The Dubai 24 Hours provided welcome respite for small population of eccentrics starved of their motorsport fix over the winter break, as Laurens Vanthoor, Michael Meadows, Stuart Leonard and Alain Ferte took home the spoils for WRT. Here are the five things we learned.
1. Audi’s R8 LMS is the real deal…
From the moment Laurens Vanthoor set the pace in Wednesday’s pre-event test, it looked like Audi had the legs on the rest of the field. Even after Creventic applied a 40 kilo weight penalty on the eve of first practice, those first suspicions were confirmed when the unheralded Christer Jons went quickest in qualifying for C.ABT Racing, with Land Motorsport’s Christopher Mies second. Mies would go on to set the race’s fastest lap – a 1:58.7 – one of only four cars in the entire race (all Audis) to dip under two minutes. Although Land were denied a second-place finish by crippling gearbox problems, it was somehow apt that it was WRT who took home the spoils with the holy grail of pace and reliability. It was the car’s second victory in a 24 hour race after the 2015 Nurburgring 24 and Vanthoor’s third endurance victory with the car, having also won on his comeback from injury – alongside Leonard – at the Sepang 12 Hours in December.
2. …But older generation can still do the job
With all three of the new Mercedes AMGs (two from Black Falcon and the other from RAM Racing) suffering problems and Konrad’s Lamborghini falling in the final hour, the stage was set for the older-spec Ferrari 458s and Mercedes SLS’ to shine. Whilst Scuderia Praha didn’t seize their opportunity (more on that later), it is worth noting that they led even after gentleman driver Jiri Pisarik had completed his mandatory drive time. The 458 didn’t have the one lap pace of the Audi (few did), but consistency looked set to reap rewards until their race-ending crash occurred. As for the #16 Black Falcon crew of Adam Christodoulou, Oliver Webb, Abdulaziz al Faisal, Oliver Morley and Frank Montecalvo, it transpires that Cinderella stories can and do happen every once in a while, as they recovered from starting 98th and last in a car that started the weekend as part of Aziz’ personal collection, but went on to finish second.
3. Creventic not afraid to lay down the law
Issuing suspensions is of itself a rare occurrence in sportscar racing – it usually takes something of Matteo Malucelli proportions for that to occur – and even rarer still for the event organisers override the stewards, but that’s what happened on Saturday as Creventic announced that Scuderia Praha would not be welcome at the 12H Mugello. It follows what Creventic deemed an “avoidable collision” in the tenth hour between Matteo Cressoni – who was leading at the time – and the Primus Racing Ginetta of Thomas Martinsson, who had to be cut free of the wreckage after the incident. “We would like to emphasise our philosophy to offer a platform for amateur drivers and teams to do their hobby: racing for fun,” the statement added. “We expect all competitors to respect our sporting objectives and to adjust driving behaviour accordingly.” Strong words indeed.
4. Porsche’s future is in good hands
Although he was driving an Audi in Dubai, Connor de Philippi’s breakout performance showed once again that Porsche know a talent when they see one. The American doesn’t know for certain what he’ll be doing this year – though further outings for Land Motorsport seem likely – but Porsche would be foolish not to tie him down alongside fellow Junior scheme products Klaus Bachler and Sven Muller. Black Falcon driver Bachler set a 2:03.7 in qualifying to top the 991 class in an impressive 24th overall – ahead of several A6 (GT3) runners – before his car encountered problems in the race, while Muller’s Lechner Porsche ran faultlessly to win the class by five laps. Muller, who turns 24 in February, was called upon to drive a Manthey GTE-Pro Porsche at Spa last year when Porsche found themselves stretched thin, and, like Bachler – a regular in the Proton Competition GTE-Am Porsche – appears to have a very bright future within the brand.
5. Dubai needs to cater to photographers
In several respects, Dubai can’t be faulted. Temperatures that really ought to be illegal in January, spectacular backdrops and free Wifi access in the paddock all make for a brilliant place to go racing, but not everything was a bed of roses. With no designated photo holes, circuit access for trackside photographers was extremely limited; Creventic would do well to address this before the tenth anniversary race is held next year.