It took Stefan Tanner six years, but in 2019, the Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing team principal finally climbed onto the top step of the TCE podium in Dubai. Two months on from his “most important victory”, Stefan explains to CREVENTIC what is really needed to succeed at the Hankook 24H DUBAI.
“Dubai is a very special race, and winning the TCE division is the most important victory for us all. We’re very proud of that.”
A hard-fought win it has been too for Autorama Motorsport team principal Stefan Tanner. Indeed, the Swiss driver-cum-team manager’s first assault on the Hankook 24H DUBAI was back in 2013, when, as part of the five-strong Gloyna Motorsport line-up, he finished a solid 5th in the A2-class, a result the team would repeat upon its return to the event two years later. Ironically, Dubai would be the car’s worst result of that year, the newly-renamed ‘presenza.eu’ Renault Clio Cup Endurance taking class victories at Zandvoort, Paul Ricard and Brno to cement not only the A2-class title for the Winterthur-based outfit but also the A2 crown for Stefan and long-time teammate, Luigi Stanco.
Despite demonstrative championship-winning pedigree, the TCE podium continued to remain out of reach in Dubai. In 2016, technical gremlins relegated the defending champions to 11th in-class, the Renault Clio – now eponymously entered as ‘Stanco&Tanner Motorsport’ – completed its Hankook 24H DUBAI swansong, fittingly, with a career-best 4th in-class at the event, albeit 27 laps adrift of the top spot. Even swapping to an Audi RS3 LMS for 2018 didn’t improve their fortunes, an overheated engine compounded by an accident that destroyed the cooling system leading to Stanco&Tanner’s first and only classified DNF at the event to-date. It was an unfortunate start for then-new sponsor, Autorama Wetzikon.
Finally, with the ‘Stanco&Tanner’ name now gone in deference to new partners Autorama Wetzikon – a Volkswagen specialist since 1986 – and the team now run by former German Formula 3 pilot Adrian Wolf, the duck was finally broken this January. After 24 hours gruelling hours, the team’s charger, now a Volkswagen Golf GTI, took TCE victory at the Hankook 24H DUBAI in only the team’s second TCR-class outing.
It’s a result of which the team is “very proud”, but one that, as Stefan explains, required a herculean amount of effort and some significant changes behind the scenes, not least the arrival of the VW.
“At the end of the 2017 season, Angelo Stanco just wanted to focus on the VLN” – understandably, given that Stanco&Tanner Motorsport took five wins and six pole positions en-route to the SP2T-class title during its maiden championship season – “But my clients (drivers) and I felt at home with CREVENTIC in the 24H SERIES.
“Since I’ve known Adrian Wolf for some time and his achievements in SEAT Cup and TCR Germany, we soon had our first talks. He knows the TCR vehicle inside out and has a tremendous knowledge of the setup and technical issues. So it happened that we first drove together at the [Hankook 24H DUBAI] in 2018, more talks followed, and now we will officially run as ‘Autorama Motorsport AG by Wolf Power-Racing’ team throughout the 2019 season.
“We’ve also changed from the RS3 LMS to the Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR. The Audi is the most beautiful car for me, but the Golf GTI TCR just works so well. You can’t even compare it to the [Renault] Clio either, because you have to work much harder at the steering wheel with that.”
“After 24 hours gruelling hours, the team’s charger, now a Volkswagen Golf GTI, took TCE victory at the Hankook 24H DUBAI in only the team’s second TCR-class outing.”
With new partners on-board, preparation for CREVENTIC’s halo race in the Middle East starts nice and early, even before the newly renamed team and newly-liveried V-Dub were officially presented last November. Wily competitor that he is, Stefan isn’t about to tell us all of the team’s secrets for pre-endurance race prep, but does admit that teamwork, both before and during a 24-hour event, is crucial.
“I’m afraid that’s a secret! What I will say is that Adrian Wolf led the technical team brilliantly, driving every single one of our mechanics through countless trainings to achieve top performance. Adrian is a perfectionist.
“And that kind of preparation really pays off in Dubai. We had a fuel problem during the night qualifying, but the team was able to identify and eliminate the mistake. Other than that we had nothing, and this is exclusively down to the top preparation of Adrian Wolf, and our race engineer, Patrick Liechti. The rest of the team did not make any mistakes either, from mechanic to cook, and it just goes to show, in the long haul, every team member counts.”
Even despite the re-fuelling issue, the former Stanco&Tanner squad qualified 2nd fastest of the TCR entrants in Dubai and an impressive 3rd overall in TCE. The Autorama/Wolf machine wasn’t at the front for long though. A heavy smash for Vintic & Shpuntic by HRT eliminated the Russian Porsche 991 and brought out the event’s first, of an eventual 19, Code 60 caution periods after just 16 laps. Autorama/Wolf was one of five TCR teams to take advantage, pitting for fresh rubber and brimming the Golf’s tank, dropping them towards the tail of the TCE field before the first hour had even elapsed.
“Though the Volkswagen – now out of sync with the TCE frontrunners – would eventually find a good rhythm during the race’s first quarter, it wasn’t until hour eight ticked by that Autorama moved into the division’s top three.”
Though the Volkswagen – now out of sync with the TCE frontrunners – would eventually find a good rhythm in 4th / 5th in TCR during the race’s first quarter, it wasn’t until hour eight ticked by that Stefan, Swiss compatriots Fabian Danz, Yannick Mettler and Jérôme Ogay, and German teammate Marlon Menden moved into the division’s top three. Not that running at the front was an immediate concern barely one-third of the way into the race, of course…
“We always want to win. Everything we do in preparation of the car is focused on the race win. That’s why we mostly use only one or two vehicles, so we can concentrate 100 percent of our efforts on that.
“Our goal was to run cleanly throughout the night first, always focusing on the podium. This is the only way to be able to flexibly influence the race and gradually adapt our strategy. We only have to think about a podium finish in the last 15 minutes of racing.
“But Dubai is tough. I think it is more strenuous to drive at night even than on the Nordschleife. In Dubai, wherever you are on the Autodrome, you always have traffic. I think it’s okay if everyone ‘plays along’, but you absolutely have to concentrate 100 percent. I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve been driving in the 24H SERIES since 2012” – Stefan debuted with Gloyna Motorsport at Barcelona that September – “and I’ve never had any contact with another vehicle.”
As the race has demonstrated time and time again though, success in Dubai doesn’t solely come down to good pit stop strategy and a clean stint during the night. Luck, or often the lack of it, plays its part too.
The fast-starting Team Dynamics with WRC Developments for instance led TCE outright at quarter-distance in 2019, but a front-end destroying shunt against the wall at turn 10 eliminated the Audi RS3 LMS on the spot. LMS Racing by Bas Koeten Racing’s time at the sharp end was also over early after terminal drivetrain and oil pressure problems struck. A more dramatic departure awaited Hong Kong-based KCMG, which set the event’s fastest TCR lap of the race (2m 11. 863s vs Autorama’s 2m 12.754s) before the rear-end of the Honda Civic Type-R dramatically erupted into flames on-track. Tangible proof that speed isn’t all you need to win in Dubai.
Even long-time leaders AC Motorsport weren’t safe, a heavy build-up of tyre debris in the Audi’s rear wheel arch smoking out driver Tom Boonen and forcing the four-time Paris-Roubaix winner to pit the RS3 LMS for repairs with just four hours remaining. Almost within sight of the flag, the Belgian team’s two-lap advantage was gone after more than 40 minutes were spent repairing the damage.
“Though it worked in his favour on this occasion, poor fortune is not something a battle-hardened Stefan Tanner wishes on any of his rivals.”
With the shock demise of AC Motorsport, and having run consistently in the TCE top two for the preceding nine hours, Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing suddenly found itself elevated to 1st on the road at the 20-hour mark. Though it worked in his favour, poor fortune is not something a battle-hardened Stefan Tanner wishes on any of his rivals.
“You try to control luck as much as you can during a race: don’t ride the kerbs, look after the car, make sure new parts are installed correctly, etc. And those last few hours were extremely stressful for the whole team, in the lead, because the time passes unbelievably slowly. During the last stint in the car, I was listening for suspicious noises, all while the engineer was giving me lap times. It’s pure tension!
“But we do not want problems for anyone. It should be a fair fight. You are suffering with the other teams, and everybody knows that any of us could be next.”
To avoid a repeat of AC Motorsport’s fiery incident, “perfectionist” Adrian Wolf opted for a precautionary pit stop to clean out any debris the VW may have picked up on-track. With a seven-lap advantage over Bas Koeten Racing’s heavily battle-scarred second TCR entry, Stefan and his teammates could afford to lean on their cushion and concentrate on endurance racing’s other ingrained challenge: fatigue.
“The temperatures in Dubai can be tough, but it’s not so much of a problem in the car. We keep the temperatures down with cooling hoses and as much fresh air as we can get into the cockpit. In the paddock, you sleep as much as you can, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and load up on coffee and Red Bull!
“The most important thing for all participants is to communicate that team success is paramount. Only with this attitude is it possible to ensure a successful race conclusion. You really have to take care of the car, even if that loses you some time.”
That might explain why Autorama’s advantage almost halves over the last four hours. That’s ultimately of little importance though as Stefan, fittingly, crosses the line to take both his and his team’s first win since the 2016 Hankook 24H CIRCUIT PAUL RICARD, Volkswagen’s second TCE win in Dubai on the bounce (emulating 2018 TCE winners Liqui Moly Team Engstler), and, incredibly, the team’s first 24H SERIES podium ever in the UAE.
Meticulous preparation. Flawless teamwork. Smooth and sensible running. Protect the car as much as you can. And a bit of luck. As Stefan Tanner explains, you’ll need it all to win in Dubai. It’s not hard to see why this is the team’s most important victory.
Stefan Tanner’s Hankook 24H DUBAI results
Result: 5th in A2 class (44th overall)
Team: Gloyna-Motorsport Team 1 (#104)
Car: Renault Clio
Teammates: Thomas Franken (NED), Martin Hald Gøtsche (DEN), Vincent le Sage (NED)
Result: 5th in A2 class (43rd overall)
Team: presenza.eu Racing Team Clio 1 (#112)
Car: Renault Clio Cup Endurance
Teammates: Luigi Stanco (ITA), Stephan Jäggi (SUI), Marc Schelling (SUI)
Result: 11th in A2 class (65th in overall)
Team: presenza.eu Racing Team Clio (#112)
Car: Renault Clio Cup IV
Teammates: Sonny Nielsen (DEN), Luigi Stanco (ITA), Christian Dijkhof (NED),
Yoshiki Ohmura (SUI)
Result: 4th in A2 class (58th overall)
Team: Stanco&Tanner Motorsport (#112)
Car: Renault Clio Cup IV
Teammates: Luigi Stanco (ITA), Ralf Henggeler (SUI), Andy Mollison (GBR), Nicklas Oscarsson (SWE)
Team: Stanco&Tanner Motorsport by Autorama Wetzikon (#112)
Car: Audi RS3 LMS DSG
Teammates: Luigi Stanco (ITA), Ralf Henggeler (SUI), Andrew Mollison (GBR), Rudolf Rhyn (SUI)
Result: 1st in TCE, 1st in TCR-class (26th overall)
Team: Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#112)
Car: Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR DSG
Teammates: Marlon Menden (GER), Fabian Danz (SUI), Yannick Mettler (SUI), Jérôme Ogay (SUI)