In 2021, 14 competitors lined up for the inaugural Hankook 6H ABU DHABI. One year later, the grid had more than doubled in size, and the on-track action was no less plentiful…
Words – James Gent
Images – Petr Frýba
As competitors lined up on the grid for the inaugural Hankook 6H ABU DHABI, some may have forgotten that this was not, in fact, CREVENTIC’s maiden event at the home of the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Two years earlier, as part of the Dutch promoter’s one-off run as organizer of the TCR Middle East series, CREVENTIC had hosted two, 30-minute sprint events and a four-hour ‘endurance’ race dedicated to touring cars at the Yas Marina Circuit.
The 2021 Hankook 6H ABU DHABI though arguably proved more ambitious. True, 24H SERIES staples Red Camel-Jordans.nl and Zengő Motorsport were back following their TCR Middle East sojourn two years prior. But in front of them on the Yas Marina starting grid lay two Audi R8 LMS’, a Porsche 911 Cup car, a BMW M4 GT4, a couple of Ginetta G55s, and even a McLaren 720S GT3.
The exploratory six-hour race was a step away from the Dutch promoter’s tried and tested 12 and 24-hour formats too, one designed primarily to develop CREVENTIC’s burgeoning relationship with Abu Dhabi’s first permanent racing facility without stepping on the toes of the circuit’s, by then, nine-year-old annual endurance motor race. Plus, unlike the 24H SERIES events that had come before it, the inaugural Hankook 6H ABU DHABI was a non-championship affair, as indeed it would continue to be at its second running in 2022.
Why? Well, what better way for teams to further bed-in their cars, equipment – and, in some cases, their drivers – ahead of the European season than at an FIA-approved racing facility in 20-plus degree temperatures in the Middle East, without the rigors of a title challenge?
Admittedly, in contrast to the 52-car spectacle one week earlier at the 2021 Hankook 24H DUBAI, the maiden Hankook 6H ABU DHABI boasted ‘just’ 14 cars on its line-up. The old adage, ‘one only needs two cars to make a motor race’ was put firmly into practice however mere moments after the green flag for the 2021 race was flown.
Brendan Iribe, who started on pole position aboard the Inception Racing by Optimum McLaren 720S, almost immediately dropped to 2nd courtesy of an ambitious move around the outside of turn one by Attempto Racing’s Alex Aka. One row further back, Car Collection Motorsport, coming into the event with two newly-won GT3-AM podium spots at Dubai to its name, dropped from 3rd to the very tail of the field after an abortive attempt by Chris Froggatt on the opening lap to put the Inception McLaren one place further back.
Less than two minutes of the race had elapsed, and one of the pre-race favourites was already being forced to scythe its way through from the back.
Decisively so, as it turns out. Just 15 minutes later, the raw pace of the #88 Audi’s V8 down Yas Marina’s kilometre-long back straight and judicious passing from Froggatt meant Car Collection was already back up to 3rd and snapping at the heels of Inception and Attempto. In similarly resolute fashion – albeit two minutes further down the road – Rik Breukers was also on a charge. The orange Red Camel-Jordans.nl, having dropped a couple of spots at the start, was starting to close back in on the TG-class leaders. True, class leader – and series newcomer – ST Racing was largely oblivious to this as America’s Jon Miller had already pulled almost 20 seconds clear in the BMW M4 GT4, but Breukers had already split CWS Engineering’s dual-entered Ginetta G55s as he moved into 3rd.
Signs that it would be a tough afternoon for former SP3 Teams’ champion CWS though landed quickly when the #280 entry fell to the tail of the field with a puncture, the debris bringing out a crucial Code 60.
While the leading Attempto Racing and the 2nd-placed Inception Racing both pitted for fuel, new tyres and, in the McLaren’s case, a driver change – Ollie Millroy in, Iribe out – the recovering Car Collection Audi pitted for fuel only, leapfrogging to the top of the timesheets 30 minutes in as a result. Having not stopped at all, this also moved the Leipert Motorsport Lamborghini – the 2021 GTX class winner in Dubai – and the PROFILDOORS by Huber Racing Porsche up to 2nd and 3rd overall. It would be the start of a race-long battle between the two.
Aping the Car Collection Audi once again, Red Camel opted to stretch the CUPRA’s fuel allowance to its utmost across the opening stint, Rik Breukers leapfrogging ahead of the ST Racing BMW during the Code 60 and only ceding the position when the CUPRA eventually pitted, from 4th overall(!), on the cusp of the two-hour mark. With early TG frontrunner CWS Engineering eventually dropping back with handling issues – punctures for both Ginettas had caused suspension and/or steering arm issues – the race for TG victory would be between Red Camel and ST Racing.
Two hours in, the first major drama of the event unfolded when fuel connector issues brought the Inception Racing McLaren back to pitroad. The British team eventually lost two hours rectifying the problem, but did at least return to the track to claim a determined, if disappointing, 12th. That left the fight for victory down to Car Collection Motorsport and Attempto Racing, with the more fuel-efficient Huber Racing Porsche 911-II Cup keeping both German outfits on their respective toes. Sadly, Attempto’s chances were also struck down at half-distance when the Audi suffered terminal engine failure, leaving Car Collection Motorsport, the car that had ended the first lap in last place, to cruise home and secure the German team victory at the inaugural Hankook 6H ABU DHABI.
In the end, accomplished use of the Code 60 caution periods and the slightly faster pace of the GTX-spec / ‘GT’-entered Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo meant it was Leipert Motorsport that took the runners-up spot over 991-class winner Huber Racing, despite the former pitting twice more than the latter. That the two German outfits had put everything into their overall podium challenge was epitomized by the 56.274s gap that separated the Lamborghini and the Porsche at the chequered flag.
For the final two hours, all eyes in the paddock dutifully shifted to the battle for TG honours: despite the difference in speed – Rik Breuker’s 2m 25.423s best in the CUPRA was a full three slower than Miller’s best in the BMW – ST Racing, running 4th overall, remained wary of Red Camel’s seemingly bottomless fuel tank heading into the final hour. That the Dutch CUPRA moved ahead of the Canadian team largely because the BMW lost time during its final refuel was almost brutally ironic. That one slip looked to be the decider.
Fate though is rarely that kind. With just 15 minutes left on the clock, the #101 CUPRA pulled to a stop at turn 20, its front left wheel pointing in the wrong direction after a steering arm snapped almost within sight of the flag. Though jubilant at its second class win in as many 24H SERIES outings, ST Racing knew it was a result plucked from the jaws of disaster.
With race-long fuel irregularities hindering Britain’s Simpson Motorsport, a diligent climb from very back row of the grid to 2nd in TG – 5th overall – for Sally Racing went almost unnoticed, as indeed did 3rd in-class for PK Carsport, which recovered well after losing two laps in the opening 30 minutes to a puncture. Turns out ‘just’ 14 cars had put on an impressive showing on CREVENTIC’s Abu Dhabi return…
Teams and drivers clearly felt the same. Six months later, the provisional entry list for the second Hankook 6H ABU DHABI in 2022 had already ballooned already past 40, with entries registered from more than two dozen different nations. These numbers were eventually finalized at a still encouraging 32 and 24 respectively.
Mid-season upgrades to the Yas Marina Circuit admittedly played their part. Reprofiling at the northern-most chicane and the South Grandstand’s 11-12-13-14 complex meant overtaking opportunities were opened up. Plus, even with the requisite pinch of salt added to the mix, that Baron Motorsport’s average pole time of 1m 54.833s with its Ferrari 488 GT3 was fifteen seconds quicker than the Inception Racing McLaren had managed one year earlier suggested the faster track surface would prove a strategic minefield for tyre life as well.
Though series returnee Saalocin by KoxRacing had fallen just four-tenths shy of pole during qualifying, Baron’s main competition during the opening stages actually came from the LP Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3, Evan Chen moving ahead of Kox on the opening lap and barely giving Phillip Baron, back for only his second CREVENTIC start since the 24H DUBAI in 2009(!), any respite thereafter. Come the end of the first hour, a microscopic four-tenths split the Ferrari and the Lamborghini.
Sadly, what could have been an epic race-long duel between the two ended at one-third distance when the LP Racing Lamborghini limped back to its garage with irreparable damage to its right rear wheel hub. Alternate fuel strategies aside, it proved a quiet run to the flag for Baron Motorsport thereafter, Abu Dhabi’s second winning red car in succession leading 120 of the 166 completed laps to take a commanding win.
Having taken his second Hankook 24H DUBAI win just seven days earlier, it also marked Axcil Jefferies’ second endurance win in the Middle East in seven days.
Ironically, much as they had done one year earlier, all eyes instead turned to the fight for 2nd overall for the final half of the event, with KoxRacing well in the mix. A surprisingly strong run from JR Motorsport meant the BMW M6 GT3 not only led 24 laps outright but also worked its way into overall podium contention, despite being swallowed up by the 991 leaders and dropping to 12th at the beginning. In polar contrast, a super double stint from Max Weering at the end saw the Dutchman, fresh from his last pit stop, annihilate a 14-second gap to the KoxRacing Porsche in 2nd place, the BMW eking half-a-second per lap from its rival. 18 minutes from home, the BMW and the Porsche were line-astern through the fast-sweeping turn three, Weering launching a move down the outside at the chicane, and making it stick to take the position. Much like 12 months prior, 2nd and 3rd were split by less than a minute – 38.822s, to be precise – at the chequered flag after six hours of racing.
Two minutes further back, many were left wondering what could have been for the normally infallible Herberth Motorsport Porsche without their multiple track limit penalties. There were few bittersweet feelings in the Leipert Motorsport garage though as Jean-Francois Brunot and Kerong Li celebrated their maiden GT3 outing together in 5th overall, a scant 12 seconds ahead of race-long rival ARC Bratislava. The German team’s sister Huracán Super Trofeo rounded out two top 10 finishes in 9th.
Unlike the 2021 edition, TG victory had been a foregone conclusion for Hankook 24H DUBAI TCE polesitter Les Deux Arbres, which took a commanding win ahead of CWS Engineering, the latter putting its handling issues from the previous year’s race to-bed with a solid, if slightly disenchanted, 2nd in-class. From TG pole position, the sister – and brand-new – V8-powered Ginetta G56 had led the opening stages in TG only for an electrical problem to strike in the opening moments, a dislodged throttle cable adding yet more woes en-route to an eventual 5th in-class. With SK Racing unable to recover its Ligier JS2 R from a heavy accident during qualifying, the way was clear for LAMERA to round out the TG podium.
If the TG podium was a tad anti-climactic though, those in 992 and TCR proved anything but. True, the sheer pace of Huber Racing – the previous year’s 3rd place finisher – was difficult to overhaul, and the German team dutifully waltzed to 922 class victory. But an extended stint for Saeed Almheiri early on meant the UAE’s own RABDAN Motorsport was actually the only 992 team – and one of six in total – to lead a lap outright at the 2022 Hankook 6H ABU DHABI. Moreover, the #977 entry had been kept on its toes early on by Huber Racing’s second entry, also in podium contention, before gearbox failure eventually felled the latter before half-distance. It was a formidable run for the Abu Dhabi team, one rewarded with a popular, and well-earned, 2nd in-class on home turf.
Having tagged the wall early on, a chaotic run for ID Racing looked set to be rewarded with 3rd in 992 as the final nine minutes ticked by only for Christof Langer in the ID Racing Porsche to make heavy contact with Daniel Zefier in the SK Racing CUPRA at turn one. For Sally Racing, it was the ‘perfect’ end to a wretched event – one felled by recurrent handling gremlins – at which the Danish team had finished on the TG podium just 12 months earlier.
For ID Racing, the shunt was disastrous. Barely two minutes of the 2022 Hankook 6H ABU DHABI remained, but as Langer – like Zefier before him – fortunately emerged unhurt from the #944 Porsche, he could do nothing to stop HRT Performance from closing the gap and, incredibly, taking the final 992 podium spot on the very last lap!
Across in TCR, and fresh from its 2nd place at the previous weekend’s Hankook 24H DUBAI, AC Motorsport chalked up its first win of the season with its #188 Audi RS 3 LMS. A far more successful run compared with the team’s sister #199 entry, which eventually finished 5th in-class after breaking a front-left suspension upright during the opening 30 minutes. Fittingly, TCR victory with the Belgian team for Luc Breukers avenged brother Rik and father Ivo’s heartbreaking retirement 12 months earlier with Red Camel-Jordans.nl.
Four laps further back, TCR Middle East alumnus Zengő Motorsport took 2nd ahead of PCR Sport, having, ironically, already survived a clash with PCR’s sister Ligier JS2 R in the opening stages. A just reward for the Hungarian team, coolant issues having condemned the CUPRA to 11th in 2021.
Once again, and for the second year running, there had been thrills, spills, and late-race drama at the Hankook 6H ABU DHABI, an event that CREVENTIC and Yas Marina Circuit management quickly agreed during the course of that weekend, should return for 2023. As a championship finale. This year’s Middle East Trophy contenders may want to take some notes.
You can also check out this feature in our 2023 Hankook 6H ABU DHABI paddock magazine
1. Car Collection Motorsport (#88, Audi R8 LMS, GT) – 140 laps
2. Leipert Motorsport (#710, Lamborghini Hurácan Super Trofeo, GT) – 137 laps
3. PROFILDOORS by Huber Racing (#924, Porsche 991-II Cup, 991) – +56.274s
4. ST Racing (#438, BMW M4 GT4, TG) – 130 laps
5. Sally Racing (#218, CUPRA TCR, TG) – 126 laps
6. PK Carsport (#208, BMW M2 CS Racing, TG) – 125 laps
7. CWS Engineering (#278, Ginetta G55, TG) – 123 laps
8. Sally Racing (#215, CUPRA TCR, TG) – +48.156s
9. Red Camel-Jordans.nl (#101, CUPRA TCR, TG) – 116 laps
10. CWS Engineering (#280, Ginetta G55, TG) – 115 laps
GT – Car Collection Motorsport (#88, Audi R8 LMS) – 140 laps
991 - PROFILDOORS by Huber Racing (#924, Porsche 911-II Cup) – 137 laps
TG – ST Racing (#438, BMW M4 GT4) – 130 laps
Polesitter (GT) – Inception Racing by Optimum (#72, McLaren 720S GT3) – 2m 09.008s
Polesitter (TG) – ST Racing (#438, BMW M4 GT4) – 2m 23.473s
Fastest lap – Ollie Millroy, Inception Racing by Optimum (#72, McLaren 720S GT3) – 2m 10.145s
1. Baron Motorsport (#86, Ferrari 488, GT3) – 166 laps
2. JR Motorsport (#2, BMW M6, GT3) – 165 laps
3. Saalocin by KoxRacing (#48, Porsche 911 GT3 R, GT3) – +38.822s
4. Herberth Motorsport (#92, Porsche 911 GT3 R, GT3) – +2m 48.535s
5. Leipert Motorsport (#10, Lamborghini Huracán GT3) – 164 laps
6. ARB Bratislava (#44, Lamborghini Huracán GT3) – +12.674s
7. Huber Racing (#923, Porsche 911-II Cup, 992) – 163 laps
8. RABDAN Motorsport by ID Racing (#977, Porsche 911-II Cup, 992) – 162 laps
9. Leipert Motorsport (#710, Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo, GT3) – 160 laps
10. HRT Performance (#923, Porsche 911-II Cup, 992) – 158 laps
GT3 – Baron Motorsport (#86, Ferrari 488 GT3) – 166 laps
992 – Huber Racing (#923, Porsche 911-II Cup) – 163 laps
Touring Cars – Les Deux Arbres (#202, Ligier JS2 R) – 158 laps
TG – AC Motorsport (#188, Audi RS 3 LMS) – 153 laps
Polesitter (GT) – Baron Motorsport (#86, Ferrari 488 GT3) – 1m 53.706s
Polesitter (TG) – CWS Engineering (#478, Ginetta G56 GT4) – 2m 02.767s
Fastest lap – Axcil Jefferies (#72, Ferrari 488 GT3) – 1m 53.172s