Due to popular demand, the unique humour of Joe Osborne graces Racing.GT with an insight into the Dubai 24 Hours.
When Racing.GT came crawling back to ask me to write for them again, I knew they were desperate. It’s a similar feeling when a team talks to me about a possible drive. Similar, but even rarer is when a girl comes to speak to me at a bar. That happens less now I have a girlfriend and even less since I left my job as a barman. Desperation is a good word to summarise the off-season.
Luckily, the off-season gets shorter each year as the race calendars drag out longer. The start point is much earlier now with the warmer climates countries getting involved in the GT racing scene. For me, the year would kick off with the Dubai 24hr, so while I had to waste my valuable time over Christmas talking to family, I could see the finish line to bring an end to all the mundane stuff.
Dubai saw me re-join an old faithful team in Optimum Motorsport. I first drove for them in 2007, and have driven for them when they get desperate a lot since then. This race would see us both embark on a fresh journey with the all-new Audi R8 GT3 LMS. I had driven the R8 in its former guise, but although they share names, the cars are pole positions apart, a bit like drinking Guinness in Dublin compared to drinking it in Mongolia.
I make no bones about the old car in how it drove. It was a road car, as all GT3 cars should be because this is what the rules stipulate. But as more and more cars tore pages out of the rule book, the Audi was left in an awkward limbo. It was stout in feeling (electric glass windows!) and its road car ECU hampered it. However, this new Audi has taken the rules as seriously as Google and their tax responsibility. It’s hugely impressive performance-wise, but also in terms of its drivability.
We always say GT3 is all about the gent drivers (it makes them feel better when they are paying for it) and this car is particularly gent-friendly. This doesn’t mean it syncs their Blackberry with the dash and automatically shouts at their P.A for being a useless waste of oxygen. The car is hugely confidence inspiring – the brakes feel like they’re asking you “how quickly do you want not to die”, instead of teasing your brain into working out what postcode you will end up in. The gearbox is seamless and vision-wise, the car is like a goldfish bowl so you can spot your apexes with ease. It all makes for a very pleasant car to drive over 24hrs.
We rocked up to Dubai off the back of a great two-day test in Navarra, so much so that our Hankook tyre setup was circulated between all the Audi teams. Credit to Optimum indeed! Dubai is a fun event, but this was going to be tested to the max with the capacity grid of 100 cars being reached. Practice was all about traffic management to work out how to minimise time losses, but being in the fastest class, we would only have to look forward for the majority which made it easier.
On the driving front, we had a very strong squad, with experience, pace and familiarity all huge positives; I’ve worked with Flick Haigh for a couple of years now and she’s been hugely impressive, Ryan Ratcliffe I have also worked with for a while (unfortunately) who has taken to the new Audi like a sheep to shearing and Frank Stippler, an Audi factory driver with a Spa 24hr pole in 2015 on his CV. Add to this an engineer of the top drawer in Tomoki Takahashi (Taka for idiots – I will put my nose on the line and say he will be at a LMP1 team in the next three years) and I was loudly confident of a decent result.
I was put forward for qualifying which adds a degree of pressure, but I still would rather this then another family Christmas game wondering how clever my real parents must have been. It went okay as we took P5, but a slight mistake on my best lap wasn’t a fair reflection of the car’s pace.
The race start would also be my pleasure. I love starting races. I hate all the pre-race rubbish – leaving the pits 90 minutes before the green flag drops plays havoc with my little girl bladder. Luckily, fate was on my side as our grid slot was right next to our garage, so I could put an ‘Out of Order’ on the toilet door and have free reign.
The start was good, as I got past Jeroen Bleekemolen in the new Merc AMG GT. It took a few corners of side-to-side racing but it was done. I then had three Audis in front of me. Our pace was similar but I couldn’t keep with them if I was to hit the predetermined fuel figure, so I had to start to roll off the throttle early and short-shift, allowing them to gap me.
Then the first Code 60 of the race came out and I got lucky and closed the gap back down. So over to the pitwall to work their magic. The call was to wait a lap wait for the fuel station to clear, then box. From the outside, it might be hard to judge the stress between driver and engineer over the radio. The engineer wants to know how long you think the Code 60 will be out, so as a driver you take a decent punt on it, but you start sounding like a backpedalling politician as you use words “if” “but” “maybe”. Then you have to pass over your fuel used, tyre temps, tyre pressures. Then the engineer has to be in contact with the crew at the fuel pumps to make sure it’s clear. We have a verbal tennis match towards the end of the lap;
“Pit? 2 corners from pit entry.”
“No too busy.”
“Pit? 5 seconds.”
“Yes box, box, box.”
So I cruise past the pit box straight to fuel, fill up the £330,000 car at the regular fuel pumps and then drive off without paying. Luckily it’s prepaid I’m told, so I don’t have my hands cut off. When we go back to green, I get the call over the radio;
“1st place, 8 seconds gap, fuel used?”
“How are we in the lead?”
“Not telling you, fuel used?”
So I finished the rest of my stint and pit in the lead and had over to Frank “Stippy” Stippler (he doesn’t like being called Stiffy FYI). Then to cut the boring 22 hours left we finished P4 in class, P5 overall. Frank had contact and got a puncture and Ryan got hit, losing us 11 laps, the amount of laps off the leader.
As a first event for Optimum with their new Audi I see a decent future, which I hope to be involved with. More updates though out the year. Desperation dependant. For both.