Petit Le Mans and Salt Lake as well.
"The rules state that once we implement that package, we can't swap back and forth between the two aero packages.
"Clearly Lime Rock is a track where extra downforce is more important and probably won't introduce it until at least after that. Mid Ohio is really a medium downforce type configuration so we are still evaluating as to when would be the best time to roll out that package in the US.
"We need to look closely at which tracks it will provide the most benefit and if we can only make the change once, we want to make sure we'll get the most out of it.
"I'm not sure we've still optimized that Le Mans package for overall performance, so our engineering team still have a lot of data to go through before making that decision."