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24H SERIES action returns to the Automotodrom Brno this weekend for the first time since 2016. And Scuderia Praha has picked up right where it left off. So far.

Several talking points fluttered about the starting grid of the 2019 Hankook 12H BRNO. Among the most vocal was the recent passing of three-time Formula 1 World Champion Niki Lauda, Ferrari stalwarts Bohemia Energy racing with Scuderia Praha even placing a scale model of the Austrian’s 1976 Ferrari 312T in its grid slot before the race got underway.
 
More significant though was grip, or indeed lack thereof, around the 5.403km Automotodrom Brno. Throughout qualifying, neither the front-wheel drive TCR contingent nor their RWD and AWD GT brethren had been able to nail a proper hot lap thanks to the thin layer of sandy dust enveloping the circuit producing chronic under and oversteer in equal measure. With private testing largely a wash out thanks to heavy rain, teams were busy chasing setup, as well as each other, as the first three hours of the 2019 Hankook 12H BRNO went into the bag.

 
A6 Pt.1 – Scuderia Praha’s undefeated streak looks secure for now

Coming into the third round of this year’s GT European Championship, Bohemia Energy racing with Scuderia Praha (#11) had almost all of the momentum on its side. After a dominant performance at Mugello in March, the prancing horse pulled another sensational win out of the bag at Spa-Francorchamps one month later, albeit in the absolute closing minutes [What happened, Spa (GT)]. That the team would be among the lead contenders at the Automotodrom Brno this weekend thus seemed a foregone conclusion, one assisted by the fact that a) the Czech team was racing on home turf, and b) Scuderia Praha has never lost a 24H SERIES event at Brno, in either the event’s 12-hour (2015) or 24-hour (2016) guises.
 
One shunt during private testing and a slip in qualifying aside – a surprisingly chipper Matteo Mallucelli admitted that an error during his fastest flying lap cost him any chance of challenging for pole position – the team has led all but 12 of the 79 laps completed. Having stared 3rd, and having managed to avoid a messy incident between the front row starting Audi duo of Car Collection Motorsport and OLIMP Racing – we’ll come back to that in a second – Mallucelli was only beaten away from the line courtesy of a lightning start from Max Edelhoff in the second Car Collection Motorsport Audi (#34). A little too lightning as it turns out, the young German and the 24H SERIES’ reigning Junior Cup champion having inadvertently jumped the green flag, an error that would later cost him a 10-second time penalty.
 
Not that this slowed the Scuderia Praha Ferrari too severely, Mallucelli muscling his way past the #34 Audi R8 into turn three on the opening lap, and quickly amassing a lead of more than 20 seconds inside the first 15 minutes. Pit stop-related lead shuffles aside, neither the Italian nor Czech teammates Josef Kral and Jiří Písařík have looked back since.


A6 Pt.2 – Recovering Audis, and a battling Herberth Motorsport

Even despite such scintillating pace, the Scuderia Praha Ferrari wasn’t quite able to put any of its three main rivals a lap down heading into the overnight intervention. Currently in 2nd place overall is the pole sitting Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS Evo 2019 (#88), which will no doubt be looking for a cleaner restart tomorrow morning. Indeed, before the green flag had even flown, and whilst the field was lining itself up behind the safety car for the start, Tim Müller in the Car Collection Audi and Mateusz Lisowski in the OLIMP Racing Audi R8 LMS Evo 2019 (#8) with which the German shared the front row got a little too close for comfort. The pair even made not so brief contact several times on the approach to turn 14. The red mist’s descent may only have lasted a couple of laps, but it was enough to upend both drivers’ focus, and the Audis that had locked out the front row dropped to 5th and 6th place almost immediately.
 
While Car Collection Motorsport has managed to recover lost time through the first couple of hours, thanks to a combination of well-timed pit stops and strong pace from former Formula 1 driver Markus Winkelhock, OLIMP Racing has not been so lucky. During its first pit stop, a re-fuelling issue lost the Polish team almost 7.5 minutes on pitroad, dropping them from the cusp of the podium to 17th. Lisowski and compatriots Marcin Jedlinski and Karol Basz have since managed to climb back to 9th overall after an impressive run.
 
3rd place therefore currently lies with Wochenspiegel Team Monschau (#22). A disastrous race at Spa-Francorchamps last month led to a bevvie of punctures and a decision to retire the hobbled prancing horse early on the grounds of safety. Even in Mugello, a potential top five finish went quite literally up in smoke when the #22’s sister entry burst into flames under the scorching Tuscan sun. Third time could well prove lucky for the former podium finishers though as the second Ferrari on the grid – and in the top three – has so far enjoyed a flawless run from 5th on the grid.
 
Though Herberth Motorsport (#91) is competing without Alfred Renauer this weekend – the co-team owner is attending the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix-supporting Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup – the former Champions of the Continents have nevertheless made a strong start to this year’s Hankook 12H BRNO. Robert Renauer took full advantage of the Audi vs Audi squabble at the front to move into 3rd from 6th on the grid, and, later, 2nd overall. Granted, it could so very easily have unravelled in the early going: momentarily unaware that the Code 60 purple flags had been flown to recover the Winkler Tuning BMW from turn 10, Renauer sluiced past a slowing Edelhoff on the start-finish straight to briefly take 2nd. It was a nail-biting few minutes, the threat of a time penalty hanging in the air, before the positions were properly reversed and the dual could continue.
 
The sister Herberth Motorsport Porsche meanwhile (#93) has enjoyed a similarly strong run in the early stages, an off-track moment during Zeljko Drmic’s opening stint aside. Having missed the Hankook 12H SPA altogether after a hefty smash during free private testing, Drmic, Stefan Aust and Edward Lewis Brauner now lie 7th, crossing the finishing line barely two seconds behind CP Racing (#85) in 6th. Reigning European GT Drivers’ Champions Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub and Joe Foster have so far produced their traditionally controlled race. One lap further down the road lies the Mercedes-AMG GT3 of the returning MDC Sports (#4), the German team’s quiet run almost upended by a far-too-close brush with the Red Camel CUPRA while the former tried to lap the latter on the approach to turn 12. Both managed to survive without damage, save some slightly red cheeks for Adrian Zumstein.

Overall GT Top 3 (so far)
  1. Bohemia Energy racing with Scuderia Praha (#11, Ferrari) – 79 laps
  2. Car Collection Motorsport (#88, Audi) - +41.664s
  3. Wochenspiegel Team Monschau (#22, Ferrari) - +1m 50.239s 
 
A6-Pro Top 2 (so far)
  1. Bohemia Energy racing with Scuderia Praha (#11, Ferrari) – 79 laps
  2. OLIMP Racing (#8, Audi) – 77 laps 
 
A6-Am Top 3 (so far)
  1. Car Collection Motorsport (#88, Audi) – 79 laps
  2. Wochenspiegel Team Monschau (#22, Ferrari) - +1m 08.575s
  3. Herberth Motorsport (#91, Porsche) - +7.566s
 

GT4 – KTM’s high and lows

The first three hours of the Hankook 12H BRNO have proven bittersweet for Czech team RTR Projects on home turf. Emulating the pace that saw the team storm to SP2-class victory in Mugello, the lead #224 KTM X-BOW has already opened up a two-lap advantage in the GT4 class, thanks in part to a strong, near two-hour opening stint from former F1 driver, Tomas Enge. Indeed, so strong has the pace been that the GT4-class X-BOW currently lies 10th overall in the GT division.
 
Across the garage ‘wall’ though, running has been far from smooth for the sister #226 entry. After just five laps, Gabriela Jílkova made her way to pitroad with suspected transmission failure (it turned out to be a gearbox sensor that needed recalibrating), and while that first unscheduled pit stop only cost the team three minutes, the KTM has since lost 25 laps on pitroad, even grinding to a halt on-track at turn five in the final 15 minutes with a suspiciously low right rear end. The repairs have been lengthy, and the KTM has yet to return to the track.
 
QSR Racingschool (#454) has also been through the mill. Despite decent pace in qualifying, a “suspicious noise” heard during the closing moments of the session cost the team almost an hour in repairs after qualifying. The Mercedes-AMG GT4 only just managed to get out on-track in time to join the second formation lap.
 
RTR Projects’ nearest rival for class victory has thus been reigning 24H TCE SERIES champions, Hofor Racing by Bonk Motorsport (#50). Last year the Swiss-German collaboration swept to seven class wins from seven starts in the 24H SERIES [2018 24H TCE SERIES season review], and has since made the jump to the 24H GT SERIES for 2019. With class victory already under its belt in Mugello, don’t be surprised to see the BMW M4 GT4 in the thick of the action for the category win. And yes, for the regular fans amongst you wondering when Hofor Racing’s staple Mercedes-AMG GT3 will return to action, repairs to the chassis are on-going and the former series champion is expected to return for Barcelona.
 
A strong run so far from Senkyr Motorsport (#409) places the series newboys in 3rd place in GT4, just ahead of reigning 24H GT SERIES champion PROsport Performance. The German team, now an Aston Martin Race Partner [On the grid with Aston Martin] and running the new Vantage GT4 for 2019, was just half a minute adrift at the chequered flag and will be looking to equal the podium and victory it has already taken from two 24H SERIES outings this season. There’s a 12-point lead in the GT4 European Championship standings to be defended, after all.
 
GT4 Top 3 (so far)
  1. RTR Projects (#224, KTM) – 76 laps
  2. Hofor Racing by Bonk Motorsport (#50, BMW) – 74 laps
  3. Senkyr Motorsport (#409, BMW) – 73 laps 
 
991 – Can Porsche Lorient Racing mount a comeback?

What was fast turning into a Porsche Lorient Racing walkover had started to fray at the seams as the third hour approached at the Hankook 12H BRNO. The team’s two Porsche 991-II Cups, which also lie 1-2 in the 991-class European Championship standings, monopolised the front row in qualifying, the pair even swapping the lead between them during Frédéric Ancel and Mathieu Pontais’ respective opening stints. Much as was the case with Olimp Racing though (see A6 above), time lost on pitroad would hurt the #911 badly, dropping the Porsche to 4th as the race entered its second hour.
 
Regrettably, only the demise of the sister #912 Porsche Lorient entry allowed the #911 to secure 3rd for now, on-track contact between the #912 Porsche the #226 RTR Projects KTM (seriously, it’s been a rough day for the Czech team) causing significant front end damage. The French team has opted to serve a 10-lap penalty in order to repair the car overnight.
 
The reigning 991-class European Champ’s travails has thus allowed DUWO Racing (#909) to move into the 991 lead, the German team crossing the finishing line for the overnight intervention one lap clear of reigning SPX European Champions Speed Lover (#978). Should either take the top spot tomorrow, they would be the fourth different team to take a 991-class win this year in four races.
 
991 Top 3 (so far)
  1. DUWO Racing (#909, Porsche) – 74 laps
  2. Speed Lover (#978, Porsche) – 73 laps
  3. Porsche Lorient Racing (#911, Porsche) - +44.189s 
 
TCR – Red Camel holds on to the top spot…somehow…

That Red Camel-Jordans.nl (#101) was still leading TCE after the first three hours of racing at the Hankook 12H BRNO was nothing short of extraordinary. Even team owner Ivo Breukers could barely contain his amazement. While the orange CUPRA was the star of the show during TCE qualifying, and Ivo’s son Rik – a two-time class winner at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and winner of this year’s Hankook 24H DUBAI – was able to pull away from the rest of the TCR field during the opening stages, the sheer grunt of Team ABBA Racing’s BMW seemed too much to overcome, at first (see SP3 below). That the CUPRA and its aggressive suspension setup seemed incapable of maintaining its tyres seemed an impossible hurdle to overcome.
 
Multiple times a furious Rik Breukers could be heard over the team radio requesting a pit stop during the first hour. Dropping almost eight seconds PER LAP off the pace at times, the young Dutchman, having pushed his tyres too far too quickly, was soon easy pickings for the pursuing Stuart Hall in the MONLAU COMPETICION CUPRA TCR (#107) and Vincent Radermecker in the AC Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS (#188). Only after Antti Buri had also moved past in the Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI (#112) was Breukers finally able to pull in for fresh rubber.
 
Ironically, similarly poor tyre wear for Stuart Hall, who’d also been on a tear in the opening stages, plus a 10-second time penalty for jumping the start means the MONLAU COMPETITION CUPRA has already dropped back to 5th in the TCR standings behind the Lestrup Racing Team Volkswagen Golf GTI (#110). Ditto AC Motorsport, which now lies 6th. Team Hyundai Denmark’s charge has also hit a road hump, a bizarre incident shortly before Jan Engelbrecht’s first pit stop causing the Hyundai i30 N TCR (#130) to spear right into the gravel at turn three, the Dane unable to stop it. The Danish team currently props up the TCR field behind TTC Racing (#103).
 
All this leaves NKPP Racing by Bas Koeten Racng (#175) and Autorama Motorsport as the only other TCE teams on the lead lap. Back in the CUPRA TCR after their new Porsche 911 was heavily damaged in a shunt at Mugello, Gijs Bessem and Harry Hilders’ weekend got off to a rocky start when Bessem almost nosed the CUPRA into the tyre barriers during the opening moments of qualifying. Typically metronomic pitwork by Bas Koeten Racing the NKPP machine led TCE outright for several laps, Bessem going toe-to-toe with Rik Breukers’ brother Luc in the Red Camel Jordans.nl CUPRA on the young Dutchman’s 24H SERIES debut. The pair were split by just under two seconds at the flag.
 
Overall TCE and TCR top three (so far)
  1. Red Camel-Jordans.nl CUPRA TCR (#101, CUPRA) – 73 laps
  2. NKPP Racing by Bas Koeten Racing (#175, CUPRA) - +1.809s
  3. Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#112, Volkswagen) - +29.934s 
 
SP3 and A3 – ABBA won’t be taking it all; Synchro plays it safe

Team ABBA Racing (#334) is in Brno for just one reason: to win the TCE division. The British team’s BMW M3 V8 GTR, a former two-time winner of the Hankook 24H SILVERSTONE, had no opposition in the SP3 category, meaning, barring absolute calamity, class victory was inevitable.
 
Things were looking good too, early doors. Sam Neary, son of team owner Richard with whom he’d be sharing driving duties, was into the lead of TCE within the first three laps, opening up a healthy lead thereafter.
 
Significant problems waited just around the corner though. Catching his mechanics off-guard by pitting early on lap 25, Neary hobbled out of the BMW thoroughly exhausted, the heat build-up in the car so intense that the 19-year-old had burnt through his racing boot on the metal brake pedal: “this was the toughest stint of my entire life. I got out of the car and threw up twice. It wasn’t good.”
 
The heat, had also caused a sensor to melt in the gearbox. Try as Richard Neary did, the BMW refused to roll away from its pitbox, the on-board telemetry adamant that the M3 was stuck in reverse. More than an hour would be spent repairing the gearbox and rectifying the heat issues, memories of driveshaft failure earlier in the afternoon almost blissful. Team ABBA Racing has returned to the track, but all hope of that TCE win is already gone. To add insult to injury, Charles Lamb ended up losing the tyre from the BMW’s right rear rim on the final lap of the afternoon.
 
Fellow British runners Synchro Motorsport (#676) meanwhile have controlled the A3 class during the opening three hours, the Honda Civic ‘FK8’ Type-R at one point amassing a four-lap lead over the pursuing Hofor Racing by Bonk Motorsport BMW M240i Racing Cup (#869). Tyre life though was proving a big concern when Alyn James and Daniel Wheeler completed their driver change, the front tyres worn down almost to the canvas in less than half their allotted time. So severe was the wear in fact that team principal James opted to sacrifice two of those four laps to re-adjust the Honda’s camber, extending the rubbers’ lifespan in the process.
 
Winkler Motorsport meanwhile currently props up the A3 classification, the BMW E46 123D – the only diesel car in the field – having completed just three laps before monumental engine failure took the Austrian team completely out of contention. Working throughout the night, the team is expected to be on the grid again in the morning. Remember, this is endurance.
 
SP3 so far
  1. Team ABBA Racing (#334, BMW) – 44 laps 
 
A3 Top 3 so far
  1. Synchro Motorsport (#676, Honda) – 66 laps
  2. Hofor Racing by Bonk Motorsport (#869, BMW) – 64 laps
  3. Winkler Tuning (#666, BMW) – 3 laps


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