The first 18 hours of the Dunlop Dubai 24 Hour sports car endurance race were fraught with drama. As hard as the teams drove to move to the front and battle for the lead, they were struck down by collisions and mechanical failures, only to re-emerge from the garages to rejoin the fray and fight their way back towards the front—only to be struck down again, in many cases.
Not until the final six hours did some measure of calm come to pass, as the eventual winner, the #20 Stadler Motorsport Porsche 997 GT3 R driven by Mark and Rolf Ineichen, Marcel Matter, Adrian Amstutz, and Christian Engelhart, reached the head of the field and stayed there, lapping quickly enough to stay in the lead but slowly enough to preserve the car.
The second-place #38 All-Inkl.Com Münnich Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 survived by dint of determined driving by its crew of team owner René Münnich, plus Marc Basseng, Rob Huff. The car has serious suspension issues but its driver wrestled it the across the line three laps behind the winner and three laps ahead of the third-placed #2 Black Falcon Mercedes of Khaled Al Qubaisi, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal, Hubert Haupt, and Adam Christodoulou.
The #2 Black Falcon Mercedes was also a beast to drive; the car was broken and beaten by collisions; its aero was so messed up the car was nearly impossible to drive, but its drivers, particularly Khaled Al Qubaisi, Jeroen Bleekemolen, and Hubert Haupt, late in the race, persevered and pushed it home.
The fifth-placed #21 V8 racing Corvette CR-6 driven by Wolf Nathan, Danny Werkman, Rick Abresch, Alex van ‘t Hoff, and Nicky Pastorelli deserves an Honorable Mention. This car had a mostly Am driver line-up—only Pastorelli, who captured the pole, was a pro driver—but the team chose to run A6-Pro rather than A6-Am. This nine-year-old car, originally built as an FIA GT1 back when that class still existed, showed why “endurance” is the first word in “endurance racing.”
While Pastorelli was able to push the car to pole-winning pace, the other drivers were less quick. They compensated by being smart, driving within themselves, and keeping the car on the island until eventually they finished 11 laps down. Had they elected to run A6-Am, they might well have won the class.
Pro-Am Rules Working
A6-Am finished seventh through ninth, showing that the unique pro-Am rules used by Creventic really can work. Creventic allows cars in the top class, A6 (essentially FIA GT3 cars) to choose between running flat-out with a slight weight penalty (A6-Pro,) or to run to one of two specified lap times—2:05 for A6-Am or 2:07 for A6-Am, the idea being that because the race attracts so many pro-Am and amateur teams, these teams need to be given a chance to win overall.
While the A6-Pros often hit lap times as low as two minutes even, the Ams are only allowed to exceed 2:05 ten times during the first 22 hours of the race, and not at all in the final two hours (enforced by drive-through penalties.) However, the Am cars should have to make fewer pit stops, being lighter, so that they can still (almost) keep up with the Pros. (Next year the target time might be lowered, to improve the Ams’ chances.)
As it happened the Ams needed as many stops as the Pros—19 stops was the lowest for any A6 car. Reliability and luck at avoiding accidents proved to be the deciding factors.
A6-Am winner Jordon Grogor and co-drivers Khaled Al Mudhaf, Mohammed Jawa, Frederic Fatien in the #888 Dragon Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 showed exactly how the rules work. Grogor saved his sub-2:05 “joker” laps until he had worked himself up to third in class late in the race, then used them deliberately to run extremely fast laps (best of 2:01.486) to reel in and overtake the cars ahead.
Some of the Dragon Racing’s competition wasted their joker laps, by running a few hundredths over the limit accidentally. Grogor and company were careful to preserve their fast laps and use them for maximum effect.
The #888 Dragon Racing Ferrari had its share of luck: the #19 GDL Racing Mercedes SLS, which was running as high as fourth overall with an eight-lap lead, lost time in the pits. Even the most careful joker strategy wouldn’t have erased that gap.
Attrition: Still Part of Endurance Racing
The Creventic Dunlop Dubai 24 was something of an old-school endurance race. Unlike most of today’s “endurance” events, which are actually 24-hour sprints, the Dubai 24 was a race of attrition as much as a contest of speed. One-third of the field—26 out of 77 starters—retired before the finish.
The winning car the #20 Stadler Motorsport Porsche 997 GT3 R, was not the quickest car in its class, but it had the best luck—every car ahead of it suffered mechanical failure or collisions damage or both.
Two-time defending champions the #1 Abu Dhabi Black Falcon Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 was the first of the favorites to go, followed by 2011 winner the #76 SX Team Schubert BMW Z4 GT3, the first of the underdog leaders the #30 Ram Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, and then the second underdog leader, the #4 Fach Auto Tech Porsche 997 GT3 R.
Electrical failures, collision damage, broken driveshafts, picked off the leaders one by one until the final six hours, when things finally settled down and at least the top dozen or so cars settled into place. The winning Stadler Porsche led 179 laps; seven early in the race due to pit-stop rotations, and the final 172 laps, which are the laps that mattered.
The Other Classes
The Dunlop Dubai 24 features nine classes of cars, and while the fastest A6 cars get the lion’s share of the attention, the racing is intense all through the field.
The 997 class, devoted to Porsche 997s (except this year when a few of the new 991 models were included) went to the #42 Forch Racing by Lukas Motorsport Porsche 997 Cup, driven by Robert Lukas, Christofer Berckhan Ramirez, Andrzej Lewandowski, and Stefan Bilinski. This team completed 578 laps, 25 fewer than the race winner but four more than the next car in class, the #44 Black Falcon Porsche. The #42 actually led three laps early in the race because it had better fuel economy than the faster A6 cars.
The SP3 class win went to the #164 Speedworks Motorsport Ginetta G50 driven by Tony Hughes, Christian Dick, Ross Warburton, and Will Scully. This class was full of spinning and/or stalling Ginettas; the Speedworks crew made the fewest mistakes.
SP2 went to the #123 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN Nissan 370Z driven by Lucas Ordonez, Miguel Faisca, Florian Strauss, Stanislav Aksenov, and Nickolas McMillen. This car ran well early but lost a lot of time to mechanical problems. It managed to get back on track to salvage a class win by 25 laps ovwer the much more troubled #136 Gravity Racing International Mosler MT 900 GT3 and the second Nissan GT Academy 370Z which was a further 48 laps behind.
The all-female Racing Divas Team Schubert crew of Natasja Smit-Sø, Gaby Uljee, Sandra van der Sloot, Paulien Zwart, and Shirley van der Lof survived an early collision to come back and with the A3T class, the second year in a row this team has come back to take a class victory.
The A5 Touring Car class victory went to the #62 JR Motorsport BMW E46 GTR driven by arry Hilders, Roger Grouwels, Gijs Bessem, Koen Bogaerts, and Dziugas Tovilavi.
The #106 AD Racing with K-Rejser Renault Clio Sport 2-liter of Jan Engelbrecht, Martin Clausen, Jan Seerup, and Jacob Kristensen, the younger brother of nine-tile Le Mans 24 winner Tom Kristensen.
Finally D1 went to the #125 Recy Racing Team BMW 120D driven by Jan De Vocht, Johan Van Loo, Steffen Schlichenmeier, Wim Meulders, and Thomas Piessens.
Dubai 24 Getting Stronger Each Season
The ninth running of the Dubai 24 was unquestionably the best to date. This race started out as a mostly regional event for some of the wealthy businessmen who could afford to rent rides in fast cars, but over the years has grown into a serious international event. The organizers have taken note and upped their game with each edition.
As Creventic spokesperson Gerrie Willems put it on the series website, “Over the years, the organization process has become more and more streamlined. Everybody knows what other people need or want and when there is a problem, we simply look for a solution.”
This “Avoid-the-politics, Find-the-answer” approach has led to the race becoming more popular each year, while many other national and international series are struggling to maintain an audience.
As the first race of the season, the Dubai 24 is a perfect opportunity for drivers to shake off some winter rust and get some seat time.
Because the race features nine classes, almost anyone who runs almost any typwe of car can participate. On top of that the organizers have offered a fantastic deal to teams entering the lower classes: it is rumored that an entry in the lower classes costs only €5000, and the organizers will cover shipping!
These things, combined with the robust Mideast economy, have attracted an ever more cosmopolitan and professional field of teams and drivers.
Creventic changed the targeted laptime rule once a lot of international racing drivers and teams started showing up to compete. Word is they might adjust the rule again to allow for the evolution of GT3 machinery and the increasing skill of the Am drivers.
Also, Creventic has always chosen first-rate data and media services.
Unlike some series (TUSCC, cough, cough) Creventic offers free video streaming, narrated by the unquestionably best English-language commentary crew in the business, the Radio Le Mans team.
Creventic’s Live Timing and Scoring are top-tier: the series provides so much live digital information, it is possible to follow the action without a video link.
Also, the video and data streams are remarkably reliable. Unlike some North American series which sometimes find it hard to offer even reliable Live Timing for a 2:45 race, Creventic’s website managed to broadcast the entire 24 hours with perhaps a dozen one-second pauses.
Better Still to Come
2015 will mark the tenth anniversary of the Dubai 24. Race organizers Creventic and Dutch National Racing Team (DNRT) and the Dubai Autodrome are planning for an even better event, with improvements to the facilities planned.
“For me, there were some things that stood out in this year’s race,” said Creventic spokesperson Gerrie Willems on the series website.
“First of all, there was a bigger crowd than in years before, Secondly, the great atmosphere among the teams and drivers, but also among everyone involved in this event, was a special thing. And last but not least, we had a very nice and colorful show on the starting grid, a beautiful fireworks display in the evening and our traditional prize-giving ceremony including the trademark camel ride after the race.
“This was a great start of the 2014 season, in which we continue with four more races as part of our 24H Series powered by Dunlop: the Dunlop 12H Italy-Mugello, the Dunlop 12H Zandvoort, the 24H Barcelona and the Dunlop 12H Hungary.
“Of course, we hope to be back again at Dubai Autodrome from January 8 till 10th next year to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Dunlop 24H Dubai.”
To follow the rest of the Creventic 2014 endurance racing schedule, visit http://live.24hseries.com.