38. 2012 Dubai 24 Hours
A new addition for the portfolio! The Dutch Creventic organisation had been building up the first 24 hour race of the year for some time, attracting more teams, and more manufacturers to the Gulf.
There was again plenty to get my head around, this was my first encounter live with the ‘Code 60’ process to slow cars down under caution.
And there were ‘bracket times’ too, a process where the cars had a predicted lap time to maintain with a set number of faster ‘joker’ laps allowed but harsh punishments if they exceeded their allocation. Quirky, different, designed to maintain the appeal of the event to the core Creventic gentleman customer base but ultimately probably unnecessary.
2012 saw Nissan field not only a pair of RJN run 370Zs with a strong Nissan GT Academy contingent but also saw JRM enter the brand new GT-R NISMO GT3 with a ‘Champions’ driver squad drawn from the marques sporting successes across the world. one of the 370Zs would take a very fine class win, a definite highlight from this race.
On track there was plenty of action, Mercedes Benz prevailed with Team Abu Dhabi Black Falcon heading home a dominant 1,2,3 finish after a late charge from the Saudi Falcons BMW just fell short on the penultimate lap of taking third position. It would be the first 24 Hour race win for the late and very much lamented Sean Edwards too.
There were signs of intent from drivers and teams up and down the field, many seeing this race as an opportunity to hone men and machinery for new programmes elsewhere.
The moment came just after dawn, I had been on overnight commentary duty with Radio Le Mans from the fantastically well located booth overlooking the pit straight.
A problem emerged as night fell – Dubai Autodrome is, quite literally, in the desert, and as many know deserts are very hot in the daytime, and pretty darn cold at night. In addition air conditioning systems are usually set to keep a room at a pre-set level below the ambient temperature, an outside the temperature had plummeted – to cut a long story sort we were effectively commentating overnight from a refrigerator.
I spent much of my time on the mike with my laptop resting on my arms for warmth – and that moment? It was the sight of Tomas Enge arriving in the commentary booth with coffee for everyone! I could have kissed him!
39. 2012 Daytona 24 Hours
Astonishingly,though the Daytona Prototypes had been racing since 2002 it was a decade before I saw one run in anger!
This trip came with assistance from the very wonderful Alana France whose remit includes international development of the event, including spreading the word between media, teams and drivers. DSC and Radio Le Mans had been advising Alana and her team on some of the pros and cons of the event for quite some time and 2012 was when it came together, the 50th anniversary race, a full DSC team and full Radio Le Mans on-site coverage, designed to assist spreading the word that the Rolex 24 Hours was open for business. The contribution of the now legendary TV cameraman ‘Rooftop’ Ray Wenzel during the overnight hours was a huge highlight.
The audience came of course, the numbers for both DSC and the online radio coverage were fantastic, this is an event that people WANT to be a significant one.
The presence of the DPs as the premiere class though has been hugely divisive, the original cars now look simply dreadful (and in fairness always did!) the next generation took a big step forward in aesthetics) though in fairness a step backwards would have been just about physically impossible) and by 2012 with the new Riley bodyshape and the Corvette DP the car looked, and for that matter sounded, much more the part, though still way, way short in performance terms to the other prototype solutions out there in the racing world. As things would turn out the Corvette DP runners would all hit trouble.
No matter, the Rolex 24 Hours may have been a part of the Grand-Am Series but very many regard it as a standalone event and, as usual, the teams arranged a galaxy of stars for the occasion from NASCAR (a bit like the BTCC with more noise, fewer interesting tracks, but far more competitors prepared to punch each other for on-track misdemeanours), IndyCar and the wide, wide world of sportscar racing.
It was a good, rather than a great, race won in the end by Michael Shank Racing’s Riley Ford with the Magnus Racing Porsche a very popular GT winner.
The moment of the race came in the closing stages, Allmendinger in the eventual winning car going head to head, or rather wheel to wheel with Allan McNish in a similar Starworks entered car the pair engaging in an excellent ding dong battle for several laps culminating in side to side contact on the banking which both survived. Was this Allan’s last major shot at winning the watch he wants so much?
40. 2012 Nurburgring 24 Hours
A good race again at the ‘Ring with the usual plethora of dramas, including Klaus Ludwig exacting real time vengeacne on a SEAT driver that comprehensively removed his Gemballa McLaren from the race, but the real drama came right at the end.
Manthey’s attack faltered in the final minutes as Romain Dumas suffered an engine failure – that would have a bearing on my moment of this race just a little later
The lead battle though came down to Mercedes and Audi, after BMW’s hopes had again disappeared in the night with a range of issues for the Z4s.
The best placed of the Mercedes though, the #65 Heico car overheated with just 15 minutes to go leaving the win to the Bilstein liveried Phoenix Audi R8.
This was a race that Audi had been looking to win for a long, long time but the iconic finish shot was not to be, the stranded Porsche, lying just over the start finish line and therefore destined to be unclassified having not completed the final lap was comprehensively collected by a Renault Clio whose driver was clearly concentrating on something other than what lay right in front of him!
The debris strewn foreground frames the winning car beautifully don’t you think!
41. 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours
The 2012 edition of the world’s greatest motor race saw a new chapter begin as the FIA World Endurance Championship included Le Mans as a double points scoring round.
It saw too the return of Toyota to top class sportscar racing for the first time in over a decade as a factory team and a valuable addition they were too after the last minute shock exit of Peugeot from the scene earlier in the year.
Both Audi and Toyota fielded hybrid powered cars and it would be Audi yet again that took the laurels, scoring the first ever win at Le Mans by an electric hybrid vehicle.
With Toyota having been such a late addition to the grid, Le Mans was the very first race for the new TS030 little was expected in pure competitive terms but the moment of the race came several hours in, after the Audis had initially driven away from the two TS030s.
Their charge was aided by issues and accidents for two of the Audis, but just into the sixth hour came the moment of the race for me as Nicolas Lapierre took the lead of the race, taking to the grass on the exit of Mulsanne Corner and getting by Benoit Treluyer after a titanic battle.
Moments later though Toyota’s joy was shattered as the sister #8 car had an enormous accident into the very same corner, Ant Davidson tangling with Pierguiseppe Perrazzini’s AF Corse Ferrari, the Toyota going airborne before slamming back into the road and the Ferrari ending up upside down in the barrier alongside. Davidson hurt his back, another accident that would inform the new regulations to come, and both cars were out on the spot.
More drama still came as the race went green again some time later with Kaz Nakajima now aboard the surviving Toyota and back behind Fassler in second after the stops. Trying to make up ground in traffic the Japanese driver took his line but failed to see the Nissan DeltaWing filling the same space, the little black car was sideswiped hard and off the track, the damage to the Toyota meanwhile would eventually put it, and Toyota, out of the race too.
The DeltaWing though had made its mark, seldom has there been a car that has debuted at Le Mans that has captured the general public interest as the Ben Bowlby designed, RML run, Nissan fielded little Batmobile. the crowd simply loved it, and it was a fine launch to a Garage 56 concept that the ACO would thereafter find difficult to live up to. The video of Satoshi Motoyama attempting to fix the shattered rear end of the car to get it back meanwhile went viral, the raw effort and emotion on display had the spirit of endurance racing running strongly through it.
Starworks took a fine LMP2 win meanwhile with Tom Kimber smith claiming three class wins in four years, AF Corse took their first Le Mans class win whilst Larbre (and driver Julien Canal) took three class wins in a row!