Having competed in the 24H SERIES’ TCR division since 2017, Stéphane Perrin made his first start in the GT division at this past weekend’s Hankook 6H ABU DHABI. The Dijon native explains how a maiden GT3 podium has increased his motivation for further success in Europe across the 2023 24H SERIES.
Words – James Gent
Images – Petr Frýba
Fresh from his GT3 category debut with series newcomer HAAS RT, Stéphane Perrin has stated that his new GT division challenge is “likely to increase [his] motivation tenfold” as both team and driver consider further outings in Europe in the 24H SERIES powered by Hankook in 2023.
Antigua/Belgian outfit Haas RT made a significant splash earlier this month at the Hankook 24H DUBAI, leading several laps outright and finishing 5th overall, in spite of the depth of competition at the event and after the Audi R8 LMS started 43rd on the grid. Haas RT continued its impressive performance at this past weekend’s Hankook 6H ABU DHABI, remaining in the fight for outright victory throughout the six-hour race and finishing just 10 seconds shy of eventual winner Pure Rxcing in 3rd overall.
Despite having a considerable amount to learn on his GT3 racing debut, Stéphane Perrin, who drew a line under his time with AC Motorsport with TCE victory in Dubai, is looking forward, potentially, to similar success across the European rounds of this year’s 24H SERIES.
“It is clear that for my big debut in the category, I could have favoured a more 'restful' solution!” Perrin explains. “A TCR and a GT3 are fundamentally different cars, and with the Audi R8 LMS, we now find ourselves at the top of the general classification. Not only does it go much faster – we approached the hotel complex in Abu Dhabi at more than 200kph – but you also have to play with the traffic, in particular many very fast Porsche GT3 Cups on the straights. Plus, now I find myself with two PRO pilots” – Perrin competed alongside long-time AC Motorsport teammate Mathieu Detry and former Bentley works driver Maxime Soulet – “which adds additional pressure.
“But I particularly appreciate this kind of challenge, with a new team that must also learn everything, even if the staff comes from different backgrounds and benefits from great experience. Sandrine Haas, of Belgian nationality but a citizen of Antigua, shows overwhelming enthusiasm, and… the team has attracted a lot of attention at the start of the year. This challenge is likely to increase my motivation tenfold, and I hope that we will be able to experience beautiful things in this 2023 season.”
A pre-event favourite from the get-go, Haas RT carried its momentum from Dubai into Hankook 6H ABU DHABI qualifying by setting the second fastest average laptime across all three 15-minute qualifying sessions, netting a front row starting spot in the process. Strong opening stints from Detry and Perrin meant the #21 Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO II remained just 20 seconds adrift of the outright winner across the opening two hours, this changing only when the Antigua/Belgian team, encouraged by a full-course yellow shortly before half-distance, went off-strategy to its nearest rivals, opting instead to preserve fuel and extend its driver stints accordingly. This, briefly, dropped the team to 8th overall, two laps back.
Fast but consistent running thereafter meant the Audi was back in the top three heading into the closing stages, a scintillating stint from Maxime Soulet bringing the Audi right back on to the tail of leaders Pure Rxcing and Herberth Motorsport. So rapid was Soulet, the former Bathurst 12 Hours winner set the two fastest laps of the whole event. Bizarrely, his second – a 1m 54.492s – was identical to the fastest qualifying lap Detry had set during Q2.
A late Code 60, brought out to recover the stricken Vortex V8, meant Soulet was unable to catch Markus Neuhofer in the Herberth Motorsport Porsche in the closing stages, though the top three were eventually split by an extraordinarily slim 10.032s, with 4th-placed Phoenix Racing only 11.8s further back in an incredibly tight finish.
“This result which allowed me to climb on the overall podium of the event for my debut in GT3,” Perrin continues, “and I am very satisfied with the way the team managed the whole race. Once Maxime was able to let go at the end of the race, he came back like a cannonball on the leaders!
“Impressive, and more than promising for the future, which will most certainly include the [Hankook] 12H MUGELLO, the first European event of the 2023 24H SERIES on 25-26 March. A new story is on the way, and it is already exciting!”