My second time at the Dubai 24 hour, after my first effort in 2016 with the Preptech UK Renault Clio – this year I’d be racing with the recently re-branded Stanco & Tanner Motorsport (previously Presenza Racing) Clio Cup car.
I’d already driven their car at the Barcelona 24, where we got a podium, so by now I was quite comfortable in the car.
Our lineup would be a very international set of drivers; Myself, Stefan Tanner (Switzerland), Luigi Stanco (Italy), Ralf Henggeler (Switzerland), and Nicklas Oscarsson (Sweden). Very different languages but we all got on and worked well together!
For Wednesday, myself, Stefan and Luigi opted to not do much running as we already had experience of the car, so we allowed Ralf and Nicklas (although Nicklas has done Clio Cup in Sweden anyway) to get used to the car.
I did a couple of laps and was comfortable with the car quite quickly, so gave as much time to the others to learn it as it’s a team game after all!
Unfortunately on Wednesday afternoon we had a small accident, Ralf made a mistake and ended up with the car in the barrier. Not too much damage, not an ideal start really, but rather have issues on a Wednesday than during the race!
Thursday went without issue, the car now repaired and running as normal, everyone got a feel for the car and the circuit and lap times looked good, especially on long runs.
Friday Morning – Qualifying
On Friday morning the team decided to put me in the car for Qualifying; sadly I could only manage P4 in class which I was pretty disappointed with. I only got a couple of clear laps on the very-busy circuit and on my fastest lap I made a mistake into a hairpin which cost me a lot of time.
Thankfully the race is long, and the P4 pace was very much less than representative of the actual pace of the car.
Friday/Saturday – Race Day
Luigi would start the car, he is super-experienced with the 24h Series starts, and did a great job as always.
Nicklas went out for the third stint, with really excellent pace, but 3/4 of the way through his stint we had to bring the car into the garage for a major gearbox issue, we had lost 5th and 6th gear.
It was decided to do a gearbox change, which is a big job on any car; 60 minutes in the pit lane but we were eventually back out onto the circuit – obviously now many laps down and realistically out of contention for any “good” result.
My stint came next, so my turn to run-in the new gearbox and report back to the team that all was OK.
In my many 24h races I have never had contact with any car, neither my fault or theirs, but this swiftly changed after about 3 laps of running! The ZRT Racing Honda Integra chose to totally disregard the fact that my Clio was also on the same race track as them, and clobbered the front-right corner of our car – a quick trip to the pits ensured everything was still ok, just steering now slightly out of alignment.
I carried on with my stint, eventually finding Josh Cook in the Cooksport Clio on the same piece of tarmac, not able to find a way past, but thoroughly enjoyable. Still about 25 laps from a podium at this stage.
We moved into the night now, with second stints for drivers now underway – this is the hardest part of any endurance race, keeping out trouble while visibility is reduced – people make lots of mistakes in the night and it’s important to stay clean.
Luigi and Ralf’s stints came and went without issue, more good pace and good clean stints, perfect.
Nicklas again produced some wonderful pace, again quickest driver on circuit in our class, for sure this guy is a really quick driver and someone to look out for in the future being only 17.
Unfortunately Nicklas had a small spin at one of the slowest corners of the circuit, normally this would be no issue at all, and it really was no issue – until one of the Team Sally Clios drove into the back of him! Not really sure how they managed to achieve this, it’s such a slow corner and a really wide part of the circuit too, with run-off on either side of the track – but it happened!
Neverthless, Nicklas did a great job of getting the car back to the pit lane with some really heavy damage, I think most would have parked the car and waited for a tow – but driving it back saved us a lot of time, and thankfully he was ok!
The car was in a really bad way. It was my stint next, and Patrick Lietchi, the team manager, initially told me to get ready – and then upon seeing the damage, informed me to wait, that maybe the car would not go out again.
The whole rear of the car was now square, it had become much shorter than a Clio already is, with major bodywork rubbing on the right-rear corner.
The guys did a great job to get the rear bumper and diffuser torn off the car, and hammered the rear wheel arch until it was no longer able to rub on the tyre. They also used the endurance-race favourite duct tape to a great extent to get the boot secured.
Again it was my job to go out for the next stint and report back to the team for how the car felt.
Remarkably, the car felt ok, despite the horrendous damage, it drove just as before – or at least it felt ok!
I carried on through my stint, and really enjoyed this stint, the cool air and rising sun is perfect racing conditions, and I set the fastest lap for our team, and fastest lap in Class A2, during this stint – despite the damage! Unbelievable really with a car in such a mess.
I came in and handed over to Luigi. We would carry on, a long way to go yet! We were still running many laps down on a podium (about 20 at this stage).
Into the final 5 hours of the race, and we had now seen dramas for the Lap57 Honda Integra (was running P2) and the Team Cooksport Clio (was running P3), so now the defecit to a podium was “just” 8 laps.
The instruction was clear, to push 100% and give it everything. While the gap was still large, you never know what can happen to other teams – as we had so far demonstrated with our gearbox and damage issues!
I continued to push the car, again setting times fastest in class, and by the end of the stint the gap to a podium was now 6 laps.
I handed over to Stefan, who was ready to do the same and push – but unfortunately for us, a long Code 60 (safety car) for 40 minutes really scuppered any chance for us. With the field slowed for such a long time, we were unable to make up any ground, and also the chance for other teams having problems became much lower.
We had to settle for P4 at the end, but just 5 laps off a podium (roughly 12 minutes), was a superb recovery given our 1-hour Gearbox change and major damage repair for a night-stint accident.
A credit to the team for sticking together and getting the car across the line, and remaining competitive throughout, some real bad luck in this event, without which we’d have been in with a shout of a class win for sure.
Final Result: 4th in Class, 58th Overall