It didn’t take long for rain to start falling heavily, resulting in a flurry of Code 60 flags being waved which limit the drivers to 60kph. There were one or two nervous faces on pitroad. Rain was forecasted late in the night too, and since each car had only three sets of wet tyres for the whole weekend, many resorted to tiptoeing round a very damp track on slicks. A logistical nightmare for team strategists but a photographer’s dream, since spray bouncing off the rear diffusers producing some amazing shots. Despite the race being 24 hours long, many photogenic opportunities last only a matter of moments. Sunset and sunrise for instance are very short, so making sure you are in the right place at the right time is paramount.
As the sun set, the usual range of issues started to crop up. Such a wide range of cars on track means a huge speed difference, some cars approaching 270kph down the straight where others are capable of hitting no more than 210kph. During the night this was demonstrated vividly when the #1 Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Stefan Mucke, Mark Poole, Richard Abra and Bruno Senna collided at terrifyingly high speed with the #12 Clickvers.de Porsche 997 GT3 of Wolfgang Destree, Kersten Jodexnis, Norbert Pauels and Christopher Rink. Thankfully both Mucke and Pauels were unhurt, though the Aston driver remained in hospital for several days after under observation.
In the morning it became clear how much carnage the night had hidden. Fortunately few other cars had suffered accidents, but those entries still running were streaked with rubber marks, oil stains and duct tape. Reliability issues are not the most interesting or easy thing to photograph, and yet the 997-class leading Porsche would prove otherwise before the halfway point. The B2F by LD Racing-entered #8 GT3 of Benoit and Bruno Fretin, Dominique Nury and Michel Mitieus spectacularly burst into flames as it trundled down pitroad.
After 24-hours of hectic action, a mass of team personnel gather on the pitwall to cheer the surviving cars past the chequered flag. Having taken a well-deserved lap of honour, the winning Hofor Racing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 (Michael Kroll, Roland Eggiman, Kenneth Heyer and Christiaan Frankenhout), second-placed Ruffier Racing Porsche 997 Cup (Patrice and Paul Lafargue, Franck Racinet and Gabriel Abergel) and the third-placed MDM Motorsport BMW 320d (Rob de Laat, Theo de Prenter, Tristan Boorsma and Mark Bus) tick themselves cool in parc fermé. Our victors snapped, I take a moment to wander around the battered cars arranged down the pit straight. The bodywork on these ‘bloodied’ cars each tells a different story.
Celebrations over, the action is back on again as mechanics swoop on cars, preparing them to be shipped back to base ahead of the next event. This may only be my third 24-hour race, but it’s a way of life to these guys. And when you consider what can, and often does, happen during a 24-hour interval, it’s hard not to be impressed.