Christmas has come early this year for Michael Vergers, as the Dutchman prepares to make his comeback in January’s Dubai 24 Hours behind the wheel of an Audi R8 GT3 entered by defending event winners WRT.
Best known for winning the 1990 British Formula Ford championship and for lapping the Nordschleife in under seven minutes in a road-going Radical, 47-year-old Vergers has spent much of the last seven years out of the public eye, coaching young drivers in Saudi Arabia.
But whilst it isn’t a nation where motor racing has a significant historic pedigree, Saudi Arabia does have a flourishing grassroots scene based out of the Reem International Circuit in Riyadh. HRH Prince Mohammed Bin Saud Al Saud and HRH Prince Mohammed Bin Faisal Al Saud are both regulars in the Saudi GT championship and have targeted the 24H Series curtain-raiser as their logical next step, with Vergers and Audi factory driver Marcel Fassler set to join them.
Vergers told Racing.GT that he is not expecting fireworks due to the inexperience of his co-drivers, but is optimistic that a strong performance could lead to more opportunities with teams needing an experienced Silver-rated driver.
“We are being realistic, but with Marcel and myself we have the bulk of a good stint,” he said. “Both Princes have no experience of endurance racing, but they have been coached well and I suppose if we have no issues in traffic, then we should be good.
“As for me, who knows what will come of it, but for sure the aim is to show myself well. I don’t see it as I have a point to prove, just possibly to remind people that I’m around more than anything – I am content with where I am.”
Since Vergers last raced at Dubai in 2011, the race has grown exponentially to become the curtain-raiser of each new season, with 98 cars taking the start last year. Organisers Creventic are expecting a similar number in 2017, with 25 GT3 cars currently listed in the A6 class.
Vergers recognises it won’t be an easy race to make his return, but is relishing the challenge of pitting his skills against several of GT racing’s top names, including on the other side of the garage Blancpain Sprint Cup champion Enzo Ide, with co-drivers Christopher Mies, Robin Frijns and Stuart Leonard, who won the race last year.
The four-time Le Mans starter is also expecting to meet a few familiar faces out on track from his spell as British GT’s driving standards officer, but is determined not to let that interfere with his competitive instincts.
“Hopefully we will respect each other as much as I was shown respect during my stint as driving standards officer!” he added. “It’s always great to race the best British drivers and it will be fun to measure myself against them.
“With around 100 cars there it is going to be super-busy but I personally love that challenge, especially at night where I have always been very fast.”
Blancpain teams headline entry list
In addition to the two cars from WRT, several front-running outfits from the Blancpain GT Series have lodged entries for Dubai including Nürburgring 24 Hour winners Black Falcon and Blancpain Sprint Cup champions HTP Motorsport.
As outright winners in 2012, 2013 and 2015, Black Falcon will go in as one of the favourites, with two strong line-ups packed with star names. Jeroen Bleekemolen, Manuel Metzger, Patrick Assenheimer and Khaled al-Qubaisi will share one car, with Maro Engel, Yelmer Buurman, Hubert Haupt, Abdulaziz al-Faisal and Michal Broniszewski – fresh from winning the Gulf 12 Hours with Kessel – in the other.
Fellow AMG entrants HTP are no strangers to the 24H Series themselves, having entered the 24H Paul Ricard and 24H Barcelona last season. They will run in the A6-Am class with 2013 event winner Bernd Schneider leading their charge. Mercedes will also be represented by reigning 24H Series champions Horfor Racing, having traded their old SLS for the latest Mercedes-AMG GT3, and the SPS Automotive team, featuring Tom Onslow-Cole and Lance David Arnold.
Grasser Racing will join fellow Lamborghini squad Konrad Motorsport in taking on both the Dubai and Daytona 24 Hours in January. Grasser have entered two cars, with Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart joined in one by Rolf Iniechen and Rik Breukers, while Grasser team regular Luca Stolz has switched to Konrad alongside newly upgraded Gold Marco Mapelli, Marc Basseng and Jules Gounon. GT Masters outfit HB Racing will enter another Huracan GT3 for an unconfirmed set of drivers, although Norbert Siedler is expected to drive.
British GT regulars Optimum Motorsport have again entered an Audi for Joe Osborne, Ryan Ratcliffe, Flick Haigh and Sepang 12 Hour winner Christopher Haase, while three strong Porsche teams could emulate Stadler Motorsport’s surprise victory in 2014, with Spa 24 Pro-Am winners IMSA Performance, GT Masters regulars Herberth Motorsport and works-supported Manthey squad featuring Sven Mueller and Matteo Cairoli all likely contenders.