21-time Hankook 24H BARCELONA entrant and two-time outright winner Francesc Gutiérrez Agüi will return to the event in 2021 with PCR Sport in only his second GT division start.
Francesc Gutiérrez Agüi, the only driver to have competed in every edition of the Hankook 24H BARCELONA to-date, has confirmed he will enter this year’s event with the returning PCR Sport.
Gutiérrez, a former frontrunner in Catalan Touring Cars and Spanish GTs, won the first edition of the Hankook 24H BARCELONA outright back in 1998, following that up with his second 10 years later in 2008. Incredibly, the Girona native went on to secure his fourth category win at the event in 2018.
Gutiérrez will now return to his ‘home race’ aboard a PCR Sport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 alongside compatriots Josep Mayola Coma and Marc Carol Ybarra. This marks not only Gutiérrez’s first entry in the 24H SERIES’ GT3 class but also the sixth different manufacturer with which the Spaniard has competed at the Hankook 24H BARCELONA (seven if you count CUPRA and parent company SEAT as two different brands). The event also marks the first series start for PCR Sport since the Spanish team took a 1-2 finish in TCR at the 2016 Hankook 12H MUGELLO with two SEAT León Cup Racers.
“I’m the only driver to have competed at every [Hankook] 24H BARCELONA since 1998, so that’s 21 races so far,” Gutiérrez explained in an earlier ‘Under the Lid’ interview with CREVENTIC. “ was also my first year with a GT car, because all the rest I drove with a touring car.”
A hillclimb specialist until 1994, at which he transitioned to touring cars, Gutiérrez made his first start at the 24 Horas de Barcelona at the inaugural running in 1998, then run around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s 3.069km National Course. Alongside Javier Buch, Santiago Puig and Pau Romero aboard an Auto Bétulo-entered BMW M3, Gutiérrez went on to win the event outright, the quartet completing, what is sure to be, a record 918 laps en-route to the event’s chequered flag. One year later, Gutiérrez, now aboard a factory Honda Spain-run Civic he himself promoted, was once again on the outright podium, finishing 2nd to the sister entry alongside Buch, Puig and Joan Piferrer. The 1999 edition, famously the last 24-hour endurance race that future two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso would compete in until his maiden Le Mans run in 2018, was also the last to be run on the National Circuit, the event moving to the 4.73km ‘Grand Prix’ layout for 2000. Now racing his third different car in as many entries – a SEAT Ibiza TDI for Team Gabord – Gutiérrez took his first class win at the 24 Horas de Barcelona in a diesel-powered model.
2001 (and now in a Renault Clio RS) marked the first time the inaugural winner didn’t feature on the podium, and a top three finish wouldn’t materialise until 2004, when Gutiérrez finished 2nd for Motor Competición with Buch, Piferrer and Luis Villalba. Most eyes at the time though were on Òscar Nogués, who, together with brother Jordi, secured his third outright win, of an eventual four (2009), in succession. The event was also the first to be named in honour of two-time Sebring 12 Hours winner Fermín Vélez, the Barcelona native having passed away on March 31, 2003 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
A series of 5th place finishes followed before Gutiérrez was finally back on the top step in 2008, now alongside Eduardo Balcázar, Antonio Puig and Alfredo Palencia in a Zener Racing Team-entered SEAT. The Spanish marque, by now the most successful brand in event history with four wins to its name, continued its run one year later, as indeed did Gutiérrez, who took another podium finish in 2009. Brutally though, that would prove the temporary end to the Spaniard’s ‘home event’ as dropping entries and the after-effects of a worldwide recession saw the 24 Horas de Barcelona cancelled for 2010.
Revived for 2011 by Dutch promoter CREVENTIC – and with MotoGP and Dakar Rally giants Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Coma adding further gravitas to the event – Gutiérrez was straight back to his winning ways, taking an A2 victory with a Codony Sport Renault Clio III RS Copa alongside team figureheads Enric and Jordi, Santi Navarro and, significantly, Laia Sanz. The ’11 ‘Trofeu Fermín Vélez’, as it was now marketed, was the first ever four-wheel race for 13-time Women's Trial World Champion. It would also be the first of seven outings in eight years for Sanz at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s biggest endurance event. Each of them alongside Gutiérrez.
Indeed, in 2014, the pair would make history by becoming not just the first duo to contest the 24-hour motor race by themselves. Incredibly, Gutiérrez and Sanz won the A3T class that year, and finished 2nd in-class having repeated their feat in 2015 (both times with future TCR champion Monlau Competicion aboard a SEAT León Cup Racer).
Having secured their third podium in as many years with Baporo Motorsport in 2016, ill-fortune struck Gutiérrez in 2017 when brake failure led to a high-speed shunt on the start-finish straight. The Spaniard would bounce back in style though to take his first TCR-class win in 2018, 20 years after his initial triumph. Though reliability woes stunted his race, Gutiérrez collected his sixth podium a year later in his first GT division outing at the event aboard a Vortex 1.0.
- Images – Petr Fryba, Eric Teeken and francescgutierrez.com