Tag Archives: Dubai 24 Hours

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A Primer on Sports Car Racing – Part Two

In the second part of his survey of the endurance motorsport scene, János Wimpffen considers the leading organisations in European GT racing, SRO, Creventic and VLN.

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The Stéphane Ratel Organisation is now the granddaddy of European GT racing. Its antecedents go back to the BPR (Barth-Peter-Ratel) Global GT Series which began in 1994 and most famously provided the framework for the long-lived FIA GT Championship. After having lost its World Championship status SRO became semi-independent from the FIA which has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

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SRO, through its former European GT3 Championship, was responsible for carving out a niche for the GT3 class and it has become the sole category for what has bifurcated into two quite different series. The present form of the Sprint Series began in 2010 and consists of two races during the weekend. The main function of the Qualifying Race, typically held on Saturday, is to set the grid for the Main Race. Both are one hour in length with pit stops and driver changes taking place during a mandated ten-minute mid-race window.

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The SRO Sprint series is the most creative of all sports car series in testing the waters at some rather unique venues, including street courses in Baku and Moscow.

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The SRO Endurance Series primarily consists of three hour races with the Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hours as the season’s centerpiece. In many ways the Endurance championship is the spiritual successor to BPR as it caters largely to “gentleman” drivers. While the technical formula for both series is based on GT3, there are subsidiary classes reserved for non-pro rosters called Pro-Am and Am (Silver Cup in the Sprint Series).

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The Blancpain sponsored Endurance Series has grown into a very rich forum displaying all of the current GT3 machinery. New models for 2015 include the Lamborghini Hurracan and the McLaren 650S. Many other marques are currently circulating such as Audi, Aston Martin, Bentley, BMW Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Nissan, Porsche, and Jaguar—the last being represented only by a troubled, privately built car.

Entries for the Endurance Series have frequently exceeded 60 cars but the Sprint Series rarely has made it to two dozen. The short races do offer no holds barred cut-and-thrust battles. It is rare for the entire field to make it through the opening lap unscathed. That expectancy of carnage is one reason why some teams have balked and run primarily in the endurance rounds. Orthodox sports car fans may balk at one-hour races being considered a major event but the made-for-TV / video game format has a special type of appeal. Both of the SRO series have exclusive agreements with Pirelli.

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The Dutch based Creventic Organisation has emerged as another major player on the European scene. They have been managing the Dubai 24 Hours since 2006 and this race has steadily risen in prominence, becoming a wintertime jaunt for European runners. Creventic expanded the concept a bit with a loose series begun in 2008 and this year the all-Hankook shod 24 Hour Series has become a full-fledged FIA championship. Despite the title, many of the rounds are actually 12 hour races. The fields for Creventic races are an eclectic mix of GT, Touring and silhouette specials. Overall winners at Creventic races invariably are built GT3 specs. Called A6, they are slightly altered and frequently must run above a reference lap time—a variation on the BOP theme.

2014 Nurburgring 24

There are important endurance races which are independent of any series. The chief European example would be the Nürburgring 24 Hours. For most of this race’s 30 plus year existence it was primarily a gigantic German club race.

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Many of teams in its almost preposterous starting fields of nearly 200 cars still fit the mold of club racers and come from the ranks of slower GT and Touring categories. However, the sharp end of GT3 (called SP9-GT3) has inexorably become the domain of the major factory teams and has been fiercely contested of late by BMW, Audi, and Mercedes. Further afield in Australia, the Bathurst 12 Hours has taken on a similar role as the antipode’s most significant independent GT endurance race.

Heat and Dust

The first endurance race of the 2013 season took place last week in Dubai. With a huge entry of good quality it can certainly be counted as a success. Our Special Correspondent was out in the Emirates, here are some of his reflections on the event. 

Reflections on the Dubai 24 Hours

The Dubai 24 Hours for GT, Touring cars and 24H Specials is a wonderful race. Entry for the public is free, yes free, with free use of the grandstands, free entry to the paddock and a generous grid walkabout before the start. The rest of the world, take note! Being run in mid-January, the race provides an ideal opportunity for manufacturers and teams to try out new cars, new parts etc., with adequate time to make changes and modifications before the start of the full international season.

Two years ago the Mercédès-Benz SLS made its 24 hour début at Dubai with a team of three factory-supported cars – the SLS has won the race ever since. And there is none of that confused safety-car nonsense in this race – whenever there is an incident requiring the cars to slow right down, the marshals wave the purple Code 60 flags and every car is compelled to slow down immediately to a maximum of 60 kph on pain of stiff penalties; it does not pay to disobey! Thus the relative intervals between the cars are maintained and drivers who have built up a lead over their rivals don’t lose it as is so often the case with the safety-car system. Code 60 works a treat and is much fairer for everyone. The rest of the world, take note! The weather for the race is invariably pleasantly warm and there is almost a guarantee of no rain; some sand blown onto the track sometimes but that’s racing. And 81 cars started this year’s race, with a variety of classes and sizes, just as endurance racing should be. The circuit is 5.39 km long with two 1 km straights, quite able to accommodate the different performances of the cars. Below are some of the cars which caught my particular interest:

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This is the new VDS GT 001-R from Belgium, making its race début. It is said that Tony Gillet influenced the chassis design and, like the final racing version of the Gillet Vertigo, this car also uses the 4.2 litre Maserati V8 engine (built by Ferrari). It not surprisingly for such a new car encountered all sorts of problems during the twenty-four hours but was still running at the end, albeit way down the field.

2013 Dubai 24 The Jones brothers, former British GT Champions, came to the Dubai race for the first time, enabling their three sons to share their Mercédès SLS AMG GT3 with them. The family finished a creditable fifth overall and second in their class. Totally unforeseen was their influence on the final outcome of the race. The Black Falcon team had their number one entry seriously damaged in a testing accident on the Wednesday and the Jones brothers made their spare car available to them. This was to entail much hurried work because the spare car was set up in sprint mode and needed to be adapted to undertake an endurance event. The Black Falcon team stripped the car right down and transferred their engine and transmission etc. to the replacement car, a major undertaking with practice on the Thursday and the race at 2pm on the Friday. Here is the “interim” car in practice where it took an astonishing pole position:

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The full conversion was ready for the start and history records that this car went on to win the race outright;

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here it is cresting the brow at Turn 15 with a typical Dubai backdrop.

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The field included several “tiddlers”, especially Clios and Minis but this little Citroën C2 was going particularly well in the early stages – alas, it did not reach the finish.

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Nissan made a big effort with a team of two 370Zs in the GT4 (SP3) class. This one fell back after an off-course excursion but its team-mate took 2nd in the class.

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Picture DB3  Two of the 24 Hour Specials. They are GC Automobile GC10 models which hail from Pézenas to the west of Montpellier in the south of France. No. 131 has a 6.2 V8, the other a 3.5 V6.

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It gave me great pleasure to see this Lotus Evora GT win the GT4 class. Evoras have been quietly notching up such successes in the last two seasons or so in GT races.

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The battle-scarred Aston Martin Vantage GT4 run by the Barwell Team on its way to fourth in the class. This is an example of a car that was trying out some new parts.

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Picture DB3  Ferrari has never won this increasingly significant race but this AF Corse 458 Italia came very close to doing so.

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Picture DB3  It is a charming tradition in the Dubai 24 Hours that one of the drivers from each of the first three finishing cars is brought to the podium on a camel. Here they are arriving prior to receiving their awards.

This was the eighth running of this race and it is good to see how it is growing in status. It attracts both very professional teams and drivers and the atmosphere reminds me of Goodwood in the Fifties when there were no petty restrictions! And as a privileged member of the media I have to say that the hospitality extended to us is second to none. The rest of the world, take note!

David Blumlein, January 2013

A Case of the Benz

2013 Dubai 24

The eighth edition of the Dubai 24 Hours took place last weekend. The event has matured nicely and even in these financially perilous times could boast 81 starters, someone must be doing something right.

At dawn we have a brace of SLS coupés, with the Jones’ example on its way to a fine fifth place overall. More from the race during this week.

John Brooks, January 2013