Porsche secures a 1-2 ahead of Mercedes-AMG and a record-breaking fourth overall win at the Dubai 24 Hours as Brendon Hartley breaks his 24-hour racing duck. On-site throughout the race, crankandpiston.com presents its favourite shots from a full day of racing in the desert.
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Ahead of the green flag, you could forgive Brendon Hartley for being quietly confident ahead of the 2017 Dubai 24 Hours. Granted, before Wednesday’s free practice session, the Kiwi had never turned a Porsche 911 wheel in racing anger, and Le Mans had demonstrated – twice, in fact – that results are rarely in the bag in endurance racing until the portly lady starts warming up her vocal chords. Still, as the 2015 World Endurance Champion, Hartley KNEW how to drive an endurance race, and given that the brand new Porsche 911 GT3 had proven easy on its tyres, fuel and brakes throughout the practice sessions, a podium with the well-established Herberth Motorsport seemed a safe bet.
That the Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 would go on to dominate the event the way it did though came as a surprise to many: indeed, having led 137 laps just before half distance over closest rivals Manthey Racing, Herberth’s #911 (its actual number) would lead the final 227, almost half of the total 578-lap distance.
Bucket loads of good luck? Well-placed voodoo? Spotless reliability, solid driving from Hartley, Alfred and Robert Renauer, Ralf Bohn and Daniel Allemann, and a high-rate of attrition from its nearest rivals? All of the above, for when the 92-car field had got underway 24 hours earlier, it was the #2 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 that led – and convincingly so – from the #963 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 that had qualified alongside it, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Mirko Bortolotti respectively putting clear air quickly between them and the rest of the field. Indeed, such was the pace of the Merc, and so keen were the Black Falcons to put last year’s difficult debut for the AMG GT3 to rest, that the trailing Porsche 991 duo of Manthey Racing and Herberth only began making strides from the 90-minute mark onwards.
As darkness fell however, and though we weren’t to know at the time, this would be the end of not only the Black Falcons’ charge but also Manthey’s, slightly better traffic management and pit stop strategy allowing Herberth to eke out a two lap margin it would hold to the very end to cement Porsche’s first victory in Dubai since 2010, and that of a third different manufacturer in as many years after Mercedes-AMG in 2015 and Audi in 2016.
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Ah…yes. Whether the Audi R8 LMS could repeat its steam-rolling effort with the Belgian Audi Club WRT in 2015 was a question on everybody’s lips early doors, despite the highest four-ringed grille being only ninth fastest in qualifying. Ultimately balance of performance hit Ingolstadt hard in 2017, and while the #14 Optimum Motorsport entry remained on the fringes of the top five throughout the event, fourth overall would be the sum total of the team’s efforts. Not that Audi walked away completely empty handed of course, the #108 Cadspeed Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR securing TCR class victory after herculean efforts from James Kaye, Julian Griffin, Erik Holstein and Finlay Hutchison.
Mercedes-AMG meanwhile could at least celebrate third place overall with the #3 Black Falcon AMG GT3 of Abdulaziz Al Faisal, Hubert Haupt, Yelmer Buurman, Michal Broniszewski, and Maro Engel, the Saudi prince taking the camel ride to the podium as is Dubai tradition. Still though, there were tinges of disappointment. After a stonking start, the Black Falcons #2 entry ended its race shortly before 4am against the side of GRT Gasser Racing’s #963 Lamborghini (we’ll get to that). Yet further disappointment for Khaled Al Qubaisi, whose goal of a record-breaking third overall win at his home race came unglued along with the left front suspension just 11 laps into his stint. Reigning 24HSERIES champions Hofor Racing’s victory in A6-Am though with Michael and Chantal Kroll, Roland Eggimann, Kenneth Heyer and Christiaan Frankenhout ensured Munich didn’t walk away empty-handed though.
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Despite a commanding 1-2 in the SPX category – the #87 GDL Racing Middle East machine leading home the #10 Leipert Motorsport entry – few manufacturers had a tougher Dubai 24 Hours than Lamborghini. Two hours in, the #7 HB Racing Huracán got the destructive ball rolling by stacking itself into the barriers, severing an oil line in the process and igniting on-track in an attempt to singe Andrea Amici’s chest hairs (unsuccessfully, fortunately). The #964 GRT machine meanwhile ended its run several hours later against the side of the #303 SEAT Leon, contact that took the marshals, quite incredibly, 40 minutes to separate. The #963s travails with the #2 Black Falcon and later the #4 WRT Audi summed up a rocky weekend for Italy’s only brand representative in the top class.
Further down, Bovi Motorsport’s Wolfgang Kaufmann, Kalman Bodis, Jaap van Lagen and Heino Bo Frederiksen cemented SP2 class victory, while Peugeot collected A2 and A3 category silverware with the #171 Team Eva RCZ and #308 Team Altran 208 GTi respectively. Saud Al Faisal, Saeed Al Mouri, Anders Fjordbach and Alexander Toril made it two podiums for the Black Falcons with victory in the #68 911 Cup in a surprisingly high attrition-hit 991 class, while Optimum Motorsport took SP3-GT4 honours with Stewart Linn, Ade Barwick, Dan O’Brien and William Moore in the #231 Ginetta G55. Former Formula 1 racers Jean-Eric Vergne and Robert Kubica meanwhile enjoyed bittersweet debut endurance races in Dubai, the former’s #28 GP Extreme Renaultsport R.S.01 finding a hole where its engine should be after eight hours, the latter a victim of ECU and electrical failure on the #29 Forch Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R.
Unsurprisingly though, most eyes were on Hartley as the podium celebrations got underway, the Kiwi celebrating his first-ever win in a 24-hour race, and wondering if, like the rest of us, this was a good omen for the 2017 World Endurance Championship season to come. His confidence had not been misplaced in Dubai one day earlier, after all…