The first race of the season is in the books. In the by now traditional season opener in Dubai, WRT made its debut in the twice around the clock to take the win with drivers Laurens Vanthoor, Stuart Leonard, Alain Ferté and Michael Meadows behind the wheel, courtesy of a near mistake-free race.
Having grown exponentially alongside the increasing worldwide popularity of GT3 racing, the field in the 2016 Hankook 24h Dubai is one hundred cars strong and counts no less than 26 GT3 racers in the A6 class. Amongst them are brand new cars such as the Audi R8 LMS GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 with the AMG making its debut in the hands of customer teams.
On Thursday tragedy strikes for the Black Falcon team. Something in the team’s sole Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 catches fire. The whole car burns down and driver Patrick Assenheimer escapes with burns that while not life threatening, do throw him out of contention for the rest of the weekend.
Luckily for the team and drivers, Abdulaziz Al Faisal has brought last year’s Dubai 24 hours winning SLS with him as a show model and offers to enter that car in the race instead. Thrashing to get the car race ready, the crew from Germany gets it done in the early hours of race day.
Having established himself as a top tier racer last year as an Audi works driver, Christopher Mies steals the show in the first hour of the race. The young German fights a tough battle in the opening laps with Christer Jöns in the C. Abt Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3, switching positions at the front end of the field multiple time before Mies settles into the lead.
Backed up by equally stellar team mates Marc Basseng and Connor De Phillippi and solid stints by Carsten Tilke, the Land Audi stays in front for most of the afternoon.
Black Falcon has come to Dubai with two brand new cars and one goal: to win. The German team is the first customer to enter the new Mercedes-AMG GT3 in competition, but the car’s baptism of fire ends after sunset. Jeroen Bleekemolen hits the Attempto Porsche 997 GT3R while trying to lap the blue car. In the pit box there is nothing Black Falcon can do anymore, the damage to the suspension is too extensive to make a repair worthwhile.
The other AMG doesn’t reach the halfway mark either. Contact with another car causes an oil leak. Just like the sister car, the damage is too severe to continue.
Under the starry skies Scuderia Praha has taken over the lead from Land-Motorsport. The Czechs have been looking strong since Peter Kox got behind the wheel of the Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 and teammates aren’t backing down either.
It’s shortly before midnight when Matteo Cressoni is in the car and things go askew. A mistake—or is it recklessness?–by the Italian sends the Ferrari crashing into the Primus Racing Ginetta of Thomas Martinsson as both cars hit the wall hard. After a series of incidents at previous 24h Series events, the organisation of the championship has had enough and bans Scuderia Praha from participating in the next round at Mugello. But that won’t help Martinsson, who has to be cut out of his car with broken rips and collarbone.
Land inherits the lead. Much of the night is spend with the Audi in front. The new R8 has proven to be a champion already, winning the Nürburgring 24 hours and the Sepang 12 hours in the hands of WRT. The Belgians are in second but appear in the lead when the sun comes up, with Land now in pursuit. Running out of fuel has cost Land the lead.
It won’t be the last problem that Land will have on Saturday: two and a half hours before the end Connor De Phillippi is left with no more than four gears, forcing the team into retirement.
Biding their time while remaining nearly faultless, Laurens Vanthoor, Stuart Leonard, Alain Ferté and Michael Meadows cruise towards the chequered flag. Appearing on the 24h Dubai grid for the very first time, the WRT squad add another big win to their already long list of accomplishments.
Five laps behind the Audi the Black Falcon Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 crosses the finish line in second place. Starting from the back of the grid, Adam Christodoulou, Oliver Webb, Olivier Morley, Frank Montecalvo and Abdulaziz Al Faisal slowly but surely moved up through the field, staying out of trouble. Last minute retirements of the SPS Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 and Konrad Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 ensure a podium finish for Black Falcon.
Rounding out the podium is C. Abt Racing. The team of drivers Christer Jöns, Andreas Weishaupt, Isaac Tutumlu Lopez, Matias Henkola and Daniel Abt eventually lose touch with the leaders but still manage to bring him a strong result.
Over in the Porsche 991 GT3 Cup class Lechner Racing takes the first two places on the podium. The Austrian team with drivers Saeed Al Mehairi, Bashar Mardini, Sven Müller, Hasher Al Maktoum and Jaap van Lagen in the winning car and Hannes Waimer, Wolfgang Triller, Edward Jones, Christopher Zöchling and Charlie Frijns in the runner up are fighting off Black Falcon’s number 61 Porsche with Gerwin Schuring, Manuel Metzger, Anders Fjordbach, Saud Al Faisal and Saaed Al Mouri until late at night.
The Black Falcon team is thrown out of contention for the win when a bump with another car causes a problem with the Porsche’s radiator and is forced into the pits to inspect the damage. With no other choice left than to replace the cooler, the car is thrown twenty minutes back. In spite of their best efforts, Black Falcon can never get back in reach with the leaders and has to settle for third.
Photos by Kevin Pecks/Chequeredflag.de