2020 has been a season like no other, both worldwide and in the 24H SERIES. In January, we had the shortest Hankook 24H DUBAI in history after monsoon-like levels of rain – in the Middle East! – meant the season opener was unable to be restarted after seven hours. In July, the 24H SERIES became the first international motor racing series to return to ‘full metal racing’ in Portimão. In Monza, rain once again stopped play – fortunately only briefly – and eventually led to an historic 1-2-3 outright finish for Herberth Motorsport. Pandemic-related hurdles led to the last minute arrival of Hockenheim, and Germany, on the 24H SERIES calendar in place of the 22nd Hankook 24H BARCELONA, while in Sicily, CREVENTIC revived the ‘Coppa Florio’ at the Autodromo di Pergusa for the first time in 39 years.
Hardly surprising that the inaugural COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily had one or two other stories to tell. For example…
Congratulations to GPX Racing! Last weekend, the Emirati team not only paid tribute to Porsche’s 10th win (of an eventual 11) on the Targa Florio with its tributary Gulf Racing livery, it also took its maiden outright win in the 24H SERIES at the COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily. Oddly, the team’s best-ever result – beating its 2nd place finish at the 2019 Hankook 24H PORTIMAO – comes almost immediately after its worst! Following a monster crash for Dirk Werner (the German fortunately walked away uninured), GPX Racing completed just three laps at the season-opening Hankook 24H DUBAI.
It also means that, for the first time since 2016, this year’s 24H SERIES has featured more than one Middle East team on the top step of the podium, Dubai-based Dragon Racing having taken ‘GTX’ victory at this year’s Hankook 24H DUBAI. Just one more will tie the record – three – set in 2016 by Lechner Racing Middle East, Memac Ogilvy Duel Racing, and SVDP Racing, which took ‘991’, ‘TCR’, and ‘D1’ class wins at that year’s Hankook 24H DUBAI.
From a championship perspective, GPX Racing is also the fourth team in five races to have taken an outright GT win in 2020, after Black Falcon (Dubai), Herberth Motorsport (Portimão and Monza) and NKPP Racing by Bas Koeten Racing (Hockenheimring).
So commanding was the performance of GPX Racing at the COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily, the team led 149 of the 189 laps completed on Saturday and all but one of the 187 completed on Sunday, Avelon Formula (40) and MP Motorsport (1) being the only outliers. It’s a performance all the more remarkable given that, prior to last weekend, the former GP Extreme had led ‘just’ 32 laps in total across its previous 12 outings. That’s just over nine per cent of the team’s total from Sicily alone.
The Emirati team got the ball rolling by leading seven laps outright at the 2017 Hankook 12H RED BULL RING, following that up with one lap at the front at the next round at Paul Ricard (hey, every little helps!). The GP Extreme Renault R.S. 01 led two more laps at that year’s Hankook 12H IMOLA, and 11, split across two cars, at the 2017 24H SERIES Europe season finale at Portimão. Aside from the 11 laps at the front of the field one year later, also in Portugal, that was all she wrote for GP Extreme / GPX Racing until last weekend’s COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily.
Last month, Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub and Joe Foster, together with 2013 Daytona 24 Hours class winner Shane Lewis, secured their first category win in the 24H SERIES since 2018. It seems only fitting then that, at this year’s COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily, the 2018 Overall GT Drivers’ champions also took their first back-to-back wins in more than two years. In fact, the 24H SERIES fans favourites took three wins on the bounce in 2018 at Imola, Portimão and Barcelona, before finally sealing the title together with Adam Christodoulou at the season finale at COTA.
Admittedly, ‘CP Racing’ was not the victorious team on any of those occasions, given that the American trio formed the PROsport Performance line-up until Dubai 2019.
Gotta love symmetry, don’t you?!
On its return to the 24H SERIES, Avelon Formula leapt from the front row on the grid to immediately take the lead of the COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily at turn one, the 20th competitor of 2020 to lead a 24H SERIES event outright at, of all places, the 20th different circuit to host an official CREVENTIC endurance event. There the Wolf G08 Tornado stayed, despite almost constant pressure from MP Motorsport and GPX Racing, until the PX-class prototype made its first pit stop at the end of lap 40. Unfortunately, gearbox issues meant Avelon Formula would never reclaim that lead.
Unsurprisingly, the Hankook 24H DUBAI, with its near 70-car grid and season-opening spot on the calendar, has the most ‘new’ leaders of the year with nine, including Barwell Motorsport (#77), HTP Winward Motorsport (#84), MS7 by WRT (#7), Herberth Motorsport (#91), Car Collection Motorsport (#88), SPS automotive performance (#10), WRT (#31), Toksport WRT (#777), and eventual race winner Black Falcon (#4). Herberth Motorsport led once again in Portimão – albeit with its #92 Porsche – and six more cars – Herberth Motorsport again (#93 this time), Reiter Engineering (#746), Equipe Verschuur (#9), MP Racing (#58), Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#1), and Wochenspiegel Team Monschau (#22) – added their names to the list in Monza. Finally, CP Racing (#85), NKPP Racing by Bas Koeten Racing (#991), and DUWO Racing (#909) led their first laps of the season at the Hockenheimring. Avelon Formula makes 20.
Luc Breukers, now 10 races into his 24H SERIES career, posted the fastest overall lap in the TCE division at last weekend’s COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily for the first time. That makes the young Dutchman the fifth TCE driver to have secured the fastest TCE lap at a 24H SERIES event this year. In doing so, Breukers emulates CWS’ Colin White (Dubai), big brother Rik (Portimão), Nordschleife Racing’s Johan Boris Scheier (Monza), and Guillaume Roman, also with Nordschleife (Hockenheim).
It’s a similar situation across in the GT division. Steven Palette got the ball rolling with SAINTELOC RACING in Dubai, and has since been followed by Herberth Motorsport’s Robert Renauer and Klaus Bachler in Portimão and Monza respectively, CP Racing’s Charles Espenlaub at Hockenheim, and, finally, MP Motorsport’s Jaap Van Lagen in Sicily.
It speaks volumes to the 24H SERIES’ level of competition that this is far from a rare occurrence. Last year for example, six different drivers recorded the fastest GT lap at seven races, while seven drivers posted the fastest lap in the TCE division across eight events, including the TCR SPA 500. Similarly, in 2018, seven drivers posted the GT fastest lap at eight different races, while five drivers recorded the fastest lap in the TCE division across seven rounds.
Though focus throughout the COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily was on the 105-year history of the Sicilian endurance event and a return of international motorsport to the Autodromo di Pergusa for the first time since 2012, the event also saw the return of Matteo Mallucelli to the 24H SERIES, one of our three reigning Overall GT Drivers’ champions in the 24H SERIES Europe.
Sicily marked the first time Mallucelli has competed in the 24H SERIES since the 2019 Hankook 24H BARCELONA, more than 13 months earlier. Fittingly, the Italian was back to winning ways quickly, and 18 months on from his previous victory at the 2019 Hankook 12H BRNO, the reigning champ was on the top step of the podium once again, this time in the ‘991’ class with the DINAMIC MOTORSPORT Porsche 991-II Cup.
Fun fact, this is the first time Mallucelli has taken a 24H SERIES win in anything other than a Scuderia Praha Ferrari since his maiden CREVENTIC outing in 2015.
The inaugural COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily proved to be another frustrating race for Equipe Verschuur. Having taken pole position in the GT4 class – its third in succession after outright poles with its Renault R.S.01 GT3 at Monza and the Hockenheimring – the Dutch team’s collaborative run with Las Moras Racing Team was scuppered by a mix of punctures, suspension problems, overheating issues and the dreaded electrical gremlins. Ultimately, a game effort, the #409 McLaren 570S GT4 was officially retired from the event with just under 90 minutes left on the clock.
Despite this, the McLaren had completed enough race distance to be classified 3rd in GT4, meaning Equipe Verschuur, finally, collected its first piece of silverware in 2020. The result also ended a dry streak for McLaren in the 24H SERIES.
Woking’s last representative was the 570S GT4 entered by ALFAB Racing for the 2018 Hankook 24H DUBAI, at which, unfortunately, the Swedish-entered McLaren was forced to retire after ‘only’ 197 laps. That means Las Moras / Equipe Verschuur’s hard-earned 3rd in-class in GT4 is the first podium for a McLaren since Lapidus Racing took overall victory at the 2012 Hankook 24H BARCELONA with an MP4-12C.
When Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing collected its third win of the season, successfully defending its Overall TCE Teams’ crown in the process, the Swiss/German team did so by finishing 8th on the road. This consequently marked the fourth consecutive race in 2020 the TCE race winner has also finished inside the overall top 10.
In Portimão, Autorama Motorsport, again, finished a sensational 4th overall to claim the outright victory in the TCE division. Quite incredibly, the #112 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR was followed home in 5th and 6th by 2nd-placed TCR runner Comtoyouteam Audi Sport and 3rd-placed AC Motorsport in 5th and 6th.
In Monza, the top three in TCR once again finished in the overall top 10, TCR winner Red Camel-Jordans.nl finishing 8th ahead of Autorama Motorsport (9th) and Brutal Fish by KCMG (10th). The Hankook 16H HOCKENHEIMRING remains the big one though, as Autorama – aided it must be said by an attrition-hit race for the front runners – took the first-ever overall podium finish for a TCR runner at a 24H SERIES GT event. Autorama’s 8th place in Sicily makes five.