Alongside Leon on the 12C’s debut was Pro driver Rob and fellow South African Jordan Grogor, Dubai 24 Hours regular and former Gulfsport Radical Cup champion. Having raced together under the Dragon Racing banner, a three-hour event at one of the most famous Grand Prix venues in the world was something to enjoy rather than endure. Though driver coach Rob was keen to extract the most from his teammates.
“During a race weekend, I spend only a small percentage of my time concentrating on what I do,” Rob explains. “I’m primarily there to extract the maximum performance out of Leon and to a lesser extent Jordan. I’m there in a coaching capacity rather than a Pro racer capacity. So I’m used to spending 90 percent of my time analysing other people’s data and another 10 percent looking at mine.
“There’s a minimum and maximum driving time at each Blancpain race, so your gentleman driver can’t just do ten minutes then get out. So it’s really important to get the weakest link of the driving chain up to speed as quickly as you can. And I’m lucky in the fact that Leon has a lot of experience in these types of cars. But he’s also an intelligent guy. He watches closely what I do with the car and how I keep the speed up through the corners. It helps his race immensely.
Tentative footsteps in the opening Blancpain races of 2012 meant Von Ryan scored a best result of 20th in-class (29th overall) at the third round in Paul Ricard, just seven places behind the sister #60 12C of Stephen Jelley, Julien and Matthew Draper, and Stef Dusseldorp. The 2012 Spa 24 Hours though would prove a turning point for VRR. With Leon once again on the sidelines (owing to a sudden loss in the family), Portuguese driver Alvaro Parente filled the breach, his speed netting the VRR 12C a quite incredible third on the grid in-class and the combined consistency of Rob, Parente, Kiwi gentleman driver Roger Wills and Goodwin – in for his first race with VRR – bringing the team within an ace of a Pro-Am podium. A late call on safety issues to replace the brake pads may have cost the team second place in-class, but fourth was still an incredible achievement. Dave Ryan – working out of his premises in Dunsfold, a stone’s throw from McLaren GHQ in Woking – and his work ethic have proven just as important as the drivers’ pace.
“It’s terrific to drive for somebody as professional as Dave,” Rob continues. “Actually ‘professional’ doesn’t do the guy justice. He’s just meticulous when it comes to prepping the cars. There’s an awful lot he’s had to learn as he goes along and he’s had to adapt to GT racing, but we’ve drawn on Dave’s contacts from within Formula 1: he almost has keys to the back door at McLaren.”
Momentum built and confidence stirred, the #88 Von Ryan machine went into the remaining rounds of the Blancpain season with renewed vigour, even if 22nd at round five at the Nurburgring was as good as it got. While Stephane Ortelli, Christopher Mies and Christopher Haase celebrated a well-earned title for Belgian Club Audi WRT (as Niek Hommerson and Louis Machiels did so in the Pro-Am category for AF Corse), Middle East commitments continued post-season for Rob, Leon and Jordan returns to their Dragon Racing commitments and the #88 Ferrari 458 GT3 in the Middle East. Lining up for their sophomore season, once again at Monza, VRR was confident year two would see significant improvements.
“This year in terms of mechanical grip, we’re a good deal stronger,” Rob explains. “In terms of aerodynamic efficiency, the 12C is generating more downforce from the revised aerodynamic package, and returning less drag. So the car is stronger in slow speed corners. We’ve got a new boost control system on the turbochargers – I actually topped one of the speed trap times in Monza – so we’ve got good straight-line performance. And McLaren GT is working very hard behind the scenes to ensure that the team keeps up with Porsche, Ferrari and Audi. They don’t stand still.”
This newfound speed was clear from the get-go, Rob launching from 25th to fifth in Pro-Am in the opening stages at Monza, Jordan showing similarly good form to keep the 12C on the lead lap. Difficulties however arose during Leon’s stint, cold tyres and a dipped wheel on the grass stranding the McLaren in the gravel trap at the first Lesmo. A disappointing result but a strong weekend nonetheless, as 10th in-class at Silverstone and 13th at Paul Ricard ably proved. All of which have set the team’s sights on one race: Spa.
For Rob, Jordan, Dave, Leon (albeit from the sidelines at Spa owing to family commitments) and the whole outfit, their first sojourn into the Pro Class could easily upset the Belgian Club Audi R8s, the Aston Martin Racing Vantage V12s and the Marc Racing VDS Racing BMW Z4 GT3s at the Blancpain sharp end. Few could deny they’ve earned their chance to prove their mettle.
“Spa will be outstanding”. The Middle East certainly hopes so, Rob.
* Post-interview, Mr Price contacted crankandpiston.com to comment further on Dragon Racing’s commitments in both the Middle East and internationally:
“This entry signifies the launch of Dragon Racing International into the international racing arena. Although Dragon Racing’s main activities will be in the Middle East, from time to time they will enter selected prestigious events. In conjunction with Von Ryan Racing, Dragon Racing would jointly enter the car in the Pro category with drivers Bruno Senna, Chris Goodwin and Dragon Racing in-house Professional, Rob Barff.”