Playing in the SandboxThe first three hours of the Dubai 24 Hours featured an enticing mix of close racing, eight lead changes, slipping and sliding on a dusty track, and surprising problems for a few front runners. Perhaps the largest crowd to witness the start of the now fabled race watched a relatively orderly beginning at 14:00 on Friday. Seventy-eight cars took the green flag. The field was minus the No. 129 Verschuur BMW and the No. 140 Gulf Racing Aston Martin, although the latter car joined about an hour late. Up front it was ladies first as Claudia Hürtgen launched her No. 24 Saudi Falcons BMW Z4 past the pole sitting Mercedes of Jeroen Bleekemolen.
Behind her there was a bit of scramble between a couple of Ferraris, Porsches, and the momentarily fading Mercedes. The positions held more or less stable for about 45 minutes until she backed off for a local yellow flag. This occurred because of a flat tire, followed by an off-course excursion, followed by a nasty engine fire for the front-row starting No. 26 Porsche of Nicki Thiim—scratch one contender. Hürtgen slowed enough that Bleekemolen was able to gain advantage and pass into the lead with the No. 1 Black Falcon Mercedes. He held the lead until the first scheduled stop and the handover to Sean Edwards. When the Mercedes ducked into the fueling area, Rolf Ineichen inherited the lead with the No. 20 Stadler Motorsport Porsche. These particular changes of position highlighted the success of the revised BOP formula.
The No. 77 BMW M3 of Frederic Schmit had been dragging a loose rear bumper and when it fell off a quick two minute Code 60 was required to remove the debris from the center of the racing line. The timing of the neutralization caught several teams off guard, in particular the erstwhile leading No. 24 BMW. Ineichen held the lead until the next Code 60 which came about 30 minutes later. This was necessitated when the No. 10 McLaren of Andreas Zuber crashed and broke an axle.
After a plethora of stops the new order had the No. 12 Saudi Falcons BMW of Dirk Adorf in front, after a brief spell at the top by Fabien Giroix’s Lamborghini. Gradually the Stadler team regained the tempo as first Marco Seefried and then Marcel Matter established a lead with the No. 20 Porsche. A third and somewhat longer Code 60 was needed to retrieve the No. 64 BMW Silhouette that had lost its engine oil and had a slight accident. The JLOC Lamborghini of Takayuki Aoki had a seemingly strong hold on the lead as the sun began to set but this was undone with a lengthy stop, placing the No. 20 Porsche back in front.
Among those with problems early on was the No. 152 Euser Racing BMW turbo diesel which had a head gasket failure and remained in the pits for the duration of this period. The No. 65 Lotus had a broken alternator bracket which was a frustrating problem requiring a lengthy halt. Suspension problems tied up the Thai Honda and checked the progress of the Czech BMW. A broken turbo proved only a mini problem for the No. 101 Cooper while the motor on Nova Ginetta flared up, but thankfully far less than a supernova. Another potential front runner was sadly knocked back when the No. 41 Porsche of Sebastien Crubile needed gearbox repairs. Several cars had light damage from cuts and scrapes thanks to the tight running of the large feld. Those needing bandaging included the No. 75 Bas Koeten Z3 and the No. 54 Motorsport Services Porsche.
Gearbox woes hit the newly built VDS (gearbox) and the much older No. 111 GC. The No. 101 Minor had a minor alignment problem and the fuel pressure dropped on the No. 89 Audi TT. More seriously, one side of the No. 99 Lotus was destroyed, leading to its retirement.
The SP2 class was led early on by the no. 98 Equipe Verschuur Renault Megane Trophy over the No. 89 Audi TT RS. Gradually the No. 130 Boutsen Ginion Renault and the No. 126 Bonk Corvette moved to the fore. The two have been fighting closely with the spindly rear-engine car leading in the early evening hours.
The No. 147 RJN Nissan was the early leader in SP3 over the team’s other 350Z, No. 127. When both Nissans hit problems the No. 143 Ginetta took over at the front with Cor Euser Lotus Evora nipping at its heels. A5 has been led throughout by the No. 63 BMW E46 GTR with the No. 77 BMW a distinct second, and then displaced by the No. 60 Lotus.
The A3T has been an exciting battle with three leaders. First it was the All-Inkl Seat (No. 38). Then the Duel Racing Seat (No. 90) had a shorter stint at the front while the all-women Racing Divas has recently taken to a very strong lead.
A4 seemed to be comfortably controlled by the No. 75 Ymor Racing Z3 M Coupe. When it faltered the No. 79 BMW 130i held the mantle until being displaced by the No. 62 Küpper Racing E46 Coupe. There was a brief surprise in A2 when the lone Citroen led in the early going. Since then the No. 102 Besaplast Mini has had a maxi lead over another Mini, No. 100. D1 has also been thrilling, the lead passing back and forth between the No. 116 Red Camel Seat and the No. 115 SVDP Racing BMW 120d. The 997 class has been thoroughly dominated all day by the No. 44 Black Falcon Porsche.
The sunset was met by a brilliant fast lap of 2:01 by Bernd Schneider in the No. 1 Mercedes-Benz. A short time later the No. 24 BMW of Jörg Müller took the overall lead. There were two additional Code 60s. The first came when the No. 131 GC of Marco Deutsch appeared to have something break on the front straight and clouted the wall at Turn 1. Then the No. 151 Aston Martin had a slightly lesser accident. Meanwhile the previous class leading No. 127 Nissan stopped with front end damage.
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