In the second of our two part special feature, Markus Palttala looks back on his five greatest memories of the Marc VDS GT team, which closed its doors at the end of last year. Palttala raced with the Belgian outfit’s GT arm for six seasons between 2010 and 2015 and still drives for Marc VDS in its resurrected form in the Renault Sport Trophy, a one-make series for the Renault RS01, where he and youngster Fabian Schiller currently lead the Endurance Trophy standings.
5. Starting the ball rolling
Winning the 1000km of Spa in 2010 in the Ford GT1 was the first win for the team and my first win as part of the team as we were preparing for Le Mans that year. That meant a lot in many ways, because we were building up a brand new team with a lot of targets that was far from the team we had last year and it was our home race back then as well. That first win for the team was something which definitely stayed in my mind.
4. Early success with the Z4
From the end of 2011 to the start of 2012, we won in total four Blancpain races; the last two of ‘11 and the first two of ‘12, which were also my first four races with the BMW Z4. After many years of driving a Porsche and the Ford GT in 2010 & 2011, that was cool for me personally to step into the BMW and have that kind of success. Okay we didn’t manage to win the drivers’ championship, I was second in 2011 because we split at Spa and we finished second as a team in 2012, but that period was fun because it felt like everything just went correct for us and even then Blancpain was a very competitive series. It was a great start of something which then became even greater over the years.
3. Near misses in the 24 Hour classics
In the last couple of years when we focused on the 24 hour races only, we finished second at Spa [in 2014] and then finished second last year at Nürburgring, both times it was the closest finish in history although that got beaten this year by the Mercedes at the Nürburgring. Both times we had good races but it was just not enough. Spa went down the wire but we just couldn’t keep the Audi behind after we lost ABS, pit-speed limiter and traction control a few hours before the end and we finished just seven seconds down. They are still great accomplishments and although back then we were disappointed, they would be high on anybody’s list to finish those kind of races on second place.
2. Becoming a bone-fide two-car team
From 2010 to 2012 we always had two cars but we were normally competitive with just one car, so for 2013 the team named me the captain of the second car and I remember Marc telling me ‘it’s your job to make the second car competitive’. It was a massive challenge and maybe out of those six seasons in GTs with Marc VDS it was the least successful, but in some ways it was the most interesting one for me and I finally underlined my position in the team. My role was a lot bigger, which I loved, and we were competitive in all the races.
We won the team championship in Blancpain and from then on, the second car with the green mirrors was always competitive. My race engineer Ed Turner was an important part of the two crews working together better and he ran my car which finished second at Spa a year later and then won at Spa last year. It was a great bunch of guys who have now spread out to work for different factories, DTM and so on. That was when Marc VDS became a really competitive two-car team, so personally for me that was a very important milestone.
— Markus Palttala (@markuspalttala) October 7, 2015
1. Winning the 2015 Spa 24 Hours
Obviously we did Spa every year I was part of the team, so we did six years with different cars and came so close to winning it in the last four years. It started to feel unreal that we kept missing it with stupid stuff like the fire extinguisher blowing up, a cable from the alternator failing and stuff like that. Finally getting it done it was definitely a relief, but it was also something great to do with people you worked with for so many years. It’s not like you get hired to do a job, you win, everybody is happy and then you go home. That team was basically my second family and we worked so hard not only for that race, but over the years to develop the team and to get where we got.
It was an unbelievable weekend. I remember Nicky Catsburg saying [after the incorrect tyre call which dropped them off the lead lap] that he thought we could go home, because it was too much to make up. It’s actually funny, we’d been leading it so many times and it never happened, then the one time it went wrong in the early stages, we just stopped caring about anything and went flat out. It was a very fun race because over the night there was no pressure about managing this or that or checking what the opposition was doing. We were just going as fast as we could and that was it, the strategy was very simple!