After only two hours, WTM by Rinaldi Racing’s hopes of a win at the Hankook 24H BARCELONA – the German team’s ‘bogey’ event – already looked to be over. For once though, luck was on Georg and Leonard Weiss’ side in Catalunya in 2022…
Words – James Gent
Images – Petr Frýba
Sunday, 11 September, 2022. 1pm. WTM Racing’s, Rinaldi Racing-prepared Ferrari 488 GT3 has just collected the chequered flag at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. In the car, a jubilant Indy Dontje punches the air and salutes the WTM /Rinaldi mechanics clambering the catch fencing and embracing on the pitwall.
Just behind them, radiolemans.com’s Diana Binks steps in for a few words with a visibly emotional Georg Weiss, owner of the #22 WTM Racing Ferrari. In the background, his son – and teammate – Leonard rubs the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, surreptitiously rubbing a tear away as he does so: “don’t cry, you’re going to make me cry!” Diana sympathizes.
Since its series debut with the Ferrari, ‘Wochenspiegel Team Monschau’ had finished on the 24H SERIES’ overall podium four times prior to this (technically five, but we’ll come back to that…), but hadn’t quite made it to the top step. Until now.
This win, at the 2022 Hankook 24H BARCELONA, has been a long, long time coming…
“It’s the first time in four years… that we are… on the top [step],” Georg explains to Diana. “We’ve had some 2nd places, some 3rd places, and, now, we’re on the top. FOUR years!”
It’s a stark contrast to the beginning of the weekend, when Leonard, Georg and WTM, though confident of the 488’s speed, were still wary. In its five prior outings with CREVENTIC at Barcelona after all, ‘Wochenspiegel’ had just one finish to its name: a slightly underwhelming 4th in-class and 7th overall, 15 laps down on the winner, in 2019. Gearbox-related retirement from the event in 2021, while leading, clearly still rankled too. Hardly surprising then that WTM Racing “still had a score to settle” with the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Adding yet further incentive, WTM had already announced that the 2022 Hankook 24H BARCELONA would be the final endurance event for its tenured Ferrari 488 GT3, the team’s brand-new 296 GT3 already waiting impatiently in the wings. Understandably, “the motivation to say goodbye to ‘Luigi’ car with a top result” was enormous.
Happily, Leonard and Georg’s faith in the Ferrari was not misplaced. During Free Pr.. wait, sorry, hang on… ‘Luigi’…?
“From Cars!” Georg smiles.
“Our web designer had the idea,” Leonard continues. “He found this picture from the Pixar movie – Luigi and Guido – which are the Ferrari fans. And because we were new to the Ferrari family with the 488, we named our cars Luigi and Guido. And the joke was just too good to change! So we kept on going with Luigi.”
Happily, Leonard and Georg’s faith in ‘Luigi’ was not misplaced. Earlier that year, the #22 Ferrari 488 had already taken WTM Racing’s maiden series pole at Spa, led 96 laps outright and secured the overall fastest lap en-route to a deserved 3rd place overall. The German team took another 3rd place three months later at Portimão, although that result didn’t last long as scrutineers discovered, post-race, that the Ferrari had mistakenly been entered for the event without its catalytic converter.
Still, come Friday 9 September in Barcelona, things were looking good. The #22 488 had already set the second fastest time in official Free Practice – just three-tenths shy of overall championship leader, Phoenix Racing – and, later that night, would go on to set the third fastest time in Night Practice as well. On the Saturday, and despite ending Q1 with the ninth fastest GT3 lap time (‘gentleman’ driver Georg modestly admits his pace cannot rival that of his faster teammates), WTM Racing went on to secure a front row spot for the Hankook 24H BARCELONA alongside three-time event winner Herberth Motorsport, its fourth front row start in as many CREVENTIC outings. Though the results didn’t reflect it, the speed was clearly there in the #22 Ferrari 488 GT3…
“Yes, but I don’t think it was just the car,” Leonard continues. “I think it was also the drivers, because, in terms of setup, we kind of match together really well. And I think the car was competitive from the beginning, in 2017… 2018…?
“2017,” Georg confirms.
“2017.” – Leonard. – “We had a lot to learn at the first races, and I think the car was competitive from the start. But, yeah, I think, overall, last year was probably the peak with the 488 and driving as a team. We had a lot of experience, everyone was used to the car, and knew it pretty well, [especially] our engineers who did other races with the 488. Everything that could be done to the car had been done, and I think the results started coming to us.”
It wasn’t just WTM that were singing the Ferrari’s praises either. When interviewed by radiolemans.com after qualifying, Herberth team principal, and polesitter, Robert Renauer admitted “honestly, the Ferrari looks really good... and it’s going to be an interesting race between us. We’ll cross our fingers!” A huge boost of confidence ahead of WTM’s ‘bogey race,’ surely…?
“Sure, but you don’t win a 24-hour race in qualifying.” – Leonard – “For sure, it’s a nice feeling to know that you are competitive and you can keep up with the other boys. But, still, it doesn’t win you the race. The idea, in that position, is to gain a little bit of an advantage at the start and during the first hours, but after that, you just have to settle down and find your own [rhythm].”
Despite strong qualifying pace, a crucial element was missing from the WTM garage at Barcelona in 2022. Long-time team staple, Jochen Krumbach ended up missing his first endurance race with WTM in more than a decade after injuring both of his hands in a nasty bicycle accident: “Let’s just say he’s better on four wheels than on two!” Leo continues with a smile.
“Jochen’s a really big part of the team, and has driven with us, or at least my dad before I started, for a long time.” – Leonard – “I think by now, we are in a position where we have a bigger family of drivers, which we can… ‘change out’ sounds a bit bad! I should say, ‘are available.’ So that meant we could react quite quickly to the situation. But for sure, it was disappointing to not have Jochen with us that weekend.”
And yes. The irony that WTM Racing secured its best-ever result – at that time – in Barcelona without Jochen is something both Leonard and Georg glibly remind their friend about regularly!
“We went to Barcelona without him,” – Georg – “and he’s now thinking…
“…he’s bad karma!” – Leonard.
“And sometimes that’s good!” – Georg – “It’s bad that the accident happened, but, for the mind…? Maybe it helps!” It’s probably just coincidence that, shortly after Leonard and Georg finish reminiscing with CREVENTIC at the 2023 Hankook 12H ESTORIL, Jochen posts the fastest time of his qualifying session, and the third fastest time of the day!
Fellow WTM staple Daniel Keilwitz lined up alongside Leonard and Georg at Barcelona as usual, while into Jochen’s well-worn seat slid Argentine driver Nicolás Varrone. Winner of the V de V Challenge in 2018, the then 21-year-old had eight starts to his name in the LMP3-focused Le Mans Cup and was in the midst of a European Le Mans Series campaign – both with WTM partner Rinaldi Racing – when he got the call-up. Rapid from Free Practice onwards, even though he’d never driven the Ferrari 488 GT3 before, Varrone ended up being the only driver to lap below 1m 48s during qualifying (his 1m 47.971s was 1.4 seconds quicker than anyone could manage in Q2) and went on to set the fastest race lap during an impressively consistent double stint during the night.
Completing the WTM Racing line-up was Indy Dontje, a former class winner of both the Nürburgring 24 Hours and the Hankook 24H DUBAI, and another WTM Racing favourite to-boot. A choice that, in the absence of the experienced Krumbach and alongside the fast but inexperienced Varrone, both Leonard and Georg felt was the obvious stand-in.
“Oh, for sure!” – Leonard. – “We knew Indy already when we did the Nürburgring 24 Hours [in 2019 and 2021], so he was already part of the team and not a completely new driver. But, for sure, having a very competitive, fast and reliable driver in the car was really good!”
“Also, for me, it’s important not to ‘buy’ drivers.” – Georg – “If someone really wants to drive with us, they can, but I don’t want someone who’s just looking for money. We don’t ‘buy’ somebody and ‘plug’ them in. You need to handle these races, together, as a team, and Indy’s very good at doing that.”
Come race day, momentum had already started shifting in the Ferrari’s favour following a bizarre incident for polesitter Herberth Motorsport during Night Practice. 45 minutes into the session, Alfred Renauer was inadvertently collected by Senkyr Motorsport’s Samuel Vetrak when the Slovakian driver misjudged his braking point for turn 10, punting both the Porsche and BMW M4 GT4 into the gravel. An uncharacteristically expressive, and furious, Alfred Renauer left little in doubt as to who’s fault the collision had been.
Fortunately, after three hours of repairs during the night, all seemed well the following day, as the pole-sitting Porsche, with Robert Renauer now at the helm, maintained its lead into turn one. Come the first round of (Code 60-inspired) pit stops on lap 37, Herberth was already 15 seconds clear.
Problems started mounting soon after, however. Just over 4.5 hours in, the ever-dependable Ralf Bohn, while leading, made an unusual trip into the gravel at turn three, 50 minutes into his first stint of the day. 20 minutes later, with Daniel Allemann now onboard, the #91 Porsche was in trouble again, having given Three Sixty Racing Team’s Porsche 992 GT3 Cup a sizeable whack heading into turn nine. In a triple whammy, an unfortunately-timed Code 60, mere moments after Herberth’s scheduled fuel stop, meant the now-dented #91 Porsche had slipped out of the top 10 altogether. Sadly, the following morning, and despite a superb effort to climb back up to 3rd overall, the #91 Porsche ended its weekend when the engine, leaking oil and undercooled thanks to a holed radiator, eventually let go. At, of all places, turn 10.
Rewinding 18 hours to Saturday afternoon, it had not been the smoothest of starts for Herberth’s fellow front row starter WTM either. Daniel Keilwitz, opting for a conservative approach into turn one, quickly fell behind CP Racing’s fast-starting Charles Epenlaub. Out of position through turn three, the Ferrari was then mobbed for 3rd place by ST Racing’s Nick Wittmer at turn four. Admittedly, Keilwitz was quickly back on the offensive: on lap three, the Ferrari dispatched the CP Racing Mercedes around the outside(!) of turn 10, and, on lap seven, after a superb dice with Wittmer, Keilwitz was back up to 2nd down the inside of turn one. One hour in, and the WTM Ferrari had the leading Herberth Porsche back in its crosshairs.
“I think the aim is always to win.” – Leonard. “Before, sure, you are always looking to the frontrunners and trying to match their times, but at the start in particular, you want to be as safe as possible.”
“Yes, but… BUT… you have to make no mistakes.” – Georg – “If you have a Code 60, you have to handle it, because if you handle it wrong, you’re at the back.”
“Yeah. For sure, you need a bit of luck – no errors, no mistakes – and you have to try and catch the front guys, but you need to bring the car home safe.” – Leonard.
“If you want to finish, you have to finish, first.” – Georg.
Georg’s matter-of-factness resonates when we consider what happened on lap 40.
On the fourth lap of his first stint, Georg, now in the lead after some rapid WTM pitwork, received a heavy clout from PROGT’s Porsche 718 Cayman at turn 10 (in the Herberth garage, even Alfred Renauer was grimacing). Though the impact didn’t send the Georg into the gravel, the hobbled Ferrari, now with a puncture and a badly damaged left rear wheel, nevertheless lost three laps and dropped to 14th as the damage was repaired. WTM’s Barcelona jinx appeared to have struck again.
To add insult to carbon fibre injury, the PROGT Porsche had only been entered in the Iberian Supercar Series ‘support race’ that was sharing the first two hours of the Hankook 24H BARCELONA with the 24H SERIES field. 27 minutes after the collision, the PROGT Porsche was already collecting the chequered flag, its day done.
“The other car… it was a GT4, a Cayman, and was part of a race-within-a-race. I overtook him [heading into turn 10], I turned in, and then…” – Georg pushes knocks his right hand with his left – “ ‘boof.’ And after two hours, his race was over! It was crazy!
“I thought, ‘now it’s finished.’ But it was not finished. If you are in the front, you keep on pushing, and that’s exactly what the team did.”
Impressively, after a phenomenal double stint for Varrone and a similarly rapid run from Leonard, the #22 Ferrari was back in the top five by the fifth hour. It would stay there for the next four hours, meticulously chipping away at the two-minute-plus deficit to 4th-placed CP Racing.
Up front, the lead was now with 2021 series champion ST Racing, the sheer grunt of the BMW M4 GT3 having already pulled the Canadian team two laps clear of the battle for 2nd between the returning Poulsen Motorsport (also running a BMW) and Phoenix Racing’s Audi R8.
Ironically, WTM’s fortunes would turn as the race wore on. Now into the cooler temperatures, the prancing horse was starting to stretch its legs (Varrone twice reset the fastest lap of the race during his second stint), and by hour 11, the Ferrari was back ahead of CP Racing’s Mercedes in 3rd. Shortly before that, and in a moment of brutal bad luck, then-2nd placed Poulsen Motorsport, running on fumes, was forced to pit twice for fuel, on successive laps and under green flag conditions, when a momentary power glitch in the pitlane knocked the pumps out of commission. Just like that, Poulsen had lost three laps and dropped to 5th.
Even more significant though was the fate of ST Racing, as the BMW’s seemingly bullet-proof run was brought to a shuddering halt at half-distance with head gasket failure. Unbelievably, as the 14th hour ticked by, and despite its earlier accident, the WTM by Rinaldi Racing Ferrari was now leading the 2022 Hankook 24H BARCELONA.
Not that the German team was out of the Catalan woods just yet, as its nearest rival – 2022 champion-elect Phoenix Racing – was rarely more than a minute behind during the night. Indeed, Phoenix hadn’t enjoyed the easiest of starts to the race either, and in what Pierre Kaffer described as a “tumultuous” start – the Audi was almost collected in a start-line accident between GTX Teams’ championship contenders RD Signs and Leipert Motorsport – Phoenix had dropped from 10th on the grid to 21st come the end of Michael Doppelmayr’s opening stint.
One does wonder whether the German team, already a two-time winner at Spa-Francorchamps and Hockenheim that year, may already have been in the lead and out of reach without its earlier delays. Though, in fairness, WTM Racing was too busy managing its own race to speculate on this…
“I think, for sure, we are confident in ourselves, and we just focus on our job.” – Leonard. “For sure, [Phoenix] is one of the biggest competitors there is in the [24H SERIES], so it’s nice to have a competitor on, more or less our level. But, at that time, we weren’t really looking at them too much. We were too busy focusing on ourselves, on our race – let them do theirs – and seeing where our strategy would put us at the end of the race.”
“At the front!” Georg laughs.
Despite a late-race Code 60 throwing a potential spanner in the works at the 22-hour mark, WTM by Rinaldi Racing managed to keep the hard-charging Phoenix Racing, with Pierre Kaffer aboard, at arm’s length during the closing stages, and after 24 grueling hours, Indy Dontje eventually collected the chequered flag just over one lap ahead of the #18 Audi R8. After so many near-misses, WTM Racing had finally secured its first overall win in the 24H SERIES. In, of all places, Barcelona.
“For sure it was, like, ‘finally!’ ” – Leonard. “It was my first race win ever, and I’ve been doing motorsport since 2017. So I was really proud of that! And with the history we’ve had in Barcelona, with all the gearbox troubles, and damage, and non-finishes… it was really satisfying to finally win at Barcelona.”
“Barcelona has never been our track!” – Georg. – “With the Porsche, with the Ferrari…”
“And the LMP.” – Leonard.
“…and the LMP, we’ve always had trouble in Barcelona.” – Georg – “Mostly, it was technical issues: the last two times with the Ferrari [2019 and 2021], we had gearbox problems, and with the Porsche [in 2016], it was also the gearbox. Then, last year, we had no technical problems, but we had an accident! So, to finally get a win, in Barcelona… yeah, that felt really good!”