It is two in the morning in Dubai, but it is not a quiet night: six dozen race cars are roaring around Dubai’s 5.4 km, 16-turn racing course, just beginning the second half of the 2014 Creventic Dunlop Dubai 24 Hours.
The Dubai 24 is the first major endurance race of the season; since there is nowhere else to race, Dubai attracts the best drivers from all over the world, eager to get seat time. The entry list is literally a Who’s Who of sports car racing: drivers and teams from ALMS, Rolex, Blancpain, ELMS, International GT Open, and any other major sports car series one could name, are racing around Dubai.
For the past two years, Abu Dhabi Black Falcon has won this event; for the first nine-and-a-half hours of this year’s race, it looked like they were set for a threepeat. The #1 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 led the field by almost three laps. The battle was for second place; no one could touch the speed of the Black Falcon #1 Mercedes.
But speed is secondary in endurance racing—endurance comes before racing. After nine-and-a-half hours of leading easily, the #1 Mercedes limped into the pits with a flat battery and an overheating alternator. The crew struggled with the car’s complex electronics while the competition streamed by.
The #1 Black Falcon rejoined the race, its leads gone, and circled for several laps before pulling back off the track and heading straight to the garage. By the time the 6.2-liter Mercedes V8 was running right, the car had dropped to 23rd. no threepeat seemed likely.
The problems the #1 Mercedes suffered leaves the race wide open: any of the top seven cars have a chance to win overall.
The #30 Ram Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, the #76 SX Team Schubert BMW Z4 GT3; the #2 Black Falcon 2 Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, the #20 Stadler Motorsport Porsche 997 GT3 R, the #38 All-Inkl.Com Münnich Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, and the #21 V8 Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6-R are all within striking distance of the race-leading #4 Fach Auto Tech Porsche 997 GT3 R.
Another Hour, Another Complete Reversal of Fortune
Jan Magnussen and Johnny Mowlem in the #30 Ram Ferrari and Dirk Werner and Bill Auberlen in the #76 Schubert BMW (the 2011 winner) were quickest of the top five, with Jeroen Bleekemolen, borrowed from the Abu Dhabi Black Falcon team, driving the #2 Black Falcon Mercedes fighting hard to get to the front with the team’s second car.
These drivers had competed many times before, primarily in the American Le Mans Series; they knew they were the royalty of North American GT drivers, and fully expected success.
Three hours after the #1 Black Falcon Mercedes fell out of contention, the Ram Ferrari, the Schubert BMW, and the #4 Fach Porsche driven by Sebastian Asch and newcomer Connor de Philippi were trading the lead on pit stops, with Bleekemolen in the #2 Black Falcon nipping at their heels.
Half an hour later the entire race was upended once again.
First Johnny Mowlem in the #30 Ram Ferrari got caught up in traffic. Mowlem, leading by dint of good pace and double-stinting the car’s Dunlop tires, was trying to pass the #17 Aston Martin while the Aston tried to pass a slower car. The slower car squeezed into the Aston which collided with the Ferrari, doing serious damage to the Ram car’s radiator.
Ten minutes later, Jeroen Bleekemolen brought the second Black Falcon Mercedes into the pits, whence it went to the garage with suspension failure. The crew was able to replace the damaged parts and get the Mercedes back onto the track, but not before it lost nine laps.
Ten minutes after that, Bill Auberlen brought the #76 Schubert BMW into the garage with a shredded tire. The car went back out, but only for 15 minutes, before it too went to the garage for suspension repair.
After 13 hours of racing, the #4 Fach Auto Tech Porsche, a lesser-known car with lesser-known drivers (with the exception of Martin Ragginger,) has a two-lap lead on the field, followed by the Stadler Motorsport Porsche. The All-Inkl Mercedes iss the only car from a well-known team left in the top five; the V8 Racing Corvette, a seven-year-old car with one pro and three amateur drivers, became a serious podium threat.
Stuart Hall in the A6-Amateur Dragon Racing Ferrari runs fifth; this amateur entry has a good chance of scoring a podium ahead of some of the pros.
One thing is clear from the first half of the race—anything might happen anyone in the remaining eleven hours. All of the current leaders might be parked a few hours from now, or they might have huge leads. The only way to know is to watch the race.