GT4 title contender Buggyra ZM Racing entered its first 24-hour at the 2023 Hankook 24H BARCELONA, overcoming fuel pump and suspension issues to claim its seventh class podium with CREVENTIC in 2023.
Words – James Gent
Images – Nico Mombaerts
Buggyra ZM Racing finished 3rd in-class at its maiden 24-hour circuit race after “a gruelling but extremely educational” run at the Hankook 24H BARCELONA, one sadly beset by fuel pump issues and rear suspension damage.
After an impressive first full 24H SERIES season, the Czech-based Emirati-entered team came into CREVENTIC’s European season finale in contention for both the GT4 Teams’ championship and overall GT European Trophy, just two points adrift of eventual champion Atlas BX Motorsport. Season regulars/team staples Aliyyah Koloc, David Vršecký and Adam Lacko were joined by Jaromír Jiřík and multi-time Formula 3000 / FIA GT race winner Jaroslav Janiš at Barcelona, the latter of whom was back for his first 24H SERIES start since the 2017 Hankook 24H DUBAI.
Sadly, a damaged fuel pump meant Buggyra ZM Racing had completed just five laps after the first hour of racing at Catalunya, condemning the #416 Mercedes-AMG GT4 to a recovery drive before the event had fully gotten underway.
Despite the early troubles, Buggyra ZM Racing nevertheless recovered to 3rd in-class in Barcelona – its seventh consecutive class podium on 2023 with CREVENTIC, including a class win at Spa-Francorchamps – and thus finished an impressive maiden season in the 24H SERIES 2nd in the GT4 Teams’ standings and 6th overall in the GT rankings. Koloc, Vršecký and Lacko placed 3rd in the GT4 Drivers’ standings, while 19-year-old Aliyyah also finished 2nd in the GT Junior Cup and took GT Ladies Cup honours.
“I think it was the first time for most of us, so it was a very new experience, and a very tough race as well,” Aliyyah explains. “But we made it to the finish and we got a podium finish too, so I’m very happy despite the issues we had.
“Honestly, I did a lot of driving during those 24 hours, including a long endurance stint at night so it was very interesting to experience driving in different conditions. I also drove a bit when the sun was rising, so that was very cool.
“The team did a great job, along with all the drivers and mechanics, so I think we can be happy. I was just trying to be consistent and not have any issues, but unfortunately, I had a small contact that wasn’t my fault: no big damage, so we just pitted to change the wheel. That was a good wake-up call, but we managed to continue and made it to the finish!”
“It has been an extremely long and demanding season for us,” team principal Martin Koloc continues. “In between GT racing we have been doing offroad rallies” – the weekend before the 2023 Hankook 6H ABU DHABI, Aliyyah Koloc and David Vršecký had just completed the fearsome Dakar Rally… – “so to summarize the endurance season, we have done really well for the first time. We have been leading throughout the year; we lost a few races, mainly because of bad luck and we didn’t really make any big mistakes. We finished second in the championship; Aliyyah finished a close second in the GT Junior class which is incredible, racing with so many strong guys in this championship.”
With weather threatening to affect official Free Practice, the Hankook 24H BARCELONA weekend got fully underway with a treacherously wet qualifying session for the GT4 and TCR runners: in Q1 for example, Jaromír Jiřík set a 2m 18.283s best, the second fastest lap of the GT4 runners and a full EIGHTEEN seconds slower than Senkyr Motorsport’s GT4 pole time at the 2022 event!
As the rain slowly eased (though not fully dissipated) during Q2 and Q3, Jaroslav Janiš and David Vršecký dutifully re-swung the balance in Buggyra’s favour, and when the 5-5-minute session was complete, Buggyra ZM Racing had secured its second pole of the season by a whopping 4.3 seconds!
Fortune did not follow Buggyra ZM Racing into the race itself the following day however, as Vršecký was unable to get the Mercedes going for the formation lap. A tentative lap out of the pits again came to naught, and having discovered that “deposits in the control fuel turned out to have clogged the filter,” the Buggyra mechanics were eventually forced to dismantle the fuel tank in its entirety, dropping the team 26 laps down on the GT4 leader before the first of 24 hours had even finished.
“After qualifying, we knew we had the speed. That's why we were expecting a slightly different start to the race,” David Vršecký explains. “I felt a bit desperate: everybody was running away at the start, while I was just restarting systems and trying to find a way to get the car moving. But the team did an amazing job; when they found the problem they were able to solve it and we drove the rest of the race without any problems.”
Overheating issues for fellow GT4 contender GSR Motorsport meant Buggyra had improved to 3rd by the sixth hour, albeit still 18 laps behind 2nd-placed Hofor-Racing by Bonk Motorsport and 26 behind eventual GT4 winner, Atlas BX Motorsport. Collapsed rear suspension during Jiřík’s second stint didn’t help matters, costing the Czech team another 17 minutes in the pits.
A suspected fuel pump issue, ironically, for Hofor-Racing by Bonk Motorsport however meant Buggyra’s deficit to 2nd-placed Hofor Racing had dropped to ‘just’ 12 laps by half-distance. Consistently faster pace for the Mercedes over the BMW during the night meant that, come daybreak, the gap was down to six hours. Incredibly, at the flag, the Hofor-Racing BMW and the Buggyra Mercedes were back on the same lap and were split by just 1m 35.692s.
While Buggyra ZM Racing has not yet confirmed whether it will return for a second full season in the 24H SERIES in 2024, the team has expressed an interest in a second outing at the Hankook 6H ABU DHABI in January, suggesting that a Middle East Trophy campaign could be on the cards. Teasingly, post-Barcelona, team principal Martin Koloc did mention that Buggyra ZM Racing was looking “to get better next year…”
“We will all work hard to get better next year. I am very proud of this team, they have been working so hard, they never stop, trying to battle the odds, never giving up. Each individual member of the team should get a medal because they have been really good.”