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30 May 2017

2017 24H CIRCUIT PAUL RICARD: A RECAP

You could understand Scuderia Praha feeling quietly confident ahead of the 2017 Hankook 24H CIRCUIT PAUL RICARD. True, the previous weekend at the Red Bull Ring had been a difficult one, but the Ferrari’s sublime mid-corner balance and straight-line punch would surely demolish the tight and technical Circuit Paul Ricard. Just as it had been at the similarly-styled Mugello, an event the Ferrari won on its seasonal debut. Having also taken its third pole position in a row the day earlier, a strong result seemed a foregone conclusion.
 
Then came the rain.
 
Granted, Mother Nature’s unexpected hissy fit and the required Code 60 start – the first in 24H SERIES powered by Hankook history – caught all 29 entrants on the hop. Even so, the pole sitting Ferrari was off to a rough start, the #31 ROFGO Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 leaping almost immediately to the front. Scuderia Praha’s victory aspirations took a further knock in the sodden opening stages as the more nimble Mercedes started eking seconds out per lap. A drying track though brought the Ferrari back into play, despite ruined wet weather rubber, and soon the fight was neck-and-neck between the Ferrari and Mercedes. Who would make the decisive move?
 
Herberth Motorsport, as it turns out. Teammates Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, and Robert and Alfred Renauer would lap consistently in the early going with the leaders in their crosshairs before pitting the #991 Porsche GT3 strategically early, leapfrogging ahead. It’s a game plan that had already secured Herberth Motorsport two wins from three races, and by lap 113, combined with trouble-free running, had cemented yet another. Heading into the fifth round at Imola, the well-oiled Herberth Motorsport has an almighty bulls eye on its back.
 
Ditto Hofor-Racing, despite an unusually high attrition race for the normally reliable Mercedes-AMG GT3. Indeed, constant suspension issues would drop ROFGO Racing’s erstwhile leading #31 entry back to 8th at the flag after a LONG race. The #17 IDEC SPORT RACING and #24 SPS automotive performance entries would suffer similar suspension maladies, though neither ultimately would make the finish. Even Hofor-Racing would hit trouble, early contact sending the #1 Mercedes perilously close to the barriers while multiple brake pad changes still could not find the source of a race-long vibration. A hard-earned 5th place was still enough to secure A6-Am category victory and keep Hofor-Racing’s fight with PROsport Performance for outright championship honours alive. The #85 Porsche GT3, now well in-front for ‘911’ honours after committing season-long to the category, came home a commendable 7th. 
 
Unlike its principal German rivals meanwhile, Audi enjoyed a strong run at Circuit Paul Ricard, the #32 and #34 Car Collection Motorsport entries running consistently out of trouble to claim 2nd and 6th. Further down the card, hometown favourites Porsche Lorient Racing (#65) led an all-Porsche podium in SP2, while #235 DUWO Racing secured an un-hindered run to CUP1 honours. A race long battle between #216 Modena Motorsports and #333 Car Collection Motorsport kept the former’s TCR class championship lead alive, despite a nail-biting late-race stop to change a loose driveshaft. High-attrition early on seemed to have closed the book on SP3-GT4 at Circuit Paul Ricard until FACH AUTO TECH (#240) began a late race charge to overhaul a seemingly unassailable-50 lap gap to leading, and retired, track-club (#111). A run unfortunately thwarted by electrical issues.
 
For Scuderia Praha though, a difficult race netted the Mugello winners 3rd overall, following multiple on-track collisions (including one, incredibly, with the leading #991 Porsche). Six fastest laps demonstrated the exhausted stallion’s speed, and the final podium spot after a storming fight back through the field was nothing to scoff at. Still, considering what could have been, one does wonder how badly the Ferrari will want that second victory of the season against an on-fire Herberth Motorsport. In, of all places, Imola.