Champagne or Beer: A Quick Preview of the Dubai 24 HoursThe euphemism, “Champagne or Beer” may be applied to many endurance races, but perhaps nowhere more so than the Dunlop 24H DUBAI 2013. The meaning is that some teams will only settle for the finest of champagne, accepting nothing but victory. Of course, with due respects to our wonderful Arab hosts, they will instead taste very refreshing fruit juice. On the other hand, many teams—perhaps most, are here for the beer with some good friends. An honorable finish—indeed simply to be around at 14:00 on Saturday afternoon will be reward enough. They’ll wash down the desert dust (plenty of that today) with a cool glass of water. By the way, the entomology of the Germanic / English words “water” or “wasser” comes from the Arabic “quadi”—another example of long-time international brotherhood.
We’ll use that metaphor to take a quick tour of the starting field, beginning from the back of the field. First we must pay homage to three teams that have worked nearly all night to prepare cars that were unable to qualify for various reasons but will be allowed to start at the rear. These include the No. 129 Equipe Verschuur BMW 123d. It suffered a massive oil leak and power loss when Bruce Gavitt was at the wheel. The American driver still hopes to get behind the wheel. Although this will be his first major professional race, Gavitt is no stranger to 24 Hour events. He competed in an around the clock club event in the Nevada desert which began in sunshine, turned cloudy, then rainy, then hail, and finally snow—all in one stint. Although we have (relatively) cool temperatures, windy conditions, and haze—snow is not expected.
The LV Motorsport 997 has cleaned out the innards of their Porsche engine after the flywheel bolts sheared and left excess material in the crankcase. The halfshaft had given out during practice on another car in the same class, the No. 45 B2F Competition entry. It too has been repaired.
The D1 class may be the slowest but the turbo diesels can be among the most reliable motors in the field. If there is ample attrition then look for the class leader to steadily climb in the overall classification. It is likely that the SVDP Racing BMW 120d (No. 115) and the Prefa Ring VW Golf (No. 112) will be among the “beer” crowd, while a perennial front-runner will be the No. 152 Cor Euser Racing BMW 120d. The main reason for this is that the car is managed by long-time Dutch champion Cor Euser, a very shrewd tactician. The interesting driver lineup includes American car collector Steve Goldin, young Canadian Matt DiLeo (already with several Grand-Am Porsche and Mazda drives as well as F2000 under his belt), and Toto Lassally. Many may not personally know the genial El Salvador native although they have met him indirectly. Toto is the man behind Speedcom, a foremost global dealer of motor racing communications equipment. Importantly, the Euser driving squad includes Spaniard Jesus Diez Villaroel, who is the promoter of the forthcoming Navarra 48 Hours race—yes, that is not a misprint; there will be a 48 hour extreme endurance test on the plains of northern Spain in two months time.
The D1 class pole is held by the aging but very, very sturdy Red Camel Team Seat Leon. It is owned by Ivo Breukers although the veteran Dutch driver is standing down in favor of pedalling a Porsche this weekend. Switzerland’s Toni Büeler will start the race and look for fast laps when pole setter Klaus Kresnik takes the wheel later in the evening.
The A2 class is a diverse mix of small touring and GT cars. Renault Clios are often the fastest and most durable in the class although the two Gloyna Motorsport entries and single Finesse Motorsport car are starting surprisingly down the order. The Werner Gloyna led German team has lots of international experience while Jake Giddings’ English based Clio has run mostly back home. The No. 99 Lotus Elise may be fragile but the English Lotus on Track team has lots of experience. Few teams embody the Dubai spirit better the No. 57, Lap 57 Racing Team. Their little Honda is run entirely locally both by native Emiratis such as brothers Mohammed and Omran Al Owais partnering with expat South Asians such Umair Khan of Pakistan and Rupesh Chanake from Sri Lanka. They have run in the 24 Hours for many years with modest success. A dark horse in the class is the No. 97 HM Motorsport entry. Their rarely seen (in endurance racing at least) Citroen C2 has proven fast but its long-term success is open to question. Three Mini Coopers headline A2. Alhough the SIG Motorsport entry (No. 101), and No. 100 of Vogtland Racing are bit down at the start, both teams have ample experience from the German VLN endurance rounds. At the top and a heavy favorite would be the No. 102 Mini of Besaplast Racing Team. Thomas Tekaat set the pole time and he is backed by well-known Mini drivers Martin Tschornia and Fredrik Lestrup.
A4 is an all BMW class. The Bas Koeten run No. 75 Z3 M Coupe has dominated all the sessions. It is led by ace endurance drivers Simon Gras and Jaap van Lagen. The Czech K&K Team (No. 80 130i) and the Küpper Racing E46 will be working hard to keep up. The latter car (No. 62) is one of several teams here with a family theme, the Swiss family Kroll occupying several seats. Chantal Kroll is one of several women in the field today.
A5 can be expected to be a battle between four fairly evenly matched BMWs. At the top is the No. 63 GTR of Dutch group JR Motorsport with Koen Bogaerts on pole. Duwo Motorsport of Luxembourg is known for building very competitive cars and is next up with an M3 and a GTR. The two Lotus teams further back should enjoy watching all this but are not expected to compete for the class title—but then again, this is a 24 hour race.
A3T has generated lots of interest with the Racing Divas all woman No, 121 BMW 320d, and they are indeed fast girls, just missing class pole behind the All-Inkl Seat. That is quite an accomplishment considering that the Seat is run by a team with vast FIA GT experience and has two of the most honored sports car drivers in Marc Basseng and Markus Winkelhock. Look for a great battle of the sexes!
The SP3 class is roughly equivalent to GT4 in other series and has some exciting entries including the two Nismo backed Bob Neville built Nissan 370Zs. Among the experienced endurance drivers are Alex Buncombe in No. 147 and class pole winner Lucas Ordoñez in No. 127. The Spaniard was most recently recognized for a fine drive in the innovative Delta Wing car at Petit Le Mans. Three Aston Martins should be very much in the mix. The beautiful V8 GTs are entered by Barwell Motorsport (a highly experienced British squad), a new Danish group, Perfection Racing, and locally based Gulf Racing Middle East. A pair of Ford powered Ginettas will be there to pick up the extra spots.
Wolfgang Kaufmann nearly won this race in 2007 and although it’s not likely that his near road-worthy Audi TT-RS will finish second overall tomorrow, his pole time serves notice that the Besaplast entry is a favorite in SP2. Most know Wolfgang as a friendly smile in the paddock, but behind the wheel he morphs into the feared “Piranha”. Backed by the father-son team of Roland and Sebastian Asch, they will face seven equally hungry cars in the class. SP2 has been carefully restructured so that each entry meets stringent yet accommodating balance-of-performance rules. Three of the unique rear-engine Silhouette-Prototype machines often seen in this class will be in contention. They include the Duncan Huisman led No. 98 Equipe Verschuur Renault Megane Trophy, a similar V8 powered car from Boutsen Ginion and the BMW powered Oreca built car driven by Steve Vanbellingen. The nearly stock unibody Corvette of Bonk Motorsport has been surprisingly fast and may score an upset. The brand new VDS is here mostly for testing and a creditable performance is their goal.
As the title indicates, the 997 class consists entirely of Porsche Cup cars. Their much admired reliability often propels the class leaders well into the top of the general standings—even onto the overall podium. Several of the teams here are new to Dubai and perhaps it was thus little surprise that the highly professional No. 44 Black Falcon team with Patrick Huisman aboard set the fast time. However, look for surprises as newcomer No. 41 Sebastien Crubile is very close behind. Perennial favorites CC Car Collection (No. 40) come with ample experience in the Nürburgring 24 Hours and will likely be at the top very soon. An important dark horse is the New Zealand based team, the No. 54 Motorsport Services Porsche.
The vast A6 class is divided into two sub-categories, Pro and Am. The Am group is further subdivided into a “neutral advantage” batch who must run slower than the reference time of 2:05 and a “handicapped” set that must run slower at 2:07 but are allowed to run less weight and more fuel. The Pro category has no such limits and will have their own podium.
The Am category is led by the Jones family Mercedes, No. 25, entered by Team Preci-Spark. They just edged the Ferrari that should be their principal competition. The No. 88 Dragon Racing F458 is being managed by Ian Bickerton, famous for being behind the Creation prototype seen internationally during the mid-2000s. The lead driver is Rob Barff and he should be hounding the SLS AMG very soon after the start. There are three very competitive Porsches in A6 Am—certainly more professional than amateur. The No. 29 Stadler Motorsport 997 GT3 R has Marco Seefried as lead driver with factory Porsche man Martin Ragginger headlining the No. 19 Fach Auto Tech entry. Further back there will be “good beer” coming from the No. 20 AF Corse Ferrari and the No. 81 Dodge Viper, especially as it is being driven by mutliple Slovak national champion Miro Konopka.
The top class, A6 Pro, consists of Ferraris, BMWS, McLarens, Lamborghinis, an Aston Martin, and a Porsche, sandwiched by the two Black Falcon Mercdes-Benzes. Even the No. 2 SLS AMG led by Allan Simonsen can be considered a threat although it is starting only 14th overall. The Japanese Lamborhghini Owners Club Gallardo is the favorite bull in the field. The team has much experience in the Super GT series back home, although the car is notoriously fragile. Similarly the two turbocharged McLarens can be expected to be fast but may not last the duration. This leaves the Mika Salo / Lorenzo Case led AF Corse Ferrari (No. 16) and the similar car of Ram Racing (No. 30) as possibly the most significant rivals to Mercedes. That latter F458 is particularly potent as in addition to Gunnar Jeannette it has well-known sports car drivers Johnny Mowlem and Guy Smith on the driving roster. BMW is a favorite thanks to some very successful drivers in the lineup for the No. 24 Z4 GT3. Three time Dubai podium finisher Claudia Hürtgen is partnered by factory drivers Jörg Müller and Dirk Müller—a real dream team. Then look for perhaps the best surprise—starting on the front row will be the No. 26 Attempto 997 GT3 R—a Porsche on top?—stay tuned. Then again, we have Bernd Schneider, Jeroen Bleekemolen, and Sean Edwards in the pole car—sports car, DTM and other champions abound. Indeed Bleekemolen is the defending champion at Dubai. Can he repeat—stay tuned.
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