It may sound contrived but in their own way, everyone who took part at the Dubai 24Hr was a winner. Simply reporting on the event took considerable effort, let alone actually competing.
Take, for instance, race winners Team Abu Dhabi Black Falcons. The pressure of racing on home turf aside, as podium finishers last year, the pressure to repeat (if not improve upon) their performance was immense, especially considering the injection of much needed extra cash. So qualifying only 15th rather put them on the back foot. A good start helped swing momentum their way again, and within a handful of laps the #3 Mercedes SLS AMG was already tussling in the top ten. All focus, however, was at the front.
Reiter Engineering’s Peter Kox played his Ace card early with a superb start from fifth that caught front row men Rob Barff (#12 AUH Motorsport) and Matt Griffin (#2 AF Corse SRL) completely unawares. Down the inside, and with the Ferrari front row lock-out crumbled, Kox’s Lamborghini Gallardo LP600 led the first four tours. Having temporarily fallen asleep, both Ferraris soon muscled their way back past only for Griffin’s #2 458 Italia to gracefully pirhouette shortly after. An early pitstop from his scarlet coloured #12 comrade gave Kox’s Lambo the lead again, before he too threw away his advantage with a trip through the gravel.
Enter Team Abu Dhabi’s #3 Mercedes. Pushing further than the early leaders meant the SLS with Jeroen Bleekemolen at the wheel was soon fighting for top spot, harrying Heico Motorsport’s #6 neighbouring AMG and Saudi Falcons By Schubert Motorsport’s #1 BMW Z4. With typically Germanic reliability, their ungloved confrontation stretched long into the night.
Backmarkers, as ever played, a hand. A very near-miss between Max Nilsson (#6 Heico Motorsport) and Sean Edwards (#3 Team Abu Dhabi) left both lucky to survive with only dented door mirrors. Edward’s second attempt went smoother, boxing Nilsson in behind a lapped Porsche giving him the inside run into the lead. Tactical pit work and a brilliantly fast brake disc change kept Edward Sandstrom (#1 Saudi Falcons) breathing down their exhaust pipes.
Scarlet hopes faded quickly by comparison. A front row start and the tight, technical Autodrome circuit – a perfect combination for the downforce-laden Ferrari – seemed like money in the bank. Stellar charges had left both Ferraris on the fringes of the podium before darkness fell and problems unfolded quickly. Contact with a lapped Dodge Viper soon after a stop-go penalty for speeding in the pitlane left #2 AF Corse driver Matt Griffin facing the wrong way and with a broken right rear wheel. Griffin pulled in for good after a second spin suggested terminal steering problems. Stuck in sixth gear, it was all she wrote for their #12 AUH Motorsport rivals by the eighth hour too.
Several code 60 flags slowed the field to 60kph as discarded carbon fibre was swept from the track, but by dawn, the chaos was all but gone. Fatigue and a rogue pitlane speeding infringement aside, Team Abu Dhabi’s lead was never broken, and Khaled Al Qubaisi dutifully nursed the car to victory lane.
By the 20th hour, Heico Motorsport’s chances of victory had fizzled out, the #6 SLS unable to avoid going a lap down owing to several lengthy pitstops. Bernd Schneider’s last stint was enough to secure second spot on the podium though, a marked difference to seventh place a year earlier. Five laps further back, the sister #16 Mercedes soon found itself under increasing pressure from a resurgent Saudi Falcons team, their #1 car on a charge after replacing a broken accelerator linkage and air filter. Just 8 seconds split Andreas Simonsen and Edward Sandstrom, with the SLS coming out on top.
Reiter Engineering’s early charge struck puncture problems, leaving the #25 Gallardo eighth just ahead of the similarly Lamborghini-shod rhino’s Leipert Motorsport. Fifth, sixth and tenth was Porsche 997 GT3 R territory, Fach 2 Auto Tech (#18), Stadler Motorsport (#15) and MRS GT-Racing (#38) taking the plaudits. Gravity-Charouz Racing’s seventh place (#15) sealed a good weekend for Mercedes motorsport.
Carworld Motorsport came out on top in the 997 category, narrowly pipping the Besaplast Racing Team. The Las Moras Racing Team took SP2 category honours, while Optimum Motorsport headed the SP3 class. Friday 13th struck JR Motorsport’s Harry Hilder (#54) with a vengeance, however, when his BMW E46 GTR nose-dived violently into the wall at turn one. A rather nerve-wracking trip to the local hospital thankfully confirmed nothing more serious than a broken collarbone. The car, however, was a complete write-off.
The sun shining down on the event’s podium winners seemed appropriate. Trophies held aloft confirmed each team’s sleepless night and hardwork had paid off, their day in the sun truly deserved. As it was for every team still circulating at the finish. For as Hinder’ accident demonstrated, walking away from such an event was a victory in itself >>>
Shots by Pete West