MOTORSPORT

Coming of Age: Andrew Rackstraw Tests an LMP3 Prototype

21st birthday surprises don't come as sweet as a test in a Le Mans LMP3 Prototype around an F1 circuit.

TopGear Reporter
January 31, 2023
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Coming of Age: Andrew Rackstraw Tests an LMP3 Prototype

The dust had only settled on the closing stages of the European Le Mans 2022 season. Still, the teams had one more important day to wrap up. That was a customer-focused test that would be carried out on the F1-graded circuit of Portimão — located on the Algarve, an affluent coastal region in Portugal and a popular stop on the World Endurance Championship calendar. 

Its technical, high-downforce nature and undulating surface connecting its 16 corners are famous in many racing driver's books, replicating more of a roller coaster ride than anything else. One of these racing drivers taking part in the test was a 20-year-old Capetonian named Andrew Rackstraw. His rising trajectory was now taking him places and putting him in a position many drivers could only dream of.

A serious car needs serious attention

The car in question, a Ligier JS P320. A prototype racer armed with the famed Nissan VK56 5.6-litre V8 connected to a 6-speed sequential Xtrac gearbox. With the car's total weight coming in at 950 kg and downforce capabilities high on the chart, this is one serious race car. For those who need a quick education, Ligier used to be in F1. It now focuses on the sportscar and prototype market, with the P320 being a firm favourite along the length of the paddock. After recently testing a sim setup that replicates the braking pressure of an LMP3 prototype, I can assure you it needs significant pressure applied. My calves tell me this is a serious car, requiring serious attention.

I've come to know Andrew over the past two years to be a level-headed, intelligent teenager who was quickly rising through the ranks since his karting days, starting at 12. He then moved on to the main circuit and immediately made an impact in the Formula 1600 national series. He's always been up to the task and oozes natural ability. A product of Claudio Piazza Muso's Race Driver SA racing school and an exceptional example at that. Claudio polished Andrew's natural talent into arguably one of the best prospects in South African motorsport today. Winning 11 of the 12 races in 2021 is further proof. But it's Andrew's ability to quickly get up to speed in a car that trumps the list of driver skill elements that's always impressed me and others. 

Coming of age

Such was the theme in his latest adventure when visiting the Portuguese F1 circuit with RLR Motorsport on a two-day test. The last F1 race held there was in 2021 and won by Lewis Hamilton, coincidently a driver Andrew admires for his cool head in challenging situations. I can see why, given Andrew's demeanour. The consolation was that Andrew would flip the page on the milestone of turning 21, coming of age. I certainly wasn't doing anything that exciting at 21. Beyond the racing, Andrew's extroverted yet humble nature has always been positive, and he is a joy to hang out and chat with. Indeed, no arrogance. 

Being more of a sprint race specialist, Andrew's path has led him straight into the world of endurance racing, which has captured his interest and sparked a desire to pursue more avenues along this front. A side of motorsport that is incredibly popular in the world, which often sees teams of four drivers sharing a car over extended periods in races that range from four hours to 24 hours, with the holy grail being the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His first taste of the action was when Andrew raced alongside Nic Adcock in the 2021 Killarney 9-Hour with Michael Jensen and Dean Venter in Nic's Ligier JS53 Evo 2. From that day on, Andrew's love affair with endurance racing became apparent due to the sheer challenge of endurance racing and the ever-changing factors race teams face. The progression to be strapped into another Ligier, this time the LMP3 version, only seemed like a natural progression.

That progression would eventually become a reality when one day at varsity months before, Nic called Andrew to extend the invitation to test the LMP3 with RLR motorsport. Nic was present on the day, providing a sounding board and beacon of support to the young man. A terrific two-day display of talent, learning, overcoming and tackling the new course and car ensued. To put things into perspective, Andrew's lap time of 1 min 37.8 was the quickest of the two days. Read that again. The quickest. To add much-needed context, The 1.37.8 lap time achieved would have put Andrew in the top six of the recent ELMS round at Portimão in similar conditions in a series where the top 10 would be split over 1.5 seconds. To add further context, these qualifying drives are achieved by professional paid drivers who don't attend varsity like Andrew. This after never driving a car like that or driving the track. It's still a challenge to get one's head around.

The importance of feedback

Nick Reynolds, director of RLR Motorsport, commented on the ability of Andrew to convey what the car needed to the engineers very well. I've learned from reading Adrian Newey's How to build a car that it is a valuable skill for a race car driver and something that will stand Andrew in great stead in the future. Giving that sort of feedback is making the correct kind of impression. Andrew's ability to assess and break down the car's capabilities to find the limits from the tyres and understanding the aerodynamic characteristics is undoubtedly a proud moment for Claudio, seeing Andrew take this opportunity in his stride. Two days of testing involving some of the best in the business, like Zak Brown's LMP3 team, United Autosports, saw Andrew go from strength to strength and achieve the best over the two days of testing, the cream of the crop. How's that for a "from-me-to-me" gift on his birthday?

An important lesson pulled out from Andrew's test that can be conveyed to any race car driver is never to chase time but rather to apply the basics and build up from there. After recently having a session with Claudio and only dipping my toes into the tuition that helps drivers like Andrew, I can attest to the thorough nature of the teaching process. I can only imagine the value Andrew has derived from it, analysing the data on his test and extracting the best of a car to achieve what he did.

Where to from here for Andrew? Well, for starts, he returns to South Africa in 2023 for the national GTC championship in a new car (more on that later), and then who knows? Perhaps with the eyes on him now, thanks to his impressive debut, more opportunities to come and, with any luck, he'll eventually find a seat in an endurance championship. All I know is that the coming of age of Andrew turning 21 and testing the LMP3 on that day is nothing short of a cute coincidence. 

Words: Brent vd Schyff

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