With a switch to GT3 machinery conformed for this weekend’s Hankook 6H ABU DHABI, Stéphane Perrin rounds off a six-year TCR campaign with AC Motorsport with their second overall TCE win at the Hankook 24H DUBAI.
Words – James Gent
Images – Petr Frýba Photography / Racing Pixels
Stéphane Perrin has praised “a race as perfect as it is intelligent” from AC Motorsport that secured both driver and team collectively their second overall TCE win at the Hankook 24H DUBAI in Perrin’s last TCR race with the Belgian team.
Aided further by recurrent issues for nearest category rivals Wolf-Power Racing and 700 Miles, AC Motorsport secured its second overall event win in Dubai, and its first since 2020, by a mighty 50 laps. The result proves particularly apt for Perrin, who, at this weekend’s Hankook 6H ABU DHABI, will make the transition to GT3 competition aboard an Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO II with series newcomer, HAAS RT.
This marks the first time that Perrin will compete with any other team in the 24H SERIES since both he and AC Motorsport’s series debut at the Hankook 24H BARCELONA in 2017.
“Ending these particularly flourishing years with a victory in TCE fills me with joy,” Perrin explains. “In fact, I could hardly imagine a better conclusion. Thank you to the team surrounding Arnaud Quédé for all these intense moments. A page is turned, and from the [Hankook] 6H ABU DHABI, the last round of CREVENTIC’s Middle East Trophy, I will find myself behind the wheel of another Audi, an R8 LMS GT3, in the company of Mathieu Detry, with whom I usually ride, and Maxime Soulet. I will defend the colours of the new formation Haas Racing Team, which competes under the flag of Antigua and Barbuda!
“I had the opportunity to carry out a few test sessions, and I can assure you that driving a GT3 is very different from that of a TCR. Which means that for me, the 2023 season will be above all a year of learning and transition, with no real pressure in terms of results.”
Ironically, despite the near-flawless race that followed, AC Motorsort’s Hankook 24H DUBAI weekend got off to a poor start when both the #188 and #199 Audi RS 3 LMS’ missed the opening two qualifying sessions, the former as a result of two snapped driveshafts. The new qualifying format for 24-hour events – which now include two 15-minute sessions run during the day and two more later that evening in the dark, from which average lap times are used to assign grid positions – did though mean there was time for the Belgian team to affect repairs, and such was the ace of the #188 RS 3, a returning Miklas Born and Yannick Mettler – both former Overall TCE Drivers’ champions – set the fastest TCR laps in their respective 15-minute sessions. Admittedly, the missed track time earlier in the day meant both AC Motorsport machines were nevertheless forced to start from the back row of the grid. Opting for a more conservative race setup however to protect the car proved decisive…
“Things got off to a relatively bad start,” Perrin continues. “We were victims of two shaft breaks during free practice and qualifying, which penalized us on the starting grid… On the other hand, to give us the best chance without encountering major mechanical problems, AC Motorsport team decided to review the set-up of the Audi and the strategy to be adopted for the race, while the drivers adapted their way of taming the racing car.”
By the end of the opening hour, the #188 Audi was already up to 2nd behind Wolf-Power Racing’s lead entry, and by hour four, the Audi had hit the front. Only once after that did AC Motorsport lose its lead, and as both Wolf-Power Racing TCRs started to hit trouble, that advantage had extended to 15 laps by hour 15, 25 laps by hour 20, and 48 laps by hour 22. This had eked out to 50 laps by the end of the race.
“Sam Dejonghe, Miklas Born and Yannick Mettler, who accompanied me on this ultimate adventure with AC Motorsport, did not make the slightest mistake, and each made it a point of honor to follow the instructions to the letter. Result? A race as perfect as it is intelligent, without the slightest technical problem or penalty, and without [any] contact on-track!
“We have never experienced such perfect progress in the past! This allowed me to take another victory during this major event of the 24H SERIES. So I had the pleasure of once again traversing the pitlane on the back of a camel after the finish. What happiness!”
The result also marks the second overall TCE win at the Hankook 24H DUBAI for Yannick Mettler, who took his first event win in 2019 with Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing.
The sister #199 meanwhile, driven by the returning Hong Kong line-up of Tommy Ku, David Lau, Shaun Thong and former TCR Asia champion Andy Yan, enjoyed a similarly impressive climb to 3rd, gearbox gremlins aside, during the opening stages only for a terminal engine issue to strike at half-distance. Impressively, a full engine change was completed to get the #199 Audi back out on-track in the early hours of Sunday morning, though a tangle with the Poulsen Motorsport BMW M4 GT3 at turn six ultimately led to the Audi being retired.
Like Stéphane Perrin, AC Motorsport will also be in action with its #188 Audi RS 3 LMS this weekend in Abu Dhabi, though its driver line-up has not yet been confirmed.