Aitken, Cadillac rolling with the punches at Spa

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Aitken, Cadillac rolling with the punches at Spa

Le Mans/WEC

Aitken, Cadillac rolling with the punches at Spa


Race day at Spa-Francorchamps is set to be something of a voyage into the unknown for Cadillac Racing driver Jack Aitken. The 27-year-old Briton, who is driving one of the two new LMDh chassis in the WEC field this weekend, was a late addition to the team and has completed only 10 laps in the car ahead of Sunday’s 6 Hours.

Aitken, who in IMSA competes with Action Express and won this year’s Sebring 12 Hours, has been drafted in to assist Cadillac with its Le Mans preparations and has had to adapt quickly to a new working environment. This week Aitken has been sharing a Cadillac with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande for the first time, and getting a first taste of life in the Ganassi camp.

The No. 3 V-Series. R they are driving is also a brand-new chassis, which was still in build in the morning before Free Practice 1. A trouble-free weekend was always going to be a tough ask, though Aitken was pleased to report that the meeting started well.

“FP1 actually went really well for the team, with this brand new chassis. It was a shakedown,” Aitken told RACER. “We expected electrical niggles and we had none. I was due to get in at the end but there was a red flag so I didn’t get out on track.”

Adding to that, the team’s fire in Free Practice 2 cost him a significant chunk of his planned practice time, too. Instead of using the 90 minutes of track time to get a baseline set up for the race, the team was left scrambling to get a new engine sent to the Spa circuit from Germany, which it then installed overnight ahead of Free Practice 3 this morning.

It could have been so much worse, however. It was later revealed that van der Zande played a crucial role in preventing major damage to the car by quickly putting out the fire himself with an extinguisher. He was branded a hero by the team, which later admitted the fire was caused by a mistake in its pre-session prep.

“He was trying to strip bodywork off the car ,too,” said Aitken when asked by RACER about van der Zande’s role in fighting the fire. “Unfortunately even though the fire was not that big, it made all the hoses, wires and connectors brittle. There was a chance they’d fail later on, so it was better to just replace everything. The team did so well to make the change and ensured we could make it out for FP3.”

Aitken finally got a turn behind the wheel in Free Practice 3, but rain showers added to the frustration. As a result, he will need to use the opening laps of his race stint to get truly up to speed behind the wheel of the Cadillac.

“I did eventually get out but the horrible Spa weather meant we went out on wets when it was too dry. So we changed to slicks and it began raining again at Les Combes,” he said. “We didn’t want to risk it as we don’t have many spares so we boxed. It was a broken session.”

Thankfully, the V-Series. R is a car that Aitken and his teammates know well. Bourdais’ performance in qualifying was proof of this, and provided a reason for optimism.

Despite the team’s challenges, the Frenchman qualified fifth, just a second off the sister car which will start fourth and 1.3 seconds off the pole time. If the No. 3 stays out of trouble and the car is kind on its tires, then they could well leave with a very strong result.

“We’re just going to have to give it a go in the race tomorrow and help the sister car (which competes in WEC full-time) if we can,” Aitken said. “We know the car and the track well. We will just have to guess with the car set up, and take cues from the No. 2.

“We’re here to create a friendly atmosphere (between Cadillac Racing and the Action Express staff on site) and any experience we can gain ahead of Le Mans is valuable. Action Express has a great working relationship with Ganassi, putting egos aside is the best way forward.”