Let’s not beat around the bush: the 24H PROTO SERIES needed a change for 2019. CREVENTIC’s Ole Dörlemann explains why. And how.
Rewind to 2017, and the ‘trial race’ for CREVENTIC’s inaugural prototype division was off to a strong start in Dubai, with a dozen teams from six different nations entering more than 40 drivers for the event. Strong races these were too, with P3 cars taking two of the three victories, and barely 30 seconds splitting the winning Ginetta G57 from former Le Mans class winner Peter Kox in the second race. Significantly, post-event, more than half a dozen drivers went straight into free practice for the headline Hankook 24H DUBAI the following day, crucial track-time already banked. Clearly the 24H PROTO SERIES had struck a chord.
Granted, 12 months later, the grid had shrunk a bit, but that didn’t stop the second Hankook 3X3H DUBAI producing three barn-storming finishes, the third race memorable for the outright lead changing hands on the very final lap! Proof if it were needed that you only need two cars to make a motor race.
Still though, there were problems. Limited prep time ahead of last year’s Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS meant only two teams lined up for the probationary 2X5 PROTO races the day before. Silverstone 2018 saw a marked improvement, with local boys Simpson Motorsport battling both the ROFGO Racing and Forch Racing GT outfits for outright victory throughout the 12-hour duration. But even this wasn’t enough to raise grid numbers for a planned PROTO race at Navarra one month later.
So why has the 24H PROTO SERIES struggled to expand in 2018, despite continued support from Hankook Tires and commitment from officials and competitors alike behind the scenes? It’s a question we pose to CREVENTIC’s Ole Dörlemann, who, after sifting through months of feedback from PROTO teams and drivers, believes he has the answer…
“We’ve been talking a lot with the teams, and there were several factors brought up,” Ole explains. “One of them was calendar clashes, but probably the main one was our current 3X3H format. Our initial idea was actually 12H, but the response to that wasn’t great: a lot of teams – particularly our CN1 entrants – thought that was just too long. Plus, we wanted to do something different, and that’s why we originally went with three 3-hour races.
“Why has the 24H PROTO SERIES struggled to expand in 2018, despite continued support from Hankook Tires and commitment from officials and competitors alike behind the scenes?”
“Problem is you can only really sell that format to two drivers, and we’ve since learned that it’s difficult to get cars running in all three races, or to guarantee to our drivers that they can do all the races they signed up for: if a car breaks down in the first race, there isn’t always the time to get it ready for the next one.” Steve Tandy for example prematurely left last year’s event when a broken chassis threatened one of Simpson Motorsport’s two G57 entries. “So for 2019, we’ve adopted 6H races, and we’ll be running the first one next year in Dubai. We think that might just be the turn-key for generating bigger fields again.”
Alongside the change of format to one 6-hour race per event, special focus, as always with CREVENTIC-run events, was on ‘a relaxed atmosphere’ in the paddock, hence the decision to keep the Dubai PROTO race stand-alone on 4-5-6 January, one week before the 2019 Hankook 24H DUBAI. That the first ever Hankook 6H DUBAI will also be the first international endurance race of the new year is no bad thing either.
“It’s an additional positive, and for teams, it’s also nice to say, ‘I started 2019 in Dubai’. But the plan was always to keep things separate for 2019. It makes life more relaxed for the teams and the officials compared with the 2017 races. That weekend was very busy, with one event following the other, and especially for the PROTOS because the races were during the week. A separate event makes perfect sense because we can guarantee all teams participating have dedicated pit boxes and do not need to work from a tent in the paddock. Officials have a more comfortable schedule too, and that allows us to be more available for our teams. That’s very important.
“The plan was always to keep things separate for 2019. It makes life more relaxed for the teams and the officials compared with the 2017 races.”
“This also extends the testing time prior to the race, something we couldn’t do in 2017. Prototype machinery needs a lot of adjustment per circuit, per tyre, etc, and takes a lot longer than what is required for TCE and GT cars, so every additional bit of track-time we can give our PROTO teams makes a big difference, especially if teams want to double up and run the Hankook 24H DUBAI as well. A lot of teams are already showing an interest in that.”
Make no mistake though: the Hankook 6H DUBAI will NOT be ‘just another’ test session for Dubai’s 24-hour headliner (though, admittedly, the opportunity is ideal for drivers making their UAE endurance racing debuts). Rather than a stand-alone event, the revised Hankook 6H PROTO is set to be the first of an on-going championship campaign taking in several circuits across Europe and the United States, a la the 24H GT and 24H TCE divisions. The provisional calendar won’t be announced for a few weeks yet, but Ole and his team are confident that, thanks to customer feedback, the 24H PROTO SERIES can only get stronger going into 2019 and beyond.
“Make no mistake though: the Hankook 6H DUBAI will NOT be ‘just another’ test session for the Hankook 24H DUBAI.”
“Well, of course we’re not going to object to drivers using them as additional time on-track, but we don’t want to promote the [24H PROTO SERIES] as a ‘test’. By itself, the division should have strong competition, should be sustainable as a separate entity, and we believe it can grow based on this. It’s the perfect opportunity for prototype teams in Europe to race and gain additional mileage in winter in the Middle East when normally they might be testing.
“We’re also in talks with several manufacturers at the moment who might use the race as a kick-off for new cars.”
Tantalising prospect, no? After all, Ginetta, a staunch supporter of the program from day one, is almost certain to return for 2019 with its 575bhp, sub-950kg G58, ditto Norma and Radical in the frenetic CN1 class. Ligier also looks set to return to 24H PROTO SERIES action, with both privately run JS P3s and its brand new, 330bhp, 940kg JS P4, around which a brand new category will be launched for 2019. A class that brings a little additional incentive for customers.
“Ligier is currently presenting its new car – the JSP4 – and we discussing an additional incentive for the company’s clients: customers who purchase the car automatically have an entry for the 24H PROTO SERIES included as part of a package deal. We’re also in talks with Ginetta again, who are keen to compete with at least two cars once again, hopefully more.”
Size though, as many of you may already know (ahem), isn’t everything, and while stronger and more varied grids are a priority for CREVENTIC for the 2019 24H PROTO SERIES, so too is the competition therein. Three dramatic finishes to last year’s event in Dubai for instance peeked media interest both locally and across the radiolemans.com network, which once again is on-board for 2019. But again, Ole isn’t too worried about that. He and his team have listened, learned and adapted, and are confident a prolonged 2019 24H PROTO SERIES championship can deliver on the promise it showed two years ago in the Dubai paddock.
“What we saw last year proved that you don’t need a lot of cars to have a good race! Each of those three races told a fantastic story. Remember the drama of the Ginetta breaking down on the finish line? That was a decider for victory!” And in the event’s final race, no less. “Even if you look back two years, we had three great races, with really open competition. You just didn’t know what was going to happen. Why can’t we reasonably expect that in one 6H race as well?
“We still believe in the 24H PROTO SERIES, and we really want to make it work. 2019 is going to be a great program, and hopefully this time we’ll have got it right!”
*Images courtesy of Petr Frýba Photographer and 24H SERIES