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24H CIRCUIT PAUL RICARD 2016

15-16-17 JULY 2016
There is an old adage about endurance racing that the object is to stay out of the pits. Nobody proved that principle better than Precote Herberth Motorsport. Their No. 911 Porsche 997 GT3 R spent the bare minimum of time stationary and never made a call for other than routine and scheduled servicing. By contrast, every single one of their A6 Pro class rivals had problems—some had a string of minor issues, others one or more major delays, and yet others with more serious woes.

Robert Renauer, twin brother Alfred, Ralf Bohn, and Daniel Allemann drove flawlessly and led the Hankook 24H Circuit Paul Ricard race from the third hour onward towards a dominant victory. They weren’t even the fastest car. They didn’t have to be. That honour fell to Bernd Schneider in the No. 41 HTP Mercedes. It was one of many Mercede to have delays, including tire punctures, faulty throttles, and slight accident damage. Schneider’s quick time came at about 3 a.m. during the cool, crisp air of a weekend of perfect weather on the French Riviera.

If first place had long been assured, the second spot on the podium was fought to the end. The Ram Racing Mercedes was one of the pre-race favourites but they were plagued by the throttle slide issues that hit others of the same brand. After rectifying it they ran well in the morning hours to move into second place. A similar improvement was recorded by the third place No. 11 Scuderia Praha Ferrari. It was one of the few other cars to lead the race before slipping back—in their case the 458 Italia shed some of its body parts. However, within the last hour it was drama again for the Czech Ferrari. A puncture followed by a broken gearbox led to a very late retirement and handed third in A6-Pro to the SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes (No. 27).

As well as the fight for the overall second spot, the class contest for A6-Am was also a duel to the end. This was between defending champions Hofor Racing in the older style No. 10 Mercedes SLS AMG against the No. 34 Car Collection Audi which battled a bad power steering unit. The Mercedes’ race could be descried as metronomic while that of the Audi was a bit more mercurial. The biggest challenge for the two pro drivers in the Mercedes was to keep within the bracket times for the class—a tough challenge given that they were fighting for the last overall podium spot with the Ferrari. Indeed they secured that spot with the Ferrari’s late demise.

One of two Lamborghini Huracans in the race, the No. 963 Grasser Racing entry, challenged on occasion but a late race fire put them out of the running. An off-course excursion on the opening lap by the pole-sitting No. 49 Drivex Audi R8 was just the first and least of the team’s problems after which came major engine and motor mount related stops. Visually, the most interesting car in the A6-Am class was the Renault RS01 of the new team AB Sport Auto, which ran more cautiously than most.

The 991 class did not disappoint in providing some of the closest racing on the grid. Typcally, the 991 runners are able to circulate quite highly in the overall order thanks to their relative speed and close racing. However, this was not the case at Paul Ricard. All of the front runners in the class encountered some problems. While that canceled out against each other, it dropped them collectively down the ranking. The chief protagonists for much of the day were the alphabet soup trio of HRT, MSG, and MRS—respectively cars 73, 62, and 78. The latter had delays in the mid-morning. That elevated the B2F team (No. 35) after they had accident damage early on. However, a penalty from that very accident dropped B2F back down—did you follow that?

Compared to the 991 class entries, the top cars in SP2 were very effective and ran higher in the overall order. Several Porsches which otherwise would run in 991, elected to compete in SP2 for its particular balance of performance options. The chief beneficiary of this choice was the No. 62 Porsche L’Orient entry which won the class. They defeated the similar effort by Speedlover which struggled to keep within the bracket time for the class. VDS Racing Adventures, in their MARC-Ford Focus, nearly had second plce before having contact damage late in the race. Further down the older GC built by Vortex did finish, something that they have rarely done.

One class winner that had a near flawless run was the No. 236 Alfab Racing Porsche Cayman in SP3. Its main opponents, the two JR Motorsport BMWs, never had the legs of the Cayman. One of the Dutch BMWs, No. 103, had minor delays, while the No. 102 was well down the order. The No. 555 Team Africa Le Mans Ginetta had an excellent podium finish in their first twice around the clock event. The No. 231 Newbridge Motorsport Cayman was less competitive in SP3, compounded by loosing a wheel out on the course. An early SP3 favourite, the No. 284 Nova Race Ginetta, was eliminated in one of two significant crashes in the race—both were without injury.

The TCR class contest turned early as a consquence of the other accident which took out both that class leader (the No. 125 NKPP Racing Seat) as well as the No. 171 Peugeot RCZ which then headed A2. Henceforth the No. 1 Duel Racing Seat steadily rose to the front of TCR.

The A3 class has often been an intra-team affair between the two Team Altran Peugeot 205s. Today, the No. 205 car had things much to themselves after the similar No. 208 ate several driveshafts. It was a close fought thing behind them between several BMW M235i Racing Cup cars which had been transferred from their own class to A3. The Belgian QSR group (No. 148) turned out to be the best of the BMWs. With the demise of the Team K-Reiser Peugeot the A2 class gradually turned in the direction of the No. 112 Presenza Racing Clio.

The two car SP-X class was taken by the Porsche of Spark Motorsport with its strong professional driver lineup. Much further back in SP-X came the No. 209 GPC Vortex which deserved a spirit of the race award for twice completely rebuilding their rear suspension and chassis assembly. Similar kudos go to the No. 202 Red Camel Racing MARC-Mazda which persevered despite a near chronic misfire that seemed to alternate amongst each of the Ford motor’s eight cylinders.

Among those coming to grief during the night were the No. 155 A3 class Motoreasy Racing Seat and near the end of the race the no. 963 Grasser Lamborghini—both with fire damage. Two A6 class Audis stopped with issues concerning its gearbox (No. 14 Optimum) and steering (No. 33 Car Collection). Code 60 neutralisations were few and far between. Most were for retrieving stranded cars and the issues were dealt with quite quickly, allowing for a quite clean race. While the race went well, the thoughts of many on this tragic weekend remained with those down the road in Nice.