Might Team WRT have been able to secure a 1-2 finish at the 2023 Hankook 24H DUBAI had an on-track incident in the opening three hours been avoided?
Words – James Gent
Images – Petr Frýba Photography / Racing Pixels
WRT principal Vincent Vosse is confident that the team’s #46 BMW M4 GT3, which finished 3rd at the 2023 Hankook 24H DUBAI, might well have fought with the sister #7 entry for outright victory had it not been for an on-track moment during the opening three hours.
A frontrunner from the get-go at the 18th edition of the Hankook 24H DUBAI, Team WRT, after a flurry of early pit stops initiated by two early Code 60 caution periods, were running 3rd (#7) and 4th (#46) respectively when a collision between Phoenix Racing’s Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO II and the Speed Lover Porsche 911 GT3 Cup after 2.5 hours led to fluid from the Porsche’s radiator being spilt on the exit of turn five. Unluckily, the #46 Team WRT BMW M4 GT3 was one of the first cars on the scene, and Timothy Whale could do nothing to stop the BMW sluicing across the track and into the barriers, side-on, at turn six.
The Brit, once back underway, immediately pitted for repairs, but remarkably, the BMW appeared to have survived its brush with the barrier with only minimal damage, and was able to continue. The time lost both off-track and on pitroad however meant the #46 had already dropped four places and one lap down on the sister #7 M4, the latter of which went on to take Team WRT’s third outright win at the Hankook 24H DUBAI and BMW’s first since Schubert Motorsport’s own triumph at the event in 2011. The #46 ultimately went on to finish 3rd, two laps behind its sister car and runner-up Herberth Motorsport.
“The #46 had a small contact at the beginning of the race, otherwise I think they would have fought with car #7,” Vosse explains in an official statement from BMW M Motorsport. “To get familiar with the car in race conditions is important. We knew that it is possible to win if the car can make it to the end, if we don’t do mistakes, if we don’t get penalties. There was some strong opposition – but they did mistakes and we tried to avoid them. It was the right decision to participate in the race instead of continuing to test. The race went well and we learnt a lot.”
The turn six incident aside, Team WRT enjoyed an otherwise flawless run on the competitive debut for the team’s new BMW M4 GT3. Which came as a surprise to Vosse…
“The race went quite smoothly. We did not expect that after qualifying as we were missing a bit of pace,” Vosse continue. The #7 and #46 nevertheless qualified 4th and 8th overall respectively, though the #7 received a two-place grid drop after the car was found to be ‘not in accordance with the technical regulations.’
“With the drivers and the crew we were able to have a great strategy. That helped us to put the #7 car in the lead and then to manage the window of the strategy. That is the most important thing here to be able to win. The car was very strong, it ran trouble-free.”
Alongside the team and manufacturer triumphs, Dries Vanthoor and Mohammed Saud Fahad Al Saud secured their second consecutive outright victory at the Hankook 24H DUBAI in 2023 after similarly triumphing with WRT in 2021. Jens Klingmann meanwhile, who completed the #7 line-up alongside Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer and Diego Menchaca, was similarly overjoyed to secure his first-ever overall win at a 24-hour event.
“What a way to start!” a delighted Klingmann proclaims. “BMW M Team WRT did a super job, right from the first practice session. We improved a lot and focused purely on race pace, ensuring that the balance of the car was right for all five drivers. And we did so successfully. In the end, it was an exciting finish, but the debut with BMW M Team WRT was more than successful.
“This victory means an awful lot to me personally. I was involved in the development of the BMW M4 GT3 from the word ‘go,’ so to come here with the team and win the 24-hour race was very emotional. I think everyone can be proud – those in BMW M Team WRT and those at home with BMW M Motorsport in Munich. We have a good reason to celebrate.”
“I am thrilled that we won our first race with BMW M Motorsport,” Vanthoor continues. “That race was not easy for us, the Porsche was always there. However, we made good calls during the Code 60 phases and came out on top in the end. The BMW M4 GT3 ran smoothly, the drivers, team, support from BMW M Motorsport – everything was super. It was a nice start and we now obviously hope that we will go on to claim many more victories.”
Frustrations aside, nine-time motorcycle world champion Valentino Rossi, who contested his first 24-hour race in the #46 BMW alongside Whale, Max Hesse, Maxime Martin, and Sean Gelael – the latter on his GT3 debut – was similarly pleased to take his first 24-hour race podium since his switch to four wheels.
“I am very happy because it’s the first podium with WRT for me and to make it in my first race together with BMW M Motorsport is great,” Rossi continues. “It is a sign. It is a great way to start. The race was good and I enjoyed it a lot. It was not easy but at the end we got the podium and that was our target.”