2019 Hankook 24H PORTIMAO.What happened? (TCE)

News | September 21, 2020

Autorama Motorsport takes its fourth win of this year’s 24H TCE SERIES powered by Hankook to maintain its lead in the championship standings. The late-race drama though lay behind them… Another 24-hour TCE race, another unexpected victory for Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#112). Much like this year’s Hankook 24H DUBAI, the Swiss-based Volkswagen Golf GTI was in the right place at the right time when ill fortune struck the long-time TCE leader in Portimão. But whereas in Dubai a heavily smoking rear wheel arch cost AC Motorsport the TCE victory almost in-sight of the chequered flag, Lady Luck instead struck down TOPCAR by Bas Koeten Racing (#131) at half-distance in Portugal following a peculiar incident on-track.

Class TCR

TCR (Pt.1) – One hand on the title for Autorama Motorsport?
- Autorama / Wolf-Power Racing take fourth win of the season
- Shock retirement for long-time leader TOPCAR by Bas Koeten Racing
- AC Motorsport loses a wheel, but still finishes 2nd 

After a fighting start from the second row of the grid, the aptly named TOPCAR CUPRA TCR had led almost without interruption for the opening 12 hours, amassing a four-lap lead over Autorama in the process. The second half of the race though started in altogether more disastrous fashion when an unsighted Kari-Pekka Laaksonen was forced to go through the gravel trap at turn seven to avoid a stationary car on the racing line. Contact with the gravel trap at speed meant the CUPRA’s radiator stood no chance, its coolant gone almost instantly upon impact and the 2-litre four-cylinder behind it was fried just half a lap later. After a dominant opening 12 hours, and through nothing but brutal bad luck, the TCE leader was out, just like that.
 
Dutifully waiting in the wings was Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing, the Swiss team having run another near-fault free race from the front row of the grid. With a 10-lap advantage already in-hand over the similarly luckless AC Motorsport, and with Ralf Henggeler steadily nursing a gearbox issue during the final stint (“3rd gear was gone, so we were quite lucky to survive!”), there was little to stop the VW cruising to victory in Portugal.
 
“There’s a saying in German: luck comes when you do things right,” explained Yannick Mettler, who was also victorious with the team in Dubai (‘How to win the 24H DUBAI’) and celebrated his fifth class win in succession in Portugal. Save a 2nd place in Spa-Francorchamps, the team’s ‘worst’ result of the year so far, Autorama has now taken four wins from five outings and takes a comfortable championship lead into the next round at Barcelona.
 
Despite being 12 laps down at three-quarter distance, AC Motorsport nevertheless managed to collect 2nd place at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, wheel hub failure having compounded an already fraught race.
 
Just a few laps into his final stint, and with barely 90 minutes left on the clock, TCE pole setter Sam Dejonghe was surprised to see the front left wheel of the AC Motorsport Audi part company on the start-finish straight when the wheel studs sheered completely. Fortunately the young Belgian sensation – and Formula E aspirant – was able to pull the RS3 LMS to the side of the track without further incident, and a significant gap back to, what would turn out to be, a grandstand finish for 3rd overall in TCE, meant 2nd place was never really under threat. Still, a further 30-minute delay and a very fiddly hub replacement was something the Belgian team could have done without.
 
Bizarrely though, while Autorama’s Stefan Tanner, Marlon Menden, Yannick Mettler and Jérôme Ogay all lead the 24H TCE Continents Drivers’ Championship (the quartet drove with Fabian Danz in Dubai), no single Autorama driver has been at the helm for each of the #112 CUPRA’s race wins this year. As a result, and despite their problems, AC Motorsport teammates James Kaye and Stephane Perrin remain at the helm of the 24H TCE SERIES Europe Drivers’ Championship. A first win for the team in Barcelona would be a long time coming, but could make all the difference.
 
TCE Top 3
1. Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#112, Volkswagen, TCR) – 641 laps
2. AC Motorsport (#188, Audi, TCR) – 622 laps
3. Synchro Motorsport (#76, Honda, A3) – 609 laps 

24H TCE SERIES Europe Championship (after four rounds)
1. Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#112, Volkswagen, TCR) – 84 points
2. AC Motorsport (#188, Audi, TCR) – 69 points
3. Synchro Motorsport (#676, Honda, A3) – 68 points 

24H TCE SERIES Continents Championship (after two rounds)
1. Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#112, Volkswagen, TCR) – 58 points
2. AC Motorsport (#188, Audi, TCR) – 44 points
3. Red Camel-Jordans.nl (#101, CUPRA, TCR) – 36 points 

TCR (Pt.2) – Nordschleife Racing loses TCE podium inside the final 10 minutes
- Fuel pump failure costs Nordschleife Racing podium spot in the dying moments
- Red Camel-Jordans.nl succumbs to accident damage 
- If victory in TCE was all but a foregone conclusion with just two hours of the Hankook 24H PORTIMAO left to run, the surprise fight for 3rd was anything but.

An outside contender was Red Camel-Jordans.nl (#101). In spite of two separate suspension failures on the CUPRA’s left rear – the orange stalwart was even dollied into the garage on three wheels at one point – and brake pressure falling away during the night stages, things finally seemed to have calmed down for the reigning TCR-class 24H TCE SERIES Europe Teams’ Champion as morning broke in the Algarve.
 
True, 11 laps was a lot to claw back to 3rd-placed Nordschleife Racing (#172) without mechanical drama intervening. But as TOPCAR had proven almost half a day earlier, anything was possible. And yes, it had taken more than five hours for local man Nuno Corvo, Klas Kresnik, Henry Littig and 24-hour racing debutant Luc Breukers to move back past A3-class leader Synchro Motorsport to re-take 4th overall in TCE, but the pace was there. It wasn’t impossible, was it?
 
We’d never find out sadly, the CUPRA’s front brake disc exploding on the start-finish straight with just over an hour to go. While AC Motorsport’s Sam Dejonghe had escaped impact during his own earlier incident, Kresnik was less fortunate, admitting to a few bruises and a stiff back after the out-of-control CUPRA buried itself in the tyre barrier. Fortunately the Austrian was able to leave the battered tin top under his own steam, but with a heavily crumpled front end, the #101 CUPRA was going no further after that.
 
A TCR-class podium was thus a lock for the Nordschleife Racing Peugeot 308 Racing Cup (a former TCR-class series champion under the ‘Team Altran Peugeot’ banner), as was, seemingly, 3rd place overall in TCE. An admittedly fast Synchro Motorsport was still nine laps behind with just 60 minutes of the race left to run, after all.
 
Ill fortune would strike a TCE podium contender once again, however. With just 30 minutes to go, the #172 Peugeot crawled to a halt at turn four with a suspected fuel pump failure. 20 minutes and two-thirds of the nine-lap advantage were gone in an instant, and though the Peugeot was soon on its way, the ailing French lion was left stranded once again six laps later – at turn three this time – just nine minutes from home. The event’s ninth and final Code 60 was called (the third caused by the #172 Peugeot, interestingly), but Nordschleife Racing could only watch as the Synchro Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R swept past to take 3rd overall in TCE in the closing four minutes.
 
TCR Top 3
1. Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#112, Volkswagen) – 641 laps
2. AC Motorsport (#188, Audi) – 622 laps
3. Nordschleife Racing (#172, Peugeot) – 606 laps 

Class A3

A3 – Two on the bounce for Synchro Motorsport
- Synchro Motorsport weathers brake concerns to seal A3-class win…
- …and accidentally rams the GT leader in the closing stages
- Hofor-Racing survives turbo failure to take 2nd place 

Even though its nearest rival was effectively out of contention just a few hours into the race (see ‘What’s Happened, so far’), the Hankook 24H PORTIMAO nevertheless took its toll on eventual A3-class winners, Synchro Motorsport (#676). Massive clumps of tyre pick-up being fired from the rear wheel arches had already removed most of the Honda’s rear bumper before quarter-distance. Broken front struts cost the Civic Type-R yet more time during the night, as did on-going concerns over both brakes and engine temperatures. And it wasn’t just the car receiving a battering either.
 
Team stalwart Martin Byford was forced to pit early from his final stint in the car on Sunday morning, the undulating track surface at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve playing havoc with the Englishman’s back. Rather than risk a needless trip into the gravel trap, and with the team’s 148-lap lead back to Hofor Racing by Bonk Motorsport (#869) likely to receive the lightest of dents, the former 24H TCE SERIES champion opted to play it safe and put Dan Wheeler back in. With the Englishman’s driving time due to run out, team principal Alyn James was back behind the wheel for the final 45 minutes.
 
Unexpected late race travails aside, a second A3-class win on the bounce and 4th overall in TCE – Synchro’s best ever overall result in the 24H TCE SERIES – marked a good weekend’s work for the Honda UK crew. Nordschleife Racing’s heart-breaking last gasp failure (see ‘TCR’ above) meant the Honda Civic ‘FK8’ managed to leapfrog its way onto the outright TCE podium with barely 300 seconds left on the clock.
 
Such was the excitement of this unexpected result – compounded, no doubt, by enormous fatigue after 24-hours of uninterrupted racing – that Alyn James accidentally gave the leading Bohemia Energy by Scuderia Praha Ferrari a love tap as the former lapped the latter into turn one.
 
“I think it's called ‘bump drafting’, but it was unintentional,” James apologized, post-race. “We’re not a factory team. We build this car ourselves, and for what we’ve done to be in this position, it feels really special!”
 
Ironically, following 4.5 hours in the garage to replace a broken turbocharger, Hofor Racing by Bonk Motorsport’s sister entry – the #869 BMW M240i Racing Cup – “ran like clockwork” for the remainder of the Hankook 24H PORTIMAO, ensuring the team completed enough laps to finish 2nd in-class. One wonders how hard the fight for A3 victory might have been were it not for the earlier problem.
 
A3 Top 2
1. Synchro Motorsport (#76, Honda) – 609 laps
2. Hofor Racing by Bonk Motorsport (#869, BMW) – 453 lap

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