A fifth in class finish in the European Le Mans Series opener saw Daniel McKenzie leave Silverstone hopeful for the future despite a result that failed to reflect the team’s pace.
The team’s gold-rated driver Daniel Zampieri qualified the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 458 GT second in class and McKenzie set off to drive the opening stint.
He said: “Opening practice had gone quite well – with limited time in the car for all of us we got into the groove pretty quickly. We had pace and the car was behaving, so we were optimistic going into qualifying.
“Daniel qualified it on the medium tyres, which were slightly slower but potentially advantageous in the race. With this strategy, his second place was brilliant.”
Trouble struck at once, however, as McKenzie was unfortunate enough to collect a penalty for crossing the start ahead of the class pole sitter, who had braked unexpectedly at the last moment.
“I took the start and when the lights went green we both started to accelerate,” he said.
“Unfortunately the other guy backed off the throttle and I couldn’t brake without risking triggering an accident. I crossed the line ahead of him, which is a stop-go penalty for gaining an advantage.”
Bad went to worse as the penalty was incorrectly applied – instead of a stop-and-go, Daniel was held for 10 seconds and returned to the race in ninth, a full 50 seconds adrift.
The team reacted quickly, switching him to a strategy in which he would double-stint with just a brief fuelling stop, and over the next 80 minutes he fought back to take the class lead.
“l managed to claw back the 50 seconds and managed to climb up to P1 before I came in for my driver change,” he said.
A strong stint from bronze driver George Richardson kept the team in contention and Zampieri was well placed in fifth, poised to make an attack for the class podium, when an unlucky safety car wrecked the team’s afternoon.
Although Zampieri was only a few seconds behind his rivals and gaining ground, between them was a leading LMP car. He was forced to stay behind it while the leading GTs were waved round, gaining almost a lap and snuffing out the challenge of the JMW Ferrari.
McKenzie said: “Daniel wasn’t out more than a couple of laps before the safety car separated him from the top four cars. It was a matter of one place and a few seconds, and he was quicker too, but when they were released to go round we just had to settle for fifth place.
“It was disappointing not to come away with a bit of silverware and some champagne in the eyes. The pace was there, but it was not to be.
“Overall, looking at it from the perspective of the team and also for me as a driver, it was a good performance with a lot of promise for the future. We just need a bit of polish for some fantastic results to come.”
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Former Blancpain Endurance driver Daniel McKenzie is stepping up to the European Le Mans Series after signing a deal with championship winning team JMW Motorsport.
McKenzie made his début in sportscar racing last year driving in the Pro-Am category and was also selected to be a part of the Aston Martin Racing squad in their junior program. The team earned pole at Spa (McKenzie’s first 24-hour race) and had their best finish at Monza, finishing fourth in the Pro-Am Category.
The 25-year-old has already had a chance to drive JMW Motorsport’s Ferrari 458 GT when participating in the ELMS official test at Paul Ricard circuit at the beginning of the week. The team will compete in the LMGTE category in the five-round ELMS.”I am really happy to have signed a deal with JMW Motorsports,” said McKenzie.
“I have just been testing with the team and over the two days we tested a variety of things, which was very productive and also showed great pace. It was great to get behind the wheel of a racing car again and I need to thank my manager Mark Blundell and the Team Manager at JMW, Tim Sugden, for putting this deal together. I look forward to creating a long term working relationship with all at JMW Motorsport.”
Tim Sugden, JMW Motorsport’s Team Manager said, “I have watched Daniel since his World Series by Renault season, but never really knew him as a person. Having just finished a really successful two-day test at Paul Ricard I have to say it has been a pleasure to work with him. Quick and a real team player, we are all extremely pleased to welcome Daniel to JMW.”
The European Le Mans Series provides a training ground for the World Endurance Championship. The series will feature 42 cars this year and the five-event season will begin at Silverstone from 18-19 April.
This year saw Daniel move from into the world of GT racing, competing in the Blancpain Endurance Series for Beechdean AMR. The team didn’t complete the five-race season, as its owner was also mounting a successful assault on the British GT title, but it still gave Daniel a whole new perspective on racing. Here you can re-live his season in his own words.
On track in the Total 24 Hours of Spa
Pre-season and overview
There was a lot for Daniel to learn before and during the season as he made the transition from single seaters to a completely different type of car.
“GT cars are very quick, capable machines and very different to a single seater. The weight in a GT car is twice as much as a single seater so you have to get used to the sheer size of the car, the weight, and the movement.
“I had once driven a Porsche Carrera Cup car for an 18th birthday present. I got that one taste of experience at Brands Hatch for the day and found I remembered enough to know how much respect you have to give GT cars. Because I already knew some of what to expect, it was a case of getting my mind around how the car handled. Coming from many years of single seaters, it was a case of re-hardwiring how the brain worked and adapting every last thing you did in a single seater to a GT car.
“You still have to be smooth, brake late and brake hard but it’s a different refinement – you can’t get away with so much as in a single seater. It’s a bit alien – the car is slower to react and you’ve got to drive it more intelligently. You can’t commit to corners as late as in a single seater because you’ll miss the corner entirely. It’s a precise way of driving, in a machine that’s less precise.
“There were two test days, the first was at the Algarve and the second was the pre-season test at Paul Ricard. One of the hardest things moving from single seaters to GTs is the sheer lack of seat time you get. In single seaters you are quite fortunate to be the only person driving the car. In GTs you have to jump in and get used to things right away. That’s something I think I was still improving on at the end of the year, getting in and figuring things out from the start. It was always going to be tricky only doing a handful of races and sharing the tests, but it’s something as a GT driver you have to learn to adapt to.
“I generally took the first stint in the races, it was mainly because it would teach me a bit more about racing these cars by getting stuck in from the start. It was a quite a learning curve – I was chucked in at the deep end from the start. A rolling start with 60-odd cars around you down to the first corner really pushes you, and that’s when you learn the most.
“The season didn’t finish how I’d hoped because I didn’t get the chance to put everything I’d learned into action one last time. The team’s focus on the British GT championship left me without a last race but, despite that, it was a good year.”
Brakes glow red as the Spa night draws in
Daniel raced at Monza, Silverstone, Paul Ricard and Spa, with mixed memories – from the highs of Italy and Belgium, to the lows of France and the UK where the car seemed cursed.
“This was quite an incredible experience. Out of the limited races I had, that was one of the best – if not the best – in terms of the experience I had. I was actually leading the race at one stage and was second or third in class.
“I remember getting out of the car and everyone giving me a pat on the back and saying it was a really good start considering it was my first effort. The team nearly had to pry my fingers off the steering wheel. It was a great start.”
“The next two races after Monza proved to be challenging. At Silverstone the gearbox compressor decided to give up the ghost very early on after a good start. It left me high and dry in fifth gear going into the tightest of hairpins. I had to pit and used a lot of time there, and that was race over – although we decided to keep going and learn what we could.
“As the only race in the UK it meant a lot and it certainly wasn’t nice suffering a blow like that. Much as you might be hyped up for your home race, it’s times like these where you go away and rebuild and come back stronger.
“We weren’t quite unique, but Beechdean AMR was an all-British team with all-British drivers so we certainly felt the home race was where we were going to shine, and were hyped up. It was one of those things when you walk round the paddock a lot more people were approaching for autographs because they know you’re English. There was certainly a sense of being British, in a British car – it was certainly something a lot of people were keen on expressing their support for.”
“Even though it isn’t the most characterful of circuits, it’s still one of the most enjoyable to drive. Whenever I’m at it I always manage to put in competitive lap times, and I love the circuit. I always get excited about it, and most people don’t seem to get that – but it’s one I always look forward to.
“Unfortunately, a joke developed that there was a curse on the car brought by me. When you’re sat on the side of the track looking at the car when you want to be racing it leaves quite a sour taste in your mouth. When you stress a car to its limit you find the faults. Aston Martin learned from it and rebuilt. You move on.
“It was one I was particularly looking forward to, so I was disappointed to say the least. It was more time in the car and more experience, but ultimately I walked away feeling flat and a little apprehensive what the 24 Hours of Spa would bring.”
“There were a few nerves flying around before this race! Fortunately, they were good nerves, with the butterflies flying In formation. I’ve never done a 24-hour race before, and in those circumstances the uncertainty tries to play havoc withyou. It was something I was particularly excited about but also wanted to get it under my belt. As soon as I got my first stint out of the way it was one of the most enjoyable races I’ve had.
“Everyone was very up for the 24 hours and Spa will stick in my mind for a very long time as my first 24 hour race. Getting that first stint out of the way and getting into the groove of it was the main thing. Night racing was difficult but, at the same time, it was one of those things where everyone was in the same boat and you just had to trust that everyone was braking at the right time.
“You can look at that whole race weekend from two perspectives. You can say we started on pole and finished 10th in class, which doesn’t look like progress. On the other hand, the car ran the whole 24 hours despite two freak accidents where tyres let go and barely skipped a beat. The car was fantastic – clear the bugs off it and it would have been good for another 24 hours. It was a great achievement given how many cars didn’t even finish.”
So what are Daniel’s hopes and plans for next season?
“I plan to continue in the endurance world. It’s proven to me that you don’t have to drive a single seater to have fun in motorsport and, realistically, it’s the best place for a long-term career which, in this day and age, is important to have. I look back on this year as the start of a bigger future.”
A 24-hour endurance race tests teams, cars and drivers to the extreme. In this website exclusive, Daniel gives the low-down on what it’s like to race all day and all of the night.
Sleep: a rare and precious thing in a 24 Hour race
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Brakes glow red as the Spa night draws in
Daniel’s first-ever 24-hour race saw his Beechdean Aston Martin team qualify on pole, lose 30 laps to a sudden mechanical failure, then soldier on through the night to achieve a hard-earned top 10 in their class.
Beechdean’s regular Pro-Am driving trio of Daniel, Jonny Adam and team owner Andrew Howard were joined for the 65th running of the Total 24 Hours of Spa by Aston Martin factory driver Stefan Mücke.
The race counted as the fourth round in the Blancpain Endurance Series and the German made an immediate impact, seizing pole with a best time of 2:20:675. This was fast enough to better the entire Pro class field and set him up to lead the 72-car field for the first hour around the 4.35-mile, 20-turn circuit.
By the time Daniel became the third of the team to take a turn at the wheel, running the first of his four stints, pitstops had relegated the car to the margins of the top 10.
He was able to battle back and regain some places, but disaster struck on lap 123 as Adam drove the fifth hour of the race. The car’s splitter failed, wrecking a front tyre and leading to extensive bodywork damage.
Leading through Eau Rouge for the first time
Daniel said: “The race started well and we were leading. We went through the stints, and it was looking OK after Andrew and I got in – I think we were about third in class.
“Then the splitter failed and went through the tyre, causing a catastrophic blow-out. It dropped the front end onto the ground and quite badly damaged a lot of it.
“The car came into the pits and went out again about 15 laps down, but about 30 minutes after returning to the race a fixing failed, which took more time to repair. After that we were about 30 laps down and knew that a good result was completely out of the window.”
However, the team’s back-up plan had always involved pushing on, as they knew the race was likely to see many retirements. So it proved as heavy rain, night-time driving and the gruelling effects of the distance caused half the cars to retire.
Daniel said: “We had always planned to complete the race – we knew if we did we’d finish in a reasonable position as it would be a race of attrition.
On track in the Total 24 Hours of Spa
“We plugged on through the night and gradually moved up the order as other people got punctures, crashed, had engine failures or fired themselves into the barriers.
“Because we were able to stay on, execute our strategy and be consistent we ended up finishing 23rd overall and 10th in class. It wasn’t the result we were hoping for but we finished the race.
“There will be an investigation into the splitter, but to find out that almost 50 per cent of the field failed to finish the race is a testament to the car and proof of how much hard work the Beechdean AMR guys put in.
“It was a great team effort and they got the repairs done without us losing too much track time, so I really credit them for that.
“The car had a decent pace, it was just a shame we got those problems early on, but a top-10 at the end was a great result for my first 24-hour experience.”
For all its unavoidable danger, motor racing is now far safer than in its early years when driver fatalities were an all too common feature. But the loss of Aston Martin’s Allan Simonsen at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, then Lamborghini racer Andrea Mamé at the Paul Ricard Blancpain meeting, have acted as cruel reminders of what can happen. In this website exclusive, Daniel shares his thoughts on the unthinkable.
In memory of Allan Simonsen
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The Beechdean boys hard at work at Paul Ricard
A mechanical problem with the #99 Beechdean Aston Martin Vantage brought an early end to the day for Daniel and his team-mates in the third round of the Blancpain Endurance Series at Paul Ricard.
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Blancpain Endurance Series racer Daniel McKenzie and the Beechdean AMR team endured a very tough outing at Silverstone for round two of the 2013 season, with gearbox problems early in the three-hour encounter triggering a very long afternoon.
After fine-tuning the No.99 Aston Martin Vantage GT3’s set-up in practice, Daniel and team-mates Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam went into their individual qualifying sessions at the Northamptonshire track aiming to achieve an overall top 10 starting slot.
While Daniel posted the sixth fastest time in class, 24th overall, it wasn’t indicative of his true pace as he was saving fresh rubber for the race by using old Pirelli tyres, and fuel issues cost further time. The quickest session proved to be the third, where Adam’s ninth place in Pro-Am and 29th overall became their starting slot for the 180 minute race.
Taking the opening stint, Daniel made a good getaway and gained three places on the first lap before climbing the order further on lap two. Disappointingly though, any further progress was halted on the third tour due to a major problem with the gearbox.
After Daniel did well to coax the Aston back to the pits, the Beechdean team leapt into action. They rapidly fitted a new gearbox and sent him back out, several laps down but able to run properly again until lap 31 when he handed the car over to team principal Howard.
He ran a relatively short stint before Adam took the wheel on lap 46 and the squad was able to complete the race without any further drama, finishing a much lower than anticipated 18th in Pro-Am and 43rd overall.
Daniel said: “The weekend didn’t start too badly in the first practice with my team-mate in the car, but as the circuit gripped-up the balance of the car changed so we had to alter it quite a lot for qualifying. We did make good improvements with the car throughout the weekend but things went wrong that shouldn’t have gone wrong, like the fuel problems in qualifying.
“The problem was with the lambda setting and it led to the engine thinking it was running a lot richer than it actually was. The trouble is, when you have a computer telling the car what to do you can’t reason with it.
“When the race began I made up some places on the first couple of laps but, when I down-changed for the hairpin on lap three, the compression unit in the gearbox went catastrophically – literally sheared to pieces. There was no indication that it was going to go. It was just a freak thing – it had only used half its life. The team are investigating it.
“I managed to crawl back to the pits in fourth gear and the team did a 24-Hour Race style pit-stop to fit a new box. The team worked really effectively – in a not-so-good situation, that was a real positive to take away. They didn’t know what was wrong until I arrived in the pitlane, but they diagnosed the problem in seconds, grabbed the part, and got to work. It was a stressful environment and they worked very efficiently.
“So it wasn’t the best of weekends. The car was a bit average, but we worked on it and we figured out why, so in the future we’ll know exactly what we have to do in the set-up to get past these things. Hopefully it was a one-off and we’ll be back where we should be at the next round.”
Round three of the Blancpain Endurance Series will take place at Paul Ricard HTTT in the south of France on 29th/30th June.
Monza played host this weekend to the first round of the 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series. A packed grid of 60 cars lined up for the season opener and amongst those was Blancpain rookie, Daniel McKenzie, driving for Beechdean Motorsport with team mates Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam.
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Daniel in action at Monza
Despite a difficult qualifying session fighting for position on a crowded track, Daniel managed sixth place within the Pro Am class; his co-driver then went on to secure a slightly faster time in Q3 which placed them third in class.
Weather conditions on Sunday were ideal and Daniel set about making his mark during the first stint of the race. The first corner was incredibly tight but, remarkably, all cars came out the other side unscathed. Daniel did, however, have to relinquish a couple of places.
He said: “It was pretty difficult because it was my first rolling start. Being used to standing starts in single seaters, this was a new challenge for me – making sure I was close to the guy in front while still leaving myself space to react was difficult. The main priority was to get that first corner out of the way safely, which I did, then focus on the next three hours.”
Daniel’s share of the three hours was 65 minutes, and during them he took every opportunity open to him. He pulled the car back up to seventh position overall (third in class) just as all the pitstops began. Team strategy was to stay out for a few extra laps which saw Daniel front of the pack in the 99 Aston Martin, after which he handed the car over to a co-driver and got his first taste of watching a race from the sidelines.
He said: “It’s strange having a race ongoing where the position and result is still in the balance. Being away from the controls is an awkward situation. It’s almost more nerve-wracking watching the other guys drive than it is to be in the car yourself. Every place matters, and it’s like you’re in the car with them all the time. Ultimately, it’s where you’re going to end up finishing even though you’re not in the car.”
A few minor accidents disrupted the remaining laps of the race, as well as a couple of appearances from the safety car which resulted in the Beechdean team dropping back a few places, but they fought hard and brought the number 99 over the line in 11th place (fourth in class).
Daniel said: “It was a great first race weekend in the Blancpain series and a really positive start to the year. The team did a great job with perfectly timed pitstops and everyone has made me feel very welcome.
“Working with a new team, it’s always going to be difficult finding your feet but fortunately things went very well and there were no mistakes. I take my hat off to the team. Our next round is back in the UK at Silverstone and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do in front of the home fans.”
Daniel McKenzie is to switch to sports car racing for a 2013 campaign in the Blancpain Endurance Series with Britain’s Beechdean Motorsport – and has also signed as a development and reserve driver for the prestigious Aston Martin Racing squad.
His role with Beechdean will see him compete across some of Europe’s most famous circuits in the pro-am category of the highly-competitive Blancpain Endurance Series, driving an Aston Martin Vantage alongside Jonny Adam and the team’s owner Andrew Howard.
Daniel (left in driver line-up) with his new team-mates
He will also attempt to qualify for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and will work with Aston Martin Racing and its World Endurance Championship (WEC) drivers, including such well-known names as Darren Turner, Stefan Mücke and ex-F1 driver Bruno Senna.
Daniel said: “It’s great to be part of Aston Martin Racing as the development and reserve driver – it’s good to have a strong relationship with them. Developing a sports car career opens up a completely new world of racing for me, and it’s very exciting to be part of the Beechdean Racing team.
“I have two very good team mates who are very committed and will help me adjust as I transfer my skills from single-seater to sports cars. It’s going to be a very competitive year with many cars on the grid, and with the Aston Martin Vantage I think we’ve got a very good chance of winning races.”
Aston Martin is marking its centenary year with an expanded car and driver line-up, targeting victories at Le Mans and in the WEC, as well as entering the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Daniel at the Aston Martin Racing launch
John Gaw, managing director and team principal at Aston Martin Racing, said: “Our aim is to win at Le Mans and in the WEC and we are particularly pleased to welcome such a professional driver line-up to Aston Martin Racing for this centenary year.”
David Richards, Chairman of Aston Martin, added: “There is a real sense of anticipation in the Aston Martin Racing team this year and a belief that it is once again our time to return to the top step of the podium at Le Mans. It would be a fitting way for Aston Martin, which has such a rich heritage in motorsport and particularly at Le Mans, to cap its centenary year.”