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OAK RacingA battling performance helped OAK Racing score their third FIA World Endurance Championship LM P2 podium of the season at the 6 Hours of Fuji today, while its LM P1 machine came home eighth in class on its series return.

Despite the #24 Morgan-Nissan 2012 LM P2 being less suited to the Fuji Speedway than other circuits, the French squad was confident that its pace over a longer stint could make it a podium contender in race conditions. And Olivier Pla immediately proved the point by jumping from sixth to fourth on the opening lap before engaging in a short, intense battle for third place.

Matthieu Lahaye, who took over just before the end of the opening hour, continued to demonstrate the car’s excellent race pace throughout a rapid double stint that saw the Frenchman relentlessly hunt down and pass those ahead to run second in class before making way for Jacques Nicolet.

But not for the first time this season an unfortunate safety car period would compromise the team’s strategy. Despite Nicolet maintaining position when racing resumed, the crew’s early hard work had been eroded after the chasing pack took advantage and closed in, leaving OAK Racing’s ‘silver’ grade driver battling with the other teams’ professionals.

The #24 car was down to sixth by the time he made way for Pla with one-hour 40 minutes remaining. The Frenchman was able to steadily move back into podium contention thereafter and picked up third when the #49 Pecom Racing Oreca lost time in the pits. At the finish he was just over a minute behind the winning #25 ADR-Delta Oreca and #44 Starworks Motorsport HPD, which clinched the LM P2 title.

Meanwhile, the #15 OAK-HPD LM P1 proved fast but a little fragile on its racing return to come home eighth in class and 17th overall. Bertrand Baguette took the opening stint before handing over to home hero Takuma Sato for his first competitive sports-prototype appearance.

The Japanese ace acquitted himself well throughout his double stint but was powerless to prevent the car being wheeled back into the garage for a new starter motor. When the OAK-HPD emerged after 20 minutes Dominik Kraihamer was behind the wheel, the young Austrian beginning a dogged fight back that would see the car cross the line, now in the hands of Baguette, 17th overall.

Sebastien Philippe, Team Principal: “In terms of the LM P2 result, I think we probably achieved our maximum with third. All three drivers were excellent and the team performed flawlessly during the pit-stops. Unfortunately we struggled to find an ideal set-up for the car on this specific layout. The LM P1 meanwhile is still a new package and there’s much we still have to learn. There’s two weeks between now and Shanghai so we’ll analyse the data and come back stronger. The HPD engine is very powerful so we are confident of making further improvements.”

Jacques Nicolet, #24 Morgan-Nissan 2012 LM P2: “It was a tough race for us but to be honest we were expecting that after the test. The car isn’t well suited to the circuit, especially the slow-speed final sector. It took a lot of hard work to finish on the podium so the team can be proud of their achievement.”

Matthieu Lahaye, #24 Morgan-Nissan 2012 LM P2: “Olivier made a very good start to move up the order and I took over with the car in fourth. I really enjoyed my double stint but had to be careful not to overuse the tyres. Jacques also did well so this was an all-round team performance at a circuit where we knew we would not be as competitive.”

Olivier Pla, #24 Morgan-Nissan 2012 LM P2: “Third was the best we could have hoped for I think. The post-qualifying set-up changes worked in this morning’s warm-up so I knew that a clean race was vital if we were to have a chance of making the podium. It’s a good result given the circumstances but I would like to be challenging for the win at Shanghai in a couple of weeks.”

Takuma Sato, #15 OAK-HPD LM P1: “Racing a sports-prototype for the first time was a fun new experience even though we still need to improve the car. Coming from a single-seater background you have to change your approach. Traffic management is crucial as it takes one or two laps to clean up the tyres if you run wide onto the marbles. But it was good fun and I’m looking forward to helping make the car faster for Shanghai.”

Bertrand Baguette, #15 OAK-HPD LM P1: “The first stint went well and it was clear to see that we had taken a step forward since the test on Wednesday. Of course we’re not where we want to be yet but there’s a lot of potential still to unlock. If we can put into practice everything we’ve learned here we’ll be more competitive in China.”

Dominik Kraihamer, #15 OAK-HPD LM P1: “We need to improve the car in every area but it’s important to say that the team worked very hard this weekend. I got in after the starter motor issue and just concentrated on making no mistakes so that we could get to the finish. Hopefully we can make a big improvement in China.”

The final round of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship takes place in Shanghai on October 27/28.

Photo by DPPI/Gregory Lenormand.

Bertrand BaguetteOAK Racing suffered a disappointing result in qualifying today ahead of Sunday’s 6 Hours of Fuji, the seventh and penultimate round of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship, with the French squad’s #15 OAK-HPD LM P1 eighth overall on its competitive return and the #24 Morgan-Nissan 2012 LM P2 finishing sixth in class.

Olivier Pla was one of the first to hit the track and set a time in the 20-minute session, his 1m33.165s lap ending up as the sixth fastest in the LM P2 category that was dominated by the Starworks HPD in the hands of Stéphane Sarrazin. OAK Racing has often shown better race pace than in qualifying this season however so Pla, along with team-mates Jacques Nicolet and Matthieu Lahaye, will retain hope of a strong result tomorrow.

Bertrand Baguette was given responsibility for qualifying the team’s #15 OAK-HPD LM P1 which returns to the FIA WEC grid this weekend again equipped with Dunlop tyres but now powered by an HPD engine after missing the last three races. The Belgian’s best lap of 1m30.912s was the car’s fastest of the weekend so far and good enough for eighth overall. Home hero Takuma Sato and Austrian ace Dominik Kraihamer will share the car with Baguette on Sunday.

Although somewhat disappointing, the results from qualifying didn’t come as a complete surprise to OAK Racing who, owing to the circuit’s combination of slow, technical corners and 1.5-kilometre straight, had been focused on finding a compromised set-up throughout Wednesday’s test day and all three subsequent free practice sessions. The team is therefore confident of showing good race pace tomorrow.

Sébastien Philippe, Team Principal: “We probably missed out during LM P2 qualifying today but that won’t prevent us from remaining confident for the race, which is very long and offers lots of opportunities to overtake. Our speed is good but we perhaps struggled to fully exploit the new tyres. Fortunately they are consistent across a stint and that’s very important for the race.

“In LM P1 it’s difficult to make up the second that we’re currently giving away to the top private teams. But we must not forget that this is a new chassis/engine package and we still lack a bit of experience. However, over a period of six hours the consistency of our drivers can make a difference.”

The 6 Hours of Fuji starts at 11am local time on Sunday.

Photo by Clément Marin/DPPI

Takuma SatoThis weekend (October 14) the FIA World Endurance Championship visits Fuji Speedway in Japan for its seventh and penultimate round of the season. It will be a seminal moment for French squad OAK Racing who, as well as entering its #24 Morgan 2012 LM P2, welcomes back the OAK-HPD LM P1 prototype that has missed the last three events.

As well as now being powered by the proven Honda Performance Development engine, #15 returns with a new driver in the form of Japan’s favourite son, Takuma Sato.

Sato turned his first laps aboard the LM P1 during a shakedown at Magny-Cours circuit in France on September 27 before fully evaluating the package throughout the following day. He has a further opportunity to test and prepare the car on October 10 at Fuji where he will work with team-mates Bertrand Baguette and Dominik Kraihamer for the first time.

The team is hopeful that its new package of OAK chassis, HPD engine and Dunlop tyres – for whom it is the exclusive LM P1 development partner – can run amongst the other privateers in the premier prototype class.

Meanwhile the team’s sole #24 Morgan 2012 LM P2 retains its usual WEC crew of ‘silver’ grade driver and team owner Jacques Nicolet, Matthieu Lahaye and Olivier Pla. With a pair of Championship podiums to its name since the start of the year, the crew is eager to again demonstrate the potential of its Onroak Automotive designed and built LM P2.

Sébastien Philippe, Team Principal: “The 6 Hours of Fuji sees the return of our OAK-HPD LM P1 to the World Endurance Championship and also marks the sports-prototype debut for Taku who we are extremely proud to be welcoming.

“The team will also discover a circuit I know very well and have much experience of from my own racing career. I have no doubt that its characteristics, especially the long 1.5-kilometre straight, will favour our Morgan-Nissan 2012 LM P2, which has good top-end speed.

“Naturally we are all anxious to see how the OAK-HPD LM P1 stacks up against Strakka, JRM and Rebellion who are tackling their final two races of the year while we essentially enter our first two. However, testing at Magny-Cours went well and allowed us to address some issues. While that hasn’t fully put my mind at ease, it does at least ensure there shouldn’t be too much stress!”

Takuma Sato, #15 OAK-HPD LM P1: “After the successful shakedown and test day at Magny-Cours, I am now even more excited to be competing in Japan with OAK Racing. I believe the team has made the best possible preparations in the limited time available and feel very positive and comfortable about the whole team’s operation. The car demonstrated good performance at the test according to the engineers and they were satisfied with that, so I am confident we will be competitive at Fuji Speedway.

“It will be a very exciting and interesting weekend for both fans and the WEC series. The track has unique characteristics with one of the longest straights at a permanent circuit in the world, but also has quite a complex technical section so the set-up needs to be a good compromise. Hopefully the aero package we tested at Magny-Cours will give us good speed. I am ready to take on a new challenge and really looking forward to be working with the team, as well as to see all the enthusiastic fans in Japan.”

Matthieu Lahaye, #24 Morgan-Nissan 2012 LM P2: “I have fond memories of my Japanese experience with OAK Racing from Okayama in 2009 where we won! In addition, it is difficult for Europeans to imagine just how passionate the Japanese public is about motorsport, the Le Mans 24 Hours and endurance racing in general. I take a lot of enjoyment from the special atmosphere and enthusiasm of so many fans.

“Also, it is always interesting to discover a new circuit. I have practiced a little bit on a computer game and simulator and the track seems more suited to the qualities of our car than either Bahrain or Sao Paulo. We will have a day of running to familiarise ourselves with the layout before first free practice. Several times this year we have missed out on the sort of results that the car’s performance has warranted, so we will be doing our best to challenge for victory.”

6 Hours of Fuji schedule (local time):

Friday 12 October:
11:00 – 12:30: Free Practice 1
15:30 – 17:00: Free Practice 2

Saturday 13 October:
09:25 – 10:25: Free Practice 3
14:00 – 14:20: LMP Qualifying

Sunday 14 October:
07:55 – 08:15: Warm-up
11:00 – 17:00: Race

Photo by Bernard Bakalian/PAB

Takuma SatoTakuma Sato will make his sports-prototype debut with OAK Racing at the FIA World Endurance Championship rounds in Asia this October when the team returns to the LMP1 class following its switch to Honda Performance Development engines.

Now contesting the IndyCar Series with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Sato is best known for an F1 career that spanned 92 appearances between 2002 and ’08.

And the 35-year-old Japanese ace has now been lined up to contest the WEC’s final two rounds at Fuji (13/14 October) and Shanghai (27/28) aboard the Onroak Automotive designed and built #15 OAK/Pescarolo LMP1, which is now powered by HPD’s proven AR6-LMV8 powerplant.

The team’s regular LMP1 drivers Bertrand Baguette and Dominik Kraihamer will also return to the car’s cockpit alongside Sato in Asia after completing the British, Brazilian and Bahraini rounds aboard the #35 Morgan 2012 LMP2.

Sato drove the car during a shakedown at Magny-Cours circuit in France yesterday (Thursday) where the new HPD engine and OAK LMP1 chassis were tested together for the first time. A further full day of running is scheduled for Friday when Sato will have more time to familiarise himself with the car.

While the majority of OAK Racing’s staff are currently in the Middle East for this weekend’s Six Hours of Bahrain, the LMP1 team will use their time in France to thoroughly evaluate the new prototype package, which includes an optimised aerodynamic set-up for the long straights at Fuji, before travelling to Japan where a further test session is planned for October 10.

Takuma Sato: “Working with OAK Racing is an opportunity that has really excited and motivated me. I’ve spent my entire career racing single-seaters and obviously the LMP1 feels different to those, but my initial impressions are very good and I am thrilled by this whole new experience. I’ve known Seb [Philippe] for a long time, since he was racing in Japan actually, so it will be great to work with him again and that gives me a lot of confidence in the team.

“Thursday was only a shakedown of the OAK-HPD LMP1 package but everything went to plan. As well as the new engine the team has an updated aero package to evaluate, so there will be plenty of work to get through on Friday and then during testing at Fuji on October 10. I’ve got a lot to learn before the race but I am really looking forward to the weekend and seeing the very enthusiastic Japanese fans. The team will receive a great following there and it will be fantastic to race in front of my home crowd again.”

Sebastien Philippe, Team Manager: “I am delighted that Taku will be joining us for the Asian races. We first met in 2000 when we were both F3 drivers for Honda so I have first-hand experience of just how quick and talented he is. On top of that he’s a really nice guy to have around the garage so I have no doubts that he can make a significant contribution to the team and our LMP1 programme.

“As for the shakedown, everything has so far run smoothly. The Design Office has worked very hard to adapt the car in preparation for installing the HPD engine. We are all looking forward to seeing the results in Fuji.”

Photo by PAB/Bernard Bakalian.