The opening four hours of the inaugural Hankook 12H MONZA has so far seen 11 lead changes between six different cars in the GT division, a shock outright race leader taking the chequered flag, and a battle that’s continuing to heat up in TCE, despite four of the early front runners hitting trouble. But what stories should you be keep an eye on tomorrow at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza?
No doubt the tifosi watching the behind closed doors event from home were hoping for a strong result for the only Ferrari entered for the Hankook 12H MONZA. Sadly, all hope of that already seems to have gone up in smoke, much like the 488 GT3’s left rear wheel arch.
All too familiar with punctures – we all remember the fleet of incidents that befell the Ferraris at last year’s Hankook 12H MONZA – Wochenspiegel Team Monschau’s bad luck was particularly unfortunate at Monza. Having opted to go off strategy at the first round of pitstops, the #22 488 GT3 (Georg and Leonard Weiss / Jochen Krumbach / Hendrik Still) had vaulted up the order from 7th to 2nd behind short-term leader MP Racing, the Italian team having also opted against re-fuelling on lap 16. Unfortunately, the first of what would be two punctures dropped Wochenspiegel Team Monschau down to 6th after only 90 minutes. The second, suffered just 20 laps later and even earlier around the 5.796km Autodromo this time, elbowed the Ferrari completely out of the top 10, with the added indignity of a small flash fire erupting (briefly) as the hobbled prancing horse rolled back onto pitroad. The German team has since recovered to 8th overall.
Wochenspiegel though was not the only high profile team to suffer tyre-related setbacks. Having lost time to a suspected electrical problem early on, ARC Bratislava’s Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo (#707, Miro Konopka / Mato Konopka / Mato Homola) also suffered a left rear puncture a few laps later. Proof that teams and drivers will need to treat the Autodromo’s kerbs with respect if they hope to see the chequered flag unscathed.
Even Herberth Motorsport was not immune, the lead #93 Porsche 991 GT3 R (Steffen Görig / Stefan Aust / Klaus Bachler) suffering two left rear punctures inside the first four hours. The first cost the Bavarian team little time, with Klaus Bachler able to get on to pitroad shortly after the second Code 60 was called (debris at the Parabolica). Limited time lost. The second though proved more costly, Steffen Görig having to limp almost an lap back to the pits on the cusp of the 3rd hour, losing the team close to a minute, and ultimately, the overall lead.
Take heed. Stay off the kerbs.
Though we’re unused to seeing a ‘GTX’ runner mimic the pace of the GT3 frontrunners, the signs were there early on that the latest generation of Reiter Engineering’s X-BOW GT4 – entered as the ‘GTX Concept’ in Monza – could be a genuine contender for outright victory at the Hankook 12H MONZA.
The X-BOW’s debut at last year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA suggested that, thanks to its gutsy new 5-litre Audi five-cylinder and (whisper it) bullet-proof reliability, the KTM was surely a favourite for GTX class pole during qualifying. Admittedly the chasm between Reiter Engineering (#746, Stefan Rosina / Laura Kraihamer / Eike Angermayr) to 2nd placed ARC Bratislava – a mighty 5.8s – was aided yet further by the Lamborghini losing its laps in qualifying following a balance of performance irregularity.
Still, Laura Kraihamer’s storming opening stint meant that, from 8th on the grid, the KTM was already up to 5th overall after the first round of pit stops. By the time teammate Stefan Rosina stepped beneath the canopy, the X-BOW was up to 3rd. Astonishingly, there was more to come.
Rosina’s first big scalp was Steffen Görig, the Slovakian pulling a decisive move on the #93 Herberth to take the lead into Variante del Rettifillo, on merit, on lap 63. Admittedly it was a brief run at the front, Rosalina heading to pitroad for his scheduled stop just four tours later. Even in that short space of time though, the KTM had pulled 2.5 seconds clear of the Porsche, the #93’s puncture meant teammate Eike Angermayr was back at the front by lap 75.
Perhaps more notable though was Reiter Engineering’s decision not to make a late-race pit stop for fuel and tyres before the chequered flag, a call that simultaneously threw a spanner in Herberth Motorsport’s strategy for the #91, running 3rd at the time. If Reiter Engineering, now just over a lap ahead, could keep the charging #91 Porsche (Daniel Allemann / Ralf Bohn / Robert Renauer / Alfred Renauer) behind in the closing stages of Friday’s race, that would leave only Herberth’s #93 entry on the same lap. High pressure stakes.
All credit due to Daniel Allemann, who threw everything at the KTM in the closing laps in an attempt to get past. Indeed, an opportunistic attempt to un-lap himself out of the second Lesmo could well have paid off had the German not run wide on the exit.
In a nail-biting finish, Allemann threw all he had at Angermayr on the run to the line, the Porsche falling less than a car’s length short of getting past the KTM and un-lapping itself. A sizable blow for Herberth Motorsport, as the #91 will now start alongside the sister #92 (Jürgen Häring / Taki Konstantinou / Alfred Renauer) on the second row, both now one lap behind the leaders.
Yes, Reiter Engineering’s near two-minite advantage to the #93 Porsche will be null and void on tomorrow’s grid, and unlike the lead Herberth machine, the KTM will need to pit for fuel, tyres and a driver change shortly after tomorrow’s restart. The pace shown thus far though suggests Reiter Engineering’s contention for a podium, if not the outright win, is far from over.
*Update. Overnight, both the #91 and #92 Herberth Motorsport Porsches were credited one lap, both having taken the chequered flag ahead of their class leader. That meant all three Porsche 911 GT3 Rs and the polesitting Reiter Engineering KTM took the restart on the lead lap.
The start of Equipe Verschuur’s weekend couldn’t have been more different to its last: while myriad powertrain issues, plus a full engine change, meant the Renault R.S.01 GT3 completed just 21 laps, in total, at last year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA, the Dutch team was on the pace immediately in Monza, bettered only by the #93 Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R in official Free Practice. Mike Verschuur, on his first international outing in four years, even nabbed the team’s first pole position in the 24H SERIES on his last flying lap of the session, from right under the nose of the highly respected Klaus Bachler.
In the race proper, the team’s namesake was off like a scolded cat, holding the pursuing Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 Rs at bay into Variante del Rettifilo and pulling out an impressive 2.5 second lead by the end of the first lap. By lap three, his lead was 6.5s, and by lap seven, Verschuur (#9, Harrie Kolen / Erik van Loon / Mike Verschuur) was a further two seconds down the road, four of the race’s five fastest laps thus far already under his belt.
Having admitted on the starting grid that the Renault was unlikely to keep pace with Herberth’s Porsche 911 GT3 straight-line speed advantage though, and with Bachler emulating his qualifying form during the first stint of the race aboard the #93 Herberth 991, it was perhaps inevitable that the gap to Verschuur would start to close sooner rather than later. Still, by lap 15, the Dutchman still had four seconds in his pocket.
Then came a sight 24H SERIES fans became all too familiar with in Barcelona, as the Renault pulled to smoking halt exiting Variante della Roggia on the 16th tour. With Equipe Verschuur yet to emerge from its garage, all hope of a podium finish from a car that had dominated the early going are now gone.
Shortly after the chequered flag was unfurled, race control at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza confirmed that both Car Collection Motorsport (#34, Johannes Dr. Kirchhof / Elmar Grimm / Max Edelhof) and Nordschleife Racing (#226, Daniel Waszczinski / Régis Rego de Sebes / Johan Boris Scheier) have been served 10-lap penalties, both teams having opted to work on their cars overnight in parc ferme.
A blow to both teams, given their respective pace during the first four hours.
Behind the fast-starting Equipe Verschuur and two of the Herberth Motorsport Porsches (the #92 Portimão winner was back in 5th), the Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, last year’s A6 Teams’ champion in the 24H SERIES Continents lest we forget, was off to a flying start from 4th on the grid, shouldering its way past Robert Renauer (#91) for 3rd on lap three and harrying Klaus Bachler (#93) for 2nd shortly thereafter.
Indeed, such was the pace of the Audi R8, it left many in the paddock and in radiolemans.com’s booth in London wondering whether Max Edelhoff was accidentally using Elmar Grimm’s driver ID, such was the robust pace of one of CREVENTIC’s most respected gentlemen drivers.
Sadly, the first of several pitfalls befell the Audi just 15 minutes in when the R8 pulled onto pitroad with a puncture. All seemed to be well thereafter though, and come the turn of the second hour, Grimm and teammate Johannes Dr. Kirchhoff had dragged the Audi back up to 4th, just 11s behind 3rd place. One too many lock-ups into the two Variante chicanes however suggested the R8 was struggling with its brakes, and two attempts to jump-start and, later, replace the battery altogether, did little to help. 5th at the flag capped off an impressive recovery drive for Car Collection Motorsport under the circumstances, though the decision to take the 10-lap penalty shows the R8’s technical issue is more serious than first thought.
Nordschleife Racing could certainly sympathize (. Having qualified comfortably on TCE pole, almost 7.5s faster than WEC Motorsport BMW E46 M3 (Autorama Motorsport’s SEAT Leon Cup Racer was unable to start the session), the Ligier JS2 R, now well into its stride, was up to 2nd overall in the TCE division after just two laps. Having nailed their pit stop during the first Code 60 caution period, Nordschleife Racing had hit the front by lap 17.
The first signs of trouble though struck after a brief off by Daniel Waszczinski at the Variante della Roggia, the Frenchman unfortunately giving the left rear wheel a solid clout across the sausage kerbs in the process. Barely 15 minutes later, the Ligier was parked at almost the exact same spot, and though Waszczinski managed to get the car going, the overall TCE lead had already been lost.
Further troubles were to come when the JS2 R returned to pitlane with only 30 minutes left on the clock with suspected driveshaft failure at the same left rear corner. Wheeled into the garage with the engine cover off suggested a deeper issue though, and when the chequered flag was flown, the early TCE leader had already fallen 10 and six laps behind both new leader Autorama Motorsport (#211, Luigi Stanco / Armando Stanco / Dario Stanco) and WEC Motorsport (#339, David Cox / Jason Cox / George Haynes)
Not the follow-up to its Dubai podium the team had been hoping for.
Red Camel-Jordans.nl (#101, Ivo Breukers / Luc Breukers) can’t seem to catch a break as of late. In its latest E-SPORTS races at Monza (ironically) and Spa, the Dutch had been fighting for an outright podium spot before an incident on-track – ranging from contact with a rival to driver error – dropped them down the field. Few could blame the TCR SPA 500 winner if they felt history was repeating itself at Monza with its CUPRA TCR.
Having used the pit stops to their advantage and worked their way into the TCE lead for two of the first four hours, Red Camel’s charge was dealt a major blow when the CUPRA TCR suffered left front suspension damage shortly heading into the closing stages. Another casualty of Monza’s savage kerbs.
Long-time rival AC Motorsport (#188, Stéphane Perrin / Vincent Radermecker / Mathieu Detry) seemed similarly cursed. The Belgian team, already a class winner this year in Dubai, remained firmly ensconced in the top thee heading into the third hour, albeit slipping one place back from its front row starting position and give or take the occasional off at the Variante dell Roggia. Solid work from both Radermecker and Perrin though was quickly undone when the Audi RS3 LMS was wheeled into the garage just four laps into teammate Mathieu Detry’s stint, the front left damper bent at almost a 45-degree angle. Credit indeed to the AC Motorsport mechanics who managed to turn the Audi around in just over 10 minutes, but that 3rd place in TCE had become 7th in-class when the chequered flag was flown. 15 seconds up the road? The Red Camel-Jordans.nl CUPRA in 6th.
Another team looking to move back up the field is the Brutal Fish by KCMG Honda Civic Type-R (#122, Martin Ryba / Daniel Lloyd / Josep Oriola Vila). The Hong Kong outfit had turned its class pole position into a commanding lead over first AC Motorsport and then Nordschleife Racing in the opening stages, with only a slow first pit stop dropping the Honda back into the tin top mid-pack from which it has yet to recover. Now 4th in TCE, KCMG finds itself one lap adrift of 2nd placed Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#112, Miklas Born / Constantin Kletzer / Yannick Mettler) and 3rd placed TOPCAR Sport (#131, Fabian Danz / Karen Gaillard / Loris Prattes), and two behind new division leader, NKPP Racing by Bas Koeten Racing (#175, Harry Hilders / Gijs Bessem).
Fortune has often failed to shine on KCMG in the past in the 24H SERIES, the Honda’s fiery demise in Dubai one year ago a notable reminder of that. With Britain’s Daniel Lloyd on driver detail though, and Martin Ryba and the the WTCR’s Pepe Oriola completing an equally impressive driver line-up, don’t be too surprised to see the TCE polesitter mounting a comeback charge during the eight seven hours of the Hankook 12H MONZA tomorrow.