At the 2013 Spa 24 Hours, and throughout the 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series, the Middle East will be represented by the Von Ryan Racing McLaren 12C GT3, as well as regional favourites Leon Price, Rob Barff and Jordan Grogor. And a certain Mr Bruno Senna, no less.[Not a valid template]
“It’s a fabulous line-up, it’s all signed and sealed, and the team will have a very good shot at running right at the top in Spa.”
An understatement certainly from Von Ryan Racing’s Leon Price. For the first time since entering the Blancpain Endurance Series last year, VRR will compete as a full Pro-Class outfit following the announcement that former Formula 1 driver – and current FIA World Endurance Championship competitor with Aston Martin Racing – Bruno Senna will join the team for a one-off run at the Spa 24 Hours. Having raced in the famous John Player Special colours in 2011 and finished his F1 tenure with Williams in 2012, the significance that Senna will now race a McLaren is lost on no-one.
It’s a significance that’s certainly not lost on Von Ryan Racing, who after a strong showing at the event last year, could be on its way to securing its first ever podium in the Blancpain Endurance Series. Lining up alongside Senna will be his manager – and McLaren’s chief test driver – Chris Goodwin, and long-time VRR driver Rob Barff, a multi-time British GT Championship race winner. Family commitments mean Leon steps out of the Von Ryan Racing cockpit for Spa.
It’s a disappointment in some respects for the South African, the collection of intricate diecast models, hardback books and DVDs in his office demonstrating a huge enthusiasm for motorsport (and let’s not forget those stints in the UAE GT Championship and the Dubai 24 Hours with Dragon Racing). On the other hand, the Spa 24 Hours is a huge chance for VRR to rubberstamp its credibility. As well as an impressive driver line-up, the team also boasts the services of Dave Ryan, former sporting director at McLaren’s Formula 1 team.
“I met Dave when I went up to meet the CRS people, who I’d heard were building their own car”, Leon explains, referring to the British-based CRS Racing team who recently announced a partnership with McLaren for the British GT Championship. “And I decided to buy one, a McLaren 12C GT3. Dave was thinking about putting his race team together. I met him, I liked him, and within the hour I asked him to run my car. And that was October ’11.”
An astonishing coup, considering the newly acquired McLaren had yet to sign for any race series. Numerous conversations with Woking ensued before the now christened Von Ryan Racing committed to the Blancpain, a series that had only just finished its inaugural season but which was already one of the world’s most publicised GT series. McLaren’s support proved vital to the decision.
“It was clear they was going to put the most amount of support – from a spares point of view, and having technicians and engineers available on race day – behind the Blancpain series, so we all agreed it was the best route”
Just six months after the initial purchase, VRR lined up on a grid that boasted close to 60 cars, nearly 150 drivers and three classes including Pro, Pro-Am and Gentleman. At a high-speed venue like Monza, the performance deficit from the back to the front is as much as eight seconds per lap. Pro-Am was inevitably going to be busy for VRR, though that proved only one of several lessons learnt on opening weekend for car #88.
“There were a lot of teams running the McLaren, but it was untested,” Leon continues. “So we all had similar problems in trying to make the car competitive, because it wasn’t. You can’t expect it to be, not that quickly. So it was difficult to start from behind the eight ball. But you just get on with it.”