In the end, it wasn’t nearly as close as the picture suggested. For the Herberth Motorsport team, it was business as usual in the 24H Series, the Porsche 911 GT3-R strolling to victory two laps clear of the identical Manthey Racing machine after Otto Klohs pitted with damage in hour 16. Porsche LMP1 ace Brendon Hartley will remember the race fondly for taking his first 24 hour victory in only his second ever GT race, while for ex-F1 stars Robert Kubica and Jean-Eric Vergne, it was a race to forget as both were mired with mechanical problems. Here’s what we learned from a race full of intrigue.
1. Team effort wins the day for Herberth
Across all sports reporting, not just motorsport, it’s all too easy to angle any success story on the independent variable that brought about a positive outcome. In the case of the Dubai 24 Hours, this was the addition of 2015 WEC champion Brendon Hartley to the winning Herberth Motorsport line-up, which lead 380 of the 578 laps.
— Porsche LMP1 Team (@Porsche_Team) January 16, 2017
But while the Kiwi rightly deserves praise for his quick adjustment to the 911 and didn’t put a foot wrong all race long, the excellent job those around him were already doing should not be overlooked either. Indeed, Hartley wasn’t even the man chosen to qualify – that duty fell to the vastly underrated Robert Renauer, going third quickest, behind only Jeroen Bleekemolen and Mirko Bortolotti.
Renauer, who has run the team with twin brother Alfred since the death of their father Alfred Herberth in a motorcycle accident in 2012, was awarded the 2016 Porsche Cup for his performances as a privateer and proved again that he’s capable of competing against the best that the factory has to offer, matching the pace of newly-promoted factory driver Sven Mueller in the Manthey Porsche to the thousandth in the early going.
Alfred Renauer doesn’t race as often as he used to these days, but at 31, is by no means past it and can always be relied upon to bring the car back in one piece. Ditto, the team’s amateur drivers Ralf Bohn and Daniel Allemann. Together, the four have been a settled line-up and reaped plentiful rewards from their continuity.
You can luck into one race win, perhaps even two, but Herberth’s fourth win from the last five 24H Series races – stretching back to the Zandvoort 12H last May – showed that the Renauer twins have a knack for using the 22 Code 60s to their advantage and an intrinsic survival instinct. Herberth’s only non-finishes in the past 12 months were caused by engine troubles in Mugello and as a precautionary measure in Brno, after points were awarded at half distance.
Hartley delivered the goods, but this was Herberth Motorsport’s day.
2. Porsche young guns impress
While Porsche’s poster boy Hartley earned the plaudits on the top step of the podium, Weissach’s prudent investment in youth was on show too in the Manthey and IMSA Performance cars.
Sven Mueller is already a known quantity – the reigning Supercup and Carrera Cup Deutschland champion was called up to race for Porsche’s works team at the 2015 Spa 6 Hours when it was stretched thin – and in his first race outing since being confirmed as a factory driver, his aggressive move at the start on Christopher Haase’s Optimum Audi and the Black Falcon Mercedes of Yelmer Buurman told of a young man oozing confidence.
— Sven Müller (@Sven_Mueller14) January 15, 2017
He was paired in the Manthey car with young Italian Matteo Cairoli, making his first start in a 24 hour race after being promoted from Porsche junior to “young professional” status. He was unfazed by the prospect of negotiating 91 other cars at the packed Dubai Autodrome and pipped Mueller to set the car’s fastest lap on the 185th tour.
Following the unscheduled stop for repairs, Mueller and Cairoli drove back-to-back stints to reclaim second from the sole remaining No. 3 Black Falcon Mercedes of Maro Engel, Yelmer Buurman, Abdulaziz al Faisal, Hubert Haupt and Michal Bronisewski. Although Manthey were unable to get back on terms with Herberth, it did nothing to detract from the impressive effort of the two young drivers.
The third member of Porsche’s fresh-faced trio, Mathieu Jaminet, was also making his 24 hour race debut in the IMSA Performance 911 and delighted to finish a solid fifth with Maxime Jousse, Raymond Narac and Thierry Cornac.
“It was a good race, to finish on P5 in my first 24 hours is a really good result,” he said. “We had a good pace in qualifying and during the race especially, so I think I can be happy with the result and my personal performance.
“My team-mates did a really good job without any mistakes, we finished P5 with the gentlemen who drove six hours in total, so that’s not so bad. I really enjoyed my first experience in endurance racing and I hope to be back in the car soon for more.”
3. Black Falcon’s tactics don’t pay off
Playing the tactical game is par for the course in 24 hour racing, but Team Black Falcon’s roll of the dice didn’t land them a fourth win in Dubai. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 was the quickest car all weekend – Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 2 qualified on pole, while Yelmer Buurman in No. 3 pipped Bleekemolen by 0.017s to take fastest lap – but would only have a third place with the No. 3 car to show for it after Khaled Al Qubaisi crashed out in the early hours of the morning.
Bleekemolen led from the start, but was forced into playing catch-up after Manthey and Herberth pitted under the first Code 60. When another, lengthier Code 60 came out in hour two, it allowed everybody to come in and top up for fuel, cementing the advantage for the two Porsches.
Bleekemolen and Nürburgring 24 Hour winner Manuel Metzger valiantly completed back-to-back stints until hour seven, when Patrick Assenheimer took over for a double stint. But rather than insert fourth driver Al Qubaisi, a GTE-Am class regular in the WEC, Bleekemolen and Metzger once again alternated between themselves, evoking memories of the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours in which Bleekemolen completed the maximum 14 hours driving time alongside Cooper MacNeil after Bret Curtis hurt his back in qualifying.
Game over. Our car had a crash early this morning while fighting for the lead. Another 24h race coming up in two weeks, we’ll try again! pic.twitter.com/0eFJQXG1Zl
— Jeroen Bleekemolen (@jbleekemolen) January 14, 2017
But their heroic efforts would come to naught when Al Qubaisi, who doesn’t relish driving at night, was finally introduced in hour 17. Just 11 laps into his stint, the Emirati driver lost control and left Mirko Bortolotti’s #963 Grasser Racing Lamborghini with nowhere to go as he came back onto the circuit, hitting the Italian square in the driver’s door. Thankfully, both emerged unscathed.
The logic of saving Al Qubaisi until morning when attrition would lighten the traffic appeared sound, but would he have been better served by getting some seat-time under his belt earlier in the race to get acquainted with the track conditions? Hindsight is a wonderful thing…
4. Lamborghini’s luck can only improve
12 months ago, Konrad Motorsport were within spitting distance of a podium finish when the engine gave up in the final hour. None of the Lamborghini contingent were even close to emulating that in 2017, all four A6-Pro cars were struck down by woeful luck.
The two Grasser Racing Huracans looked the most likely to trouble the Porsches and Mercedes until the #964 of Adrian Amstutz collided with a SEAT while running third. That left the #963 which Mirko Bortolotti had started from second, although their hopes of victory were dashed when Rolf Iniechen clashed with Ruben Maes’ WRT Audi at turn one. After a spell in the garage, Bortolotti led the charge back into the top 10 when he was hit by al Qubaisi, fortunately avoiding a head-on collision by pulling to the right at the last moment.
It was a similar tale of woe at Konrad Motorsport, which had fought back from early delays to run seventh when Marco Mapelli was hit by Casten Tilke’s spinning A6-Am HTP Mercedes and broke a rear wishbone. After repairs, the team would eventually finish a disappointing 21st.
— Sam Tordoff (@samtordoff) January 13, 2017
However, that was still better than the HB Racing Lamborghini managed after a puncture ruptured an oil line and caught fire in hour two. The quick-thinking of GT Asia champion Andrea Amici ensured the damage was not nearly as bad as it could have been, although still enough to put an end to Sam Tordoff’s extended test session before it had begun.
5. BMW M4 GT4 passes first test
Even though the BMW M4 GT4 had completed 10,000 kilometres in testing, it was a pleasant surprise to everybody in the Schubert Motorsport team when it crossed the line in 25th overall and fifth in SPX after a trouble-free debut. Encouragingly, it also beat the leading the class-winning SP3-GT4 Ginetta G55 of Optimum Motorsport, although that can be partially explained by the slower delta time they were required to run.
BMW junior Ricky Collard set the car’s fastest lap on his 24 hour race debut, an impressive feat when his co-drivers were none other than Jörg Müller and Jens Klingmann.
— Ricky Collard (@RickyCollard) January 14, 2017
“It’s a new car for everyone – we were so surprised. We were just trying to get it to the end of the race, but then to see how quick it actually turned out to be and we were the first GT4 car home, shows the potential of the car,” he told Racing.GT.
20-year-old Collard is hoping for more opportunities with BMW this year and will have done his chances the world of good by handling everything that was thrown at him with the minimum of fuss – despite only managing to get one hour of sleep.
“We were literally told to jump in the car, go flat out for as long as you can and don’t break it – those were literally the instructions, and then give as much feedback as we could about what was happening with the car,” he added.
“BMW gave us a nice motorhome but I just couldn’t sleep – that was one thing I struggled with a little bit, but I really did enjoy it and hope that I get asked to do some more.”