For the third year in a row, I attended the FIA 24H Series Dubai 24 Hour, racing as per last year, with the Stanco and Tanner Racing with Autorama Wetzikon team. Last year was in their Class A2 Clio Cup Endurance Car, while this year was a step up to the TCR Class, in their Audi RS3 LMS TCR.
Our driver lineup was strong, with myself, Luigi Stanco, Ralf Henggeller and Stefan Tanner as our drivers – all four of us competed in the race together last year.
I’d previously tested an Audi RS3 TCR car at Brands Hatch for the TCR UK Series Taster Day, so I already had an idea of how the Audi would drive which gave me a bit of an advantage over the others who had not yet done a lap in the car!
Testing came and went without any issues, which was great, although the pace was a little bit slower than we would have desired – suffering from a lot of understeer, which we tried to adjust with some setup changes in preparation for qualifying.
Qualifying – P71, 7th in Class
Luigi started our qualifying session but only did a few laps before handing over to myself to have a go. I pushed the car as hard as I could. In previous years where we’ve been racing in the A2 Class, qualifying was somewhat irrelevant because of being in the slowest class anyway – you’re always going to be at the back of the grid – but in TCR it’s important as a bad lap can see you drop down and get held up at the start.
I was really happy with my lap, a 2:12.365 – I made no mistakes and had a clear run, but simply the pace wasn’t there in the car. We were still suffering from a little bit of understeer, and so proceeded to make some further setup changes prior to Night Practice.
With some softer front springs we found the understeer to be somewhat better, meaning the left-front tyre was not cooking quite so quickly as it was previously – so a good move for the race to help us with tyre wear on the longer stints. Pace seemed better, too.
Race – Stint 1
Come the start of the race, Luigi would start, followed by Ralf, then myself.
After 4 hours of running we were up to P2 in class, a great job by all of the team, where we’d gained a lot of time in the pit stops thanks to the rigorous pit stop training we’d been through every day of being at the circuit.
My turn to be in the car, and as always I hoped for a clean, quick stint with no problems.
Sadly this was not to be the case, as after about 6-7 laps I felt the car was not handling as it should, and smoke was pouring off the rear wheels as they were both rubbing against bodywork. I radio’d this in and headed to the pits, we changed tyres in case it was a puncture and headed back out – but same problem.
Part of the rear suspension had fallen apart and needed replacing, so this cost us around 20-30 minutes to repair the car. We were now well down the standings, but thankfully a long way to go still.
Later on in my stint, another problem occurred where the turbo pipe split in half. Thankfully this happened right by the pit entry, so I could come straight into the pit lane, reporting the issue on the way down the pits, for the guys to quickly get this repaired – albeit a 10 minute or so repair to diagnose and fix.
Not an ideal first stint!
Race – Stint 2
Into the second round of stints, and sadly our 4th driver and team owner, Stefan, had fallen ill – and so we were down to just the 3 of us! Not much time therefore to rest in-between stints!
We were still running fairly down the order, although lap times were ok, but other cars in our class hadn’t had the dramas we had suffered.
My stint thankfully was a clean one, no problems, no dramas, just what was ordered!
I headed back to the hotel to have a quick shower and sleep before my third go in the car, hopeful that we could gain some ground.
Race – Finish
Following the race from the hotel room with the live timing and video, it was apparent our car had been in the pit box for quite some time, with overheating issues.
I came down to the circuit, where the team were trying to rectify the problem, changing water pumps and essentially everything that could be the problem with the overheating.
Eventually it was decided that it was most likely a head gasket failure, not something we could fix without a complete engine change, and so unfortunately we decided to retire the car at around 4am local time with 10 or so hours of the race remaining.
Unfortunately this was the first retirement I’ve seen from a team I’ve been involved with in the 24H Series, just all the bad luck mounting up into one race! Normally our cars are bulletproof and really strong, so it was a surprise and a shame for all of us.
No doubt we will be back next year to give it another go..!!