Ahead of the 2021 season opener in Dubai, Joe looks back on the ‘annus horribilis’ that started in Dubai – before the flooding, in fact – and explains why Sebring’s arrival on the 24H SERIES calendar is something to be celebrated, give or take the odd engineering headache.
As we begin the journey of the 24H SERIES powered by Hankook in 2021, it is perhaps appropriate to reflect back before we look forward.
The 2020 season began with the most bizarre of circumstances. You may think I’m referring to the Hankook 24H DUBAI being red flagged, something few of us could have predicted in the Middle East and a situation more akin to the weather blowing into Zandvoort from the North Sea. I know I will never forget the ankle-deep water we had to wade through on the Saturday morning. And that was just in the press room!
No, the annus horribilis of 2020 began going downhill slightly earlier than that for the Radio Show Limited broadcast team. We were at the point in our flight from London to Dubai when the lights come on, indicating that breakfast was about to be served and that we had just over an hour to go before landing in the UAE.
I remember the words of our captain all-to clearly:
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is normally at this point of our flight that I would like to tell you we are about 45 minutes from our arrival in Dubai. However, I can’t tell you this, because we are about 45 minutes away from landing in Istanbul.”
I won’t go into the details for our 'handbrake turn' mid-flight, nor the details of the very strange year everybody has experienced. But it was at this point, on January 9, that 2020 took a turn and would become unlike any other year in recent history. Running a race team is an intense way to pass the time, even more so if you make a living out of it. I can’t imagine the operational logistical gymnastics that went on over the course of this season.
Suffice to say we congratulate all at CREVENTIC for salvaging what turned out to be quite a season of racing action: six rounds, including two new circuits added to the calendar at the 11th hour, was quite a feat for the staff of CREVENTIC. Peter Freij’s and Ole Dörlemann’s grid walk interviews were also a little too good for my liking!
Flexibility then will be key to the 2021 season, and with an element of uncertainty remaining, we look forward to a full and challenging calendar of races, including two new venues for the 24H SERIES. The first will be a non-championship event at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, a 21st century facility if ever there was one.
The second will be CREVENTIC’s season finale at the Sebring International Raceway, a circuit steeped in endurance racing history. The first race held there was in 1950, but only barely as it was run on New Year’s Eve of that year.
The famous – or should I say ‘infamous’? – 12-hour sportscar race , now part of the IMSA Series, is renowned as the ultimate challenge in endurance racing. In the early 2000s for example, Audi’s sports car team would traditionally stay at Sebring after the gruelling 12-hour race and continue their weekend with another unbroken 36-hour run in preparation for Le Mans. Any car that was strong enough to survive that amount of abuse at Sebring would find 24 hours at La Sarthe an absolute cakewalk!
The track is unique by virtue of the surface on the main-start finish straight: the concrete track is the thing that stops damper engineers from sleeping soundly at night, while the remainder of the circuit is of a more conventional tarmacadam construction and very smooth by comparison. So, dampers set to soak up the pounding of the concrete will not necessarily be optimised for the remaining 90% of the layout, meaning there’ll be quite a few engineering headaches to overcome this November.
I hope this has not in any way put you off competing there. It is an awesome venue and most certainly a bucket list place, and, after all, the 24H SERIES is all about #ThisIsEndurance.
Of course, we begin 2021 in traditional fashion by reconvening at the Dubai Autodrome. As the Dubai urban sprawl continues to engulf the area around Motor City, the feel of being out in the desert has dwindled somewhat. The atmosphere has grown along with the stature of the event however, and the challenge remains. The sixteen turn undulating track will probably be less crowded this year with the entries being down on previous years for obvious reasons. There may even be periods of time during a lap where you may not need to overtake anything.
The Hankook 24H DUBAI still remains the biggest event of the CREVENTIC season and stepping on to the podium for all of our classes brings prestige to any driver and team. As ever the challenge will revolve around staying out of trouble and managing the tyres over the course of a stint, and #ThisIsEndurance may well be replaced with #PatiencePatiencePatience. Let’s hope we’ve seen the end of diverted flights and mass flooding for a while too.