What happened? 2019 Hankook 12H SPA (TCE)

April 25, 2019

Much like the GT division up ahead, the fight for TCE honours went down to the wire at Spa-Francorchamps between Red Camel-Jordans.nl and Autorama Motorsport. Behind them, with PROsport Performance about to make history in SP3, the A3 class lead was far from a foregone conclusion.

  • Check out the original post on 24hseries.com HERE 

TCR (Pt.1) – First of the year vs. fairy-tale win

  • Sensational duel for the lead between AC Motorsport (#188) and ‘Autodrama’ (#112)…

  • …but it’s not quite enough to withstand the pace of Red Camel’s Rik Breukers (#101)

  • AC Motorsport’s half-rebuilt Audi finishes a race it almost didn’t start on the podium

Amidst the drama going on at the front of the GT field between Bohemia Energy racing with Scuderia Praha and Herberth Motorsport (see our GT race report HERE), it was almost – we’ll emphasise almost – possible to forget that the fight for the TCE lead at the Hankook 12H SPA was also going down to the wire.

In the mix was Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#112), the TCE winner of both Dubai and Mugello gunning for its hat-trick at Spa-Francorchamps. And a sensational race it had already been for the Swiss team dubbed ‘Auto-drama’ by radiolemans.com’s Joe Bradley: terminal engine and gearbox failure meant the Volkswagen Golf GTI had been forced to miss most of free practice and the entirety of qualifying, relegating the team to the back of the grid. Come the overnight intervention, Autorama Motorsport had climbed to 2nd, and was one of four teams on the lead lap. Skip forward to hour seven (and a bit) of the Hankook 12H SPA, and the Volkswagen, with Jan Sorensen on-board and still in 2nd place, was in the middle of a sensational battle for the TCE lead with AC Motorsport’s Stephane Perrin.

Speaking of drama, AC Motorsport (#188) – the first of four TCE cars on the lead lap for Saturday’s restart – had endured its fair share as the race approached half distance. The front end of the Audi RS3 LMS had been almost completely destroyed during an off in private testing, and the fact that the RS LMS was even competing much less fighting for the lead, was nothing short of remarkable. The #188 had even led the field away at the restart, only for the local boy Vincent Radermaker to overcook it on cold tyres going into Les Combes. Fortunately the field avoided slamming into the stricken Audi, and it had been a mighty drive from the Belgian, Stephane Perrin and former BTCC man James Kaye to get back to the front.

Now though, all eyes were on the escalating fight between Perrin in the lead and a charging Sorensen. The Audi’s turbocharged four-cylinder had the legs down the straights, but just couldn’t match the traction of the Golf through the corners. Time and again, and for the best part of 10 laps, the VW and the Audi were nose-to-tail into Eau Rouge and again down the Kemmel Straight, Perrin just managing to hold station. Nail-biting stuff, and sensation to watch. Almost unsighted, Rik Breukers in the Red Camel-Jordans.nl CUPRA TCR (#101) was catching them at more than SIX seconds per lap…

Finally, capitalizing on a stronger exit for the VW out of the Bus Stop Chicane, and thanks in part to Perrin going on the defense down the start-finish straight, the deadlock was broken as Sorensen finally squeezed down the inside out of La Source. TCE had a new leader with 4.5hrs left to run after a superb duel demonstrating nothing but mutual respect.

Regrettably, this would be the Audi’s last time at the front as AC Motorsport’s were later served four stop-go time penalties, the accrued time ultimately dropping the Belgian team to 3rd in TCE at the flag. Still, given how the weekend had started, the final spot on the podium was nothing to scoff at.

“Terminal engine and gearbox failure meant the Volkswagen Golf GTI had been forced to miss most of free practice and the entirety of qualifying, relegating the team to the back of the grid. Come the overnight intervention, Autorama Motorsport had climbed to 2nd.”

Entering the final hour of the race, Autorama’s closest rival was now Red Camel-Jordans.nl, scintillating pace from Hankook 24H DUBAI winner, Daytona 24 Hours class winner, and Sebring 12 Hours class winner Rik Breukers (it’s been a good year so far for the young Dutchman) hauling the CUPRA TCR from one lap down back and to the front of the pack. All this, despite rear suspension issues – the third such failure for the team in as many races – costing the reigning TCR-class European Champions almost 15 minutes in the pits.

Like Scuderia Praha and Herberth, the Red Camel CUPRA, ahead by just under one minutes, would require a final splash of fuel 30 minutes from home. It remained to be seen whether a) the chasing Autorama VW would need to do the same, and b) if it did, whether the orange CUPRA could still amass enough of a gap to cover a time penalty the team had been served for ignoring track limits. To lose a second race win at Spa at the flag, as the team had done in 2017, would be beyond irony. It would be downright cruel.

Stefan Tanner’s boys kept the Red Camel crew guessing almost all the way to the flag, a hard-charging Kristian Jepsen finally bailing for the re-fuelling station with just five laps of the race left to complete. Almost a full lap behind the CUPRA when he re-joined, there was no way Jepsen could close the gap enough to sneak a win at the flag, and a relieved Ivo Breukers, who by now was being very generous over the kerbs, ultimately crossed the finishing line to take the team’s first class win of the year and its first outright TCE win since last year’s Hankook 24H SILVERSTONE.

Still, 2nd place from the back of the grid was nevertheless a superb result for ‘Autodrama’, and more than enough to keep the Swiss team at the top of the TCE European Championship standings.

TCR (Pt.2) – Competition tightens for TCR top spots

  • Sorg Rennsport (#151) ends its weekend in the barriers at Eau Rouge

  • Gearbox woes hinder GSR Motorsport (#105). But they’ll be back.

  • Rough weekend for the returning GDL Racing Audi (#157)

An opportunistic run to the flag from 8th on the grid meant it was ultimately the all-Lithuanian IGORIO LANKAI CUPRA TCR (#132) that took 4th in the TCR class, just behind the SP3 class winner (more on that in a second). Not a bad recovery drive, given that the left front tyre had parted company with its rim altogether on the Kemmel Straight…

Among the main contenders early on was GDL Racing (#157), Gianluca de Lorenzi’s Italian outfit having foregone its customary Lamborghini Huracán GT3 for an Audi RS3 LMS for the second Hankook 12H SPA in succession. GDL Racing’s race would be stymied, however, by, bizarrely, the fire extinguisher exploding in the cabin during the opening stages. Later on, suspension failure caused the right rear tyre to destroy itself on the now low-hanging wheel arch. Content that enough was enough after 11 gremlin-filled hours, the team opted to retire the car.

Similarly at the sharp end – and even in the lead at one stage – was the Holmgaard Motorsport (#102) Volkswagen, the third and final tin top to take Saturday’s restart on the lead lap. Consistent pace meant the team was well on course to equal, if not surpass, the 4th in-class the Volkswagen Golf GTI had scored in Mugello one round earlier. Terminal gearbox failure at the end of Roy Edland’s first stint though, plus the 2.5hrs required to repair it, meant the Danish team eventually finished 6th.

“Content that enough was enough after 11 gremlin-filled hours, GDL Racing opted to retire the car.”

That left series regulars Sorg Rennsport (#151) in with an outside shout for the TCR podium, although intermittent electrical problems had already cost the German team almost five laps in the pits. Heavier damage was to follow though. During his first stint of the weekend, Emin Akata suddenly felt the rear end of the Audi step out on the downhill run into Eau Rouge. Unable to catch it, Akata and the RS3 LMS went barrelling into the barriers at almost full speed, crumpling the back end and causing significant damage to the rear axle. Though the American skillfully managed to get the Audi behind the tyres, the chassis was done.

All this left the way clear for GSR Motorsport (#105) – also Lithuanian – to collect 5th in-class, a welcome result after a frustrating weekend spent chasing near-constant gearbox failures for the Volkswagen Golf GTI, which more than a dozen times was found parked off-track, struck in 5th gear. “We came here really focused to [get] a good result, and unfortunately electrical problems stopped that. But we will definitely come back,” explained a still smiling Vytenis Gulbinas.

Overall TCE, and TCR, Top 3

  1. Red Camel-Jordans.nl (#101, CUPRA) – 232 laps
  2. Autorama Motorsport / Wolf-Power Racing (#112, Volkswagen) – 231 laps
  3. AC Motorsport (#188, Audi) – 230 laps

Overall TCE European Championship (after two rounds)

  1. Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#112, TCR) – 37 points
  2. Dan Agro Racing (#685, A3) – 36 points
  3. AC Motorsport (#188, TCR) – 35 points

SP3 and A3 – PROsport Performance back on top; bad luck strikes Synchro

  • PROsport Performance (#1) seals Aston’s first win as CWS (#378) hits trouble

  • Dan Agro Racing seals A3-class win with 1-2 finish…

  • …while Synchro Motorsport (#676) are left ruing what might have been

Like its SPX contemporaries in the GT division, a litany of problems awaited the competitors in SP3. The first to go was series returnee Intersport Racing (#614), which lasted just two laps before terminal throttle issues struck, stranding the BMW M3 at Fagnes.

Also heavily in the wars was CWS Engineering (#378), Colin White’s eponymous outfit suffering a fiery incident during the first hour of the race: barely 20 laps in, the Ginetta had already lost an hour to repairs.

More was to follow though on Saturday, when the reigning SP3 European Champions, already 30 laps behind, suffered a terminal gearbox engine failure when “the American lad” – Jean-Francois Brunot – spun out and inadvertently jammed the gears. Not known for throwing in the towel in the 24H SERIES, the CWS team set to work removing the gearbox from both the race car AND its spare, the latter ‘fresh’ from the previous weekend’s racing at Brands Hatch, and swapping them over. “We’re here to go racing, and that’s all that matters,” explained Colin White. His side of the inter-team gearbox ‘race’ won too

With CWS consigned to 2nd in-class, that left PROsport Perfromance (#1) unopposed out front to claim a popular first class win for the team’s brand new Vantage GT4, just one month after taking the Aston Martin’s first class podium at Mugello. Give or take the odd on-track knock – no 24H SERIES race is complete without black gaffer tape – it was a win that propelled the reigning GT European Champions to the top of the GT4-class European Championship standings.

Further back in A3, Dan Agro Racing collected its second class win on the bounce at an event that had looked destined to go the way of former 24H TCE SERIES champions, Synchro Motorsport (#676).

The Swindon-based team comprised of Honda UK employees and three-time British Touring Car Champion Matt Neal had, by Dan Wheeler’s estimations, “played a blinder” going into the second ‘half’ of the Hankook 12H SPA. Sacrificing the class lead to ensure the Honda Civic Type-R was re-tyred and sufficiently fuelled going into the following day’s restart, crucially, on the A3-class lead lap, all that remained was an early Code 60 the team could take advantage of to brim the tanks. Several dozen crossed fingers in the Synchro pitbox were dutifully answered by the smash at La Source between Winward Racing / HTP Motorsport and DUWO Racing (see our GT race report HERE), and with the Honda capable of lapping two seconds per lap faster than its nearest rival, the ‘FK8’ Civic disappeared into the distance.

“Not known for throwing in the towel in the 24H SERIES, CWS Engineering set to work removing the gearbox from both the race car AND its spare, and swapping them over.”

Lady Luck had other ideas though, and almost three-quarter of an hour was lost trying to not only find the source of a boost pressure problem – it turned out to be single snapped wire – but, with just 15 minutes left to run, brake problems offset by a broken driveshaft. By this point, the fight for victory and even 2nd place was over, Dan Agro Racing weathering suspected rear axle issues (#686), an overheating engine (also #686) and even a high speed nudge against the barriers at Raidillon (#685) to collect it second 24H SERIES class win on the bounce, and its first 1-2 finish with the Peugeot RCZ. All this, despite being three laps adrift at half-distance.

All hope of a strong finish for Winkler Tuning (#666) meanwhile went up in smoke, much like the BMW E46 123D’s engine after severe overheating issues proved too difficult to remedy. It was a tough break after what had been a commendable performance: the diesel-powered Bimmer had lined up for Saturday’s restart at the front of the A3-class field.

Similarly, BMW Team van der Horst (#602) was equally lauded for its efforts. Terminal engine problems meant the Dutch team missed Friday’s track action altogether. The next morning though, and with a brand new car having been transported overnight from the team’s base in Dusseldorf, the #602 BMW E90 330i – now blue and white rather than green and white – finally took to the track for the first time, already 71 laps behind. It was a tremendous example of the team’s competitive spirit, and after a catastrophic start to the weekend, the team lost only 30 minutes when a drive-less Mauro Mercuri rolled to a stop on the start-finish straight. Choosing radiolemans.com’s Spirit of the Race award for Spa’s A3-class competitors alone was going to be hard…

SP3 Top 3

  1. PROsport Performance (#1, Aston Martin) – 223 laps
  2. CWS Engineering (#378, Ginetta) – 152 laps
  3. Intersport Racing (#614, BMW) – 2 laps

A3 Top 3

  1. Dan Agro Racing (#685, Peugeot) – 211 laps
  2. Dan Agro Racing (#685, Peugeot) – 208 laps
  3. Synchro Motorsport (#676, Honda) – 201 laps

*Images courtesy of Petr Frýba Photographer and 24H SERIES