Motorsport’s 2017 season is about to kick off in the United Arab Emirates at the annual Dubai 24 Hours. The entry list has been confirmed, but what specifically should you be looking for at this year’s race?
1. New winners…
Amazingly, despite Belgian Audi Club WRT fielding two R8 LMS entries for this year’s race, only one of the team’s winning drivers from 2016 – Stuart Leonard in the #4 R8 LMS – will make the start this year. Even if the Briton can pull off the double, he’ll do so with new teammates Enzo Ide, Robin Frijns, Christopher Mies and Ruben Maes. Key competition though could yet come from the fuel-friendly #12 Manthey Racing Porsche 991 GT3 R of Otto Klohs, Sven Müller, Matteo Cairoli and Jochen Krumbach.
Even if race favourites Black Falcon can take the victory, neither Patrick Assenheimer and Manuel Metzger in the #2 entry, nor Michal Broniszewski and Maro Engel in the #3 AMG GT3 have stepped to the top of the Dubai 24 Hours podium before. Still not convinced? How about the fact that, across the 24HSERIES in 2016, 19 different drivers won a race outright at least once.
2. …and previous ones
Not that repeat victories are a rarity at the Dubai 24 Hours. In the event’s 11-year history, only five men have doubled their time on the top step of the podium, including Philipp Peter, Dieter Quester, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Khaled Al Qubaisi and the late Sean Edwards. Of these five, two – Al Qubaisi and Bleekemolen – will be action in the #2 Black Falcons Mercedes-AMG GT3, both of whom will be looking for their third respective outright Dubai 24 Hours victory.
Scan through the entry list though and previous winners are back in action. 2017 victor Oliver Webb will compete in the SPX category with the #10 Leipert Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo. GRT Grasser Racing meanwhile field most of the 2014 winning drivers, with Rolf and Mark Ineichen in the #963 Huracán GT3, and Adrian Amstutz and Christian Engelhart in the sister #964.
Oh, and if 2013 winner Bernd Schneider is conspicuous by his absence from the Black Falcon line-up, you can find him in the #25 A6-Am HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3.
3. Germany vs Germany
Rub your eyes all you want, but it’s true: this year, with neither Dragon Racing nor Kessler Racing on the entry list for 2017, this year’s Dubai 24 Hours will not feature a single Ferrari on the grid. Seven Lamborghini Huracán GT3s mean Italy will be represented at the sharp-end in A6-Pro, but if history is anything to go by, the odds on favourite for the win is Germany.
Since 2006, Porsche has taken a record four wins, closely followed by three for Mercedes-AMG, both of which will be well represented at the sharp end: four Porsche 991 GT3 Rs (Manthey Racing, Forch Racing powered by Olimp, Imsa Performance and Herberth Motorsport) will take on four Mercedes-AMG GT3s in A6-Pro (Black Falcon 1 and 2, IDEC SPORT RACING and SPS automotive performance) as well as two further in A6-Am (Gravity Racing International and HTP Motorsport). Lest we also forget Audi’s dominant performance last year, which netted Ingolstadt two spots on the podium – first and third – and a further spot in the top five. Don’t be too surprised to see the two Belgian Audi Club WRT entries, or the A6-Pro entry from Optimum Motorsport to spring a surprise.
4. Big names
It wouldn’t be the Dubai 24 Hours – the first motor race of the season – without several names on the entry list to make you go, “wait, he’s driving?!”
Key names this year include former Toro Rosso Formula 1 driver Jean-Eric Vergne in the #28 GP Extreme Renaultsport R.S.01. as well as three-time Marcel Fässler in the #5 Belgain Audi Club WRT Audi R8 LMS. Sticking with the World Endurance Championship, Brendon Hartley – the 2016 champion – will race for the first time ever in the #911 Herberth Motorsport Porsche 991 GT3 R.
One name in particular that ruffled our toupes though was the announcement that former Grand Prix winner and World Rally Championship badass Robert Kubica would also compete in Dubai in the #29 Forch Racing powered by Olimp Porsche 991 GT3 R. Fans of touring cars will also be pleased to see Tom Onslow-Cole make his traditional Middle-East sojourn in the #16 SPS Automotive Performance.
5. Local boys (and teams)
Unsurprisingly, the Middle East is well-represented in the biggest endurance race of the region. GP Extreme represent the United Arab Emirates at the sharp end of the grid with two Renaultsport R.S.01 for Nicky Pastorelli, Frederic Fatien, Tiziano Carugati, and Stuart Hall, and Jordan Grogor, Louis Deletraz, Josh Webster, and, of course, Vergne. GDL Racing field a Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo for Franck Pelle, Rory Penttinen, Vic Rice and Pierre Ehret, while event regulars ZRT Motorsport bring a brand new Honda Integra DC5 for Jonathan Mullan, Umair Khan, Graham Davidson and Chris Yarwood.
Former category winners LAP57 this year field two cars for the all-Emirati (and former national champions) Mohammed Al Owais, Abdullah Al Hammadi, Saeed Al Mehairi and Nadir Zuhour in the #57 Civic TCR and Junichi Umemoto, Kouich Okumura, Teruhiko Hamano, Peter Jürgen and Ashan Silva in the #570 Integra DC5
The Saudi Arabian colours meanwhile are being flown by Abdulaziz Al Faisal in the #3 Black Falcon AMG GT3, Saud Al Faisal, Saeed Al Mouri and Bandar Alesayi taking up position in the team’s #68 and #69 Porsche 991 Cup cars. Mohammed Bin Saud Al Saud and Mohammed Bin Faisal Al Saud meanwhile line-up in the #5 Belgian Audi Club WRT. Oh, and don’t forget last year’s 24HSERIES champions Memac Ogilvy Duel Racing, who this year swap the SEAT Leon for a Porsche 991 Cup for all-Brit Ramzi Moutran, Nabil Moutran, Sami Moutran and Phil Quaife.
6. Code 60
Given that the ‘slow down, debris on-track’ warning was flown more than a dozen times during the 2016 race – meaning nearly three hours was run, effectively, under safety car conditions, don’t expect that to change too much in 2017. Up to 99 cars will be on the grid (give or take the occasional DNS through one practice shunt or another), and given that the difference in performance between the 1m 58s-running A6-Pro cars and the minnow A2 entries is a mighty 30 seconds, it won’t be long before the leaders will hit traffic on the 5.39km Grand Prix configuration at the Dubai Autodrome. Shunting seems an inevitability, as Scuderia Praha – whose Ferrari 488 GT3 was belted out of last year’s race at midnight whilst in the lead – can attest.
Even without the prospect of contact, teams facing 24 hours of racing will also fall foul of engine, gearbox, tyre and, particularly, brake issues around the circuit, all of which will require yellow flag or Code 60 periods of clean-up. Don’t expect that record 628-lap run by Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon in 2012 to be broken anytime soon. Although saying that, we have seen stranger over the years…
7. Renaultsport wins for the first time in four decades
Okay, we’ll admit this is a long shot. But should the lead GP Extreme R.S.01 manage to pull off a victory at the Dubai 24 Hours, it will mark not only the first time a French manufacturer has won the regional big one (and the first time the United Arab Emirates has taken victory since 2013), but it would also mark the first time Renaultsport has won an endurance circuit race since the late 1970s. That accolade harks back to Le Mans in 1978 victory when Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud took the Alpine A442B to victory.
It’s the biggest motorsport event in our region alongside the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and the first endurance race of the calendar year. You really thought we wouldn’t be in attendance? Be sure to say ‘hi’ if you’re down at the Dubai Autodrome this weekend. Bring coffee.
- Be sure to check out the LIVE STREAM HERE, keep up to date with live timing HERE, and check out the full entry list HERE