Two months on from finishing on the GT3-AM podium in Dubai, The Heart of Racing by SPS took its first 24H SERIES win at the 2023 Hankook 12H MUGELLO, and secured 3rd overall in the process, despite a moment in the gravel just over one hour in.
Words – James Gent
Images – Nico Mombaerts
The Heart of Racing by SPS secured its best-ever finish – 3rd overall and victory in the GT3-AM class – at this past weekend’s Hankook 12H MUGELLO, despite losing three laps in the very early stages when the #27 Mercedes-AMG GT3 slipped into the grave.
The American team, which continues its collaboration with Germany’s SPS automotive performance, came into its first-ever motor race at the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello after finishing a strong 8th overall, and 3rd in GT3-AM, at the 2023 Hankook 24H DUBAI in January. Momentum that drivers Gray Newell, Roman de Angelis, and Heart of Racing team principal Ian James took into the Hankook 12H MUGELLO by securing a spot on the front row of the grid, just under a second shy of the pole-sitting Herberth Motorsport.
With “an eye on the long race distance” rather than outright track position, James completed his opening stint 5th overall, with Newell taking over the Mercedes hot seat after just over an hour of running. Sadly, a loss of traction meant Newell slid into the gravel at Palagio on only his third lap out of the pits, bringing out the first of an eventual 12 Code 60s at the event. The incident dropped the #27 Mercedes to 24th, three laps down.
Consistent running from Newell, de Angelis and James thereafter though meant The Heart of Racing by SPS had recovered to 6th overall, two laps down by half-distance, despite a couple of 10-second penalties for track limit infringements. A front left puncture meant the team did not get off to the greatest of starts in ‘part two,’ though an intermittent radio problem led to Newell “accidentally” completed a double stint instead of a single, during which the young American moved past the Hofor Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 on-track to take 4th overall and the GT3-AM lead, just over three hours from the end of the race. de Angelis dutifully relegated Willi Motorsport by Ebimotors a further place one hour later – posting the sixth fastest lap of the entire event in the process – with James completing the final stint to secure class victory and the final spot on the overall rostrum behind Haas RT and Saintéloc Junior Team.
This marks the best result for The Heart of Racing in the 24H SERIES in only its fourth series start, besting its 2nd in GT4 at the Hankook 24H DUBAI in 2022. Ironically, that event marked the most recent overall podium for SPS automotive, which finished 3rd overall as ‘SunEnergy1 by SPS automotive performance.’
“A big compliment to the drivers and the whole team,” SPS team principal Stephan Sohn explains. “After the incident at the beginning, we were initially behind. But we didn't give up and fought our way back. Everyone did an incredibly good job and got the maximum out of it. That makes me very proud.”
“We were able to drive a great race today,” Newell continues. “Unfortunately, we were initially three laps down after my mistake. But everyone did an amazing job to get us back to the front. It's nice to see that everyone is pulling together, even if someone makes a mistake. Compliments to the whole team.”
The Heart of Racing by SPS now leads the GT3-AM Teams’ standings, and is currently joint-first in the overall GT European Trophy standings along with Haas RT, Land Motorsport, Willi Motorsport by Ebimotors, Vortex V8, Centri Porsche Ticino and Atlas BX Motorsports. All seven class winners earned 40 points in Mugello under the 24H SERIES’ new European points table.
The Heart of Racing by SPS program is set to continue at next month’s Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS on 6-7 May. The #27 Mercedes-AMG GT3 is one of 17 GT3 entrants already confirmed for the second European round of this year’s 24H SERIES.