Friday, 11 September 2015

The Rest of the Barcelona 24 hours

After witnessing the 24-hour races at Dubai, Daytona, Nürburgring, Le Mans and Spa already this year, I stayed up all night again last weekend, to watch my sixth 24-hour race of the year. It was the first Barcelona 24 hours I had attended – indeed it was the first motor race of any kind that I had seen in Spain but it marked the 44th different motorsport venue that I’ve seen action at. It was the 65th 24-hour race I have been to (I think), and as expected, the Creventic-organised event was enjoyable, entertaining and dramatic.

I’ve written a race report for DailySportsCar already, so I don’t propose to repeat that here, instead I thought I would bombard you with a few numbers. Also, having received a (good-natured, I think) complaint that my race report did not even mention the class winner in SP3, I thought I had better address that situation too.

There were seventy-four cars that started the race – and no, I am not going to mention all of them – in nine classes, and fifty-two of them took the chequered flag 24 hours later. Almost exactly the same percentage (70%) as finished in this year’s Dubai 24 hours, but considerably more than Daytona (55%), Nürburgring (68%), Le Mans (67%) or Spa (56%).

The Barcelona race featured thirteen caution periods – neutralised, in Creventic events, by a Code-60 purple flag – the same number as we had during the Dubai race. In Dubai this accounted for a total of 3h 19m, whereas at Barcelona the neutralised time was just 2h 07m. Compare that with 5h 06m at Daytona or 4h 33m at Spa (including both Safety Car and FCY periods), although just 2h 02m at Le Mans (ignoring periods when Slow Zones were in force).

There were eighteen changes of the overall lead during the race, and six different cars led at one point or another. At Dubai we had 11 changes among 4 different cars, at Le Mans there were 27 changes among 4 different cars, at Spa 23 changes of lead among 9 different cars and at Nürburgring, there were 34 changes of lead among 10 different cars. But nothing can beat the 58 changes of lead between 9 different cars in this year’s 24 hours at Daytona!

All of that being as it may, I am well aware that there is more to a 24-hour race than merely numbers. On the emotional side, although I enjoyed being at the Barcelona 24 hours, I didn’t quite experience as much of it as I would have liked. I didn’t get to look around the track at all, didn’t see any of Barcelona itself, and wasn’t really able to appreciate the ambience of the place. I also found the immediate vicinity somewhat uninspiring: the track is built very much in a “brown-field” area, and while I am sure that the Formula One cars generate a good atmosphere when they are there, for the rest of the year the place is just a little forlorn.

Drivers, though, tended to be enthusiastic about the track, although from where I was standing, some parts seemed to be a little overly technical – of the other tracks on the 24-hour circuit, I suppose Barcelona comes closest to Dubai in that sense. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, it’s just that being in the middle of a desert, I don’t expect anything more of Dubai, whereas Barcelona has a little more heritage: Montjuich Park, Pedralbes, even Sitges Terramar. Despite a physical proximity, the Circuit de Catalunya – built in 1991 – has little or no echoes of history.

I didn’t see a published crowd figure, but there seemed to be a decent crowd there. Not in comparison to the other European 24-hour races, but certainly compared to other Creventic races. It was good, too to see so many families there. Endurance racing may be a specialist niche, but surely the enthusiasm of plenty of Spanish children will be sparked by Mercedes SLS AMGs or the Ferrari 458 Italia in years to come!

So what about the race? As I’ve said, the stories in the GT3 (A6), and to an extent, the SP2 and 997 classes I have already covered elsewhere. In our commentary for, I think we gave all the classes due mention, too. But I fear there may be some justification in suggestions that the SP3 class deserves more attention, not least because of British interest, but also because the class itself is broadly for GT4 cars and it attracted a wide range of different types of cars.

There were nine cars in the SP3 entry list: two Ginettas, two Aston Martins, a Porsche, a Lotus, a Maserati, a BMW and a Saker. While the GT3 field was dominated by German manufacturers and international teams, the GT4 field was much more of a British domain, with six British teams and 21 British drivers in the entry.

Qualifying provided the SP3 cars the opportunity truly to show their mettle, a wet track during the session for the supposedly faster A6 and SP2 cars preventing anyone from lapping quicker than 2m 05.991s. The rain had stopped for the SP3 and A3T cars, and it took most of the session for the track to dry, but by the end of the forty-five minute session it became clear that the lower-class cars would eclipse the times of the earlier session.

Quickest in qualifying was thus Alex Osborne with the APO Sport Porsche, just over a second quicker than Bradley Ellis in the Optimum Motorsport Ginetta, who was a similar interval ahead of Cor Euser in his Lotus Evora. Common sense prevailed, and although the top thirteen cars from session 2 were quicker than Renger van der Zande managed in his SLS AMG, the GT3, 997 and SP2 cars lined up at the front of the grid, the SP3 class taking up their positions on rows fifteen and beyond.

In the race, not one of the cars had a trouble-free run, and initially the class was led by the rapid Alex Osborne in the APO Sport Porsche, which got up to eighth place overall before its first pit stop, which dropped the car to 34th overall, seventh in class. After this, the lead swung to the Lotus Evora, driven by Cor Euser, Huub Delnoij and Hal Prewitt, to the Optimum Ginetta of Flick Haigh, Bradley Ellis, Adrian Barwick and Will Moore and even the Aston Martin Vantage of Dan Brown, Tom Black, Angelos Metaxa and Chris Kemp - which led for a lap during Saturday afternoon - as James and Paul May tried to drag the Porsche back up the order.

As darkness fell, it seemed like the Optimum Ginetta was establishing itself in the lead, until Flick Haigh had an encounter with another car just after 9pm, while being passed by the Ferrari 458, and spent more than two hours in the pits being repaired. This put the APO Porsche back in the class lead, until 1:30am, when a twenty-minute unscheduled pit stop sent the car tumbling back down the order and handed the lead to Martin Thomas in the CWS 4x4 Ginetta G55.

Thomas then had a fifteen-minute stop to hand the car to Tony Hughes, which gave the lead back to the Lotus Evora, and the Ginetta faded away further at daybreak with another thirty-five minute stop to address alternator problems. This left us with a two-way fight for class honours between the Cor Euser Lotus and the APO Porsche that continued right to the end of the race.

Here’s a look at the detail of the lap times and times spent in the pits for each of the class:

Class SP2 (GT4)
No. Car Team Average lap time
43 Porsche 997 Cup GT4 APO Sport 2m 01.871s
160 Lotus Evora GT4 Cor Euser Racing 2m 01.405s
178 Ginetta G55 GT4 CWS 4x4 2m 03.888s
163 Ginetta G55 GT4 Optimum Motorsport 2m 03.752s
170 Aston Martin Vantage GT4 Speedworks Motorsport 2m 04.233s
173 BMW M3 V8 Rollcentre Racing 2m 04.982s
165 Aston Martin Vantage GT4 Vantage Racing 2m 03.740s
89 Saker GT TDI HTM-Red Camel Racing 2m 04.294s
125 Maserati Gran Turismo Boutsen-Ginion Racing 2m 02.736s

Class SP2 (GT4)
Pos. No. Car No. of pit stops Total time in pit lane
1 43 Porsche 997 Cup GT4 15 1h 32m 48.759s
2 160 Lotus Evora GT4 16 1h 07m 14.648s
3 178 Ginetta G55 GT4 19 2h 16m 23.403s
4 163 Ginetta G55 GT4 15 1h 49m 01.279s
5 170 Aston Martin Vantage GT4 21 2h 59m 29.793s
6 173 BMW M3 V8 19 3h 09m 11.911s
7 165 Aston Martin Vantage GT4 10 (DNF) N/A
8 89 Saker GT TDI 17 (DNF) N/A
9 125 Maserati Gran Turismo 9 (DNF) N/A

It was a well-deserved win for the Northamptonshire-based team, finishing just 52s ahead of Cor Euser’s Lotus Evora. The rest of the SP3 field was more than twenty laps behind: to put that in perspective, it would have taken nearly an hour for the third-placed CWS 4x4 Ginetta to catch up!

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