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2015 Goodbyes, Marc VDS Racing

Whilst the Van Der Straten name has been around in racing for over 50 years the modern history of what would become Marc VDS Racing really began in the early 21st century under the ‘Belgian Racing’ moniker, a title that would reappear some years later.

Those early years though were spent campaigning the quirky, initially Ford but later Alfa engined (and in the final season, 2008, with Maserati power) Gillet Vertigo in national Belgian GT racing and in the FIA GT Championship from 2005 where the car scored a goodly amount of class winning success, usually in the hands off Renaud Kuppens and Bas Leinders, usually though that success came by dint of being the only car in the G2 class for non-homologated cars!

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Announcing at the end of 2008 that the team would move up to GT1 from G2 as the VDS Racing Team that effort emerged in March 2009 as the first customer effort for Martin Bartek’s brand new Matech Ford GT1, the team early adopters of the new regulations and now redubbed Marc VDS Racing.

2009 was a transitional season as cars for the new GT1 regulations merged with the older warhorses ahead of the coming of the new for 2010 FIA GT1 World Championship. It was also the first season that we would see the now iconic silver and maroon team livery! The team would finish with a best result of 6th overall in the FIA GT Championship.

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Later in the year the team confirmed a full two-car effort in the new World Championship for the following year, the regular Kuppens/ Leinders crew to be joined by GT4 Champion Eric de Doncker and Maxime Martin who moved over from GT3 duties with Morgan!

The end of 2009 saw the team expand its horizons even further with the amalgamation of teams contesting GT1, GT3 (initially under the auspices of ex Matech GT3 man Eric de Doncker and Multimatic with the proposed GT3 Ford Mustang), Moto 2 under Didier de Radigues and rally raid activities under Stéphane Henrard. Quite a leap from the single unhomologated Gillet 12 months earlier!

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In 2010 its focus shifted to the FIA GT1 World Championship campaign dovetailed with an appearance for the Ford at the Spa 1000km, part of the Le Mans Series where the Ford scored a class win, and at the Le Mans 24 Hours itself where the car retired after an accident. Markus Palttala joining de Doncker and Leinders for the effort at both Spa (below) and Le Mans (above).

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For the 2010 World Championship effort the team opted to reshuffle the initially announced pack with Leinders and Martin in the #40 car, and Markus Palttala joining the team to partner Kuppens in the #41. The #40 had the better results in the season, a pair of 3rd place finishes in Qualifying races at Navarra and San Luis (below) and a fourth place in the Championship race at Paul Ricard.

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2010 should also have seen a full season entry from the spectacular and heavily revised, and as things would turn out far too revised, VDS Mustang. The car was in homologation trouble immediately, made few race meeting appearances, a spectacular qualifying effort in the hands of Maxime Martin at Jarama and thereafter was permanently withdrawn from the Championship!

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2011 was a year of further expansion, but this time not a particularly planned one as Matech Concepts folded, Martin Bartek later tragically taking his own life.

Marc VDS picked up the racing baton though and launched the satellite Belgian Racing team for another pair of full season Fords.

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There was a reshuffle too in the driver roster, Maxime Martin was joined in the #41 by Fred Makowiecki whilst initially Marc Hennerici and later Bertrand Baguette joined Leinders in the #40.

The season saw four GT1 race wins for the team, all four for the #41, three in Qualifying races at Abu Dhabi, Sachsenring and Ordos with the Ford pair also taking the Ordos Championship race win (above).

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With the GT1 Championship floundering Marc VDS had also expanded into the new for 2011 Blancpain Endurance Series but the plan wasn’t yet fully formed!

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The effort started with a singleton Ford GT3 (above), the car grabbing a third place finish at the season opener at Monza, expanded to a three car effort at the Spa 24 Hours with a Pro-Am Ford Mustang (below), the last time the car would appear in Marc VDS front line competition, and the first appearance for the team of a BMW Z4 GT3.

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It started well, the BMW taking pole (below), but thereafter the effort faded.

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The team though would finish the season on a high with a pair of race wins at Magny Cours (below) and Silverstone.

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The latter race saw a one off appearance for the team from the rapid Alpina B6 GT3 which set pole position in the hands of Dino Lunardi. It was the Z4 GT3 that took the win though.

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And there was one other team effort, and it was a significant one as Highcroft Racing made a late exit from the 2011 Le Mans 24 hours entry it left the door open for reserve listed Kronos Racing with the glorious Lola Aston Martin LMP1. Marc VDS provided the technical crew and with Leinders and Maxime Martin joining Vanina Ickx, much of the driving talent too. The car came home a very creditable seventh overall.

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2012 saw a near full time switch to the Blancpain Endurance Series with a pair of BMW Z4 GT3s and the campaign could not have started with better form, Bas Leinders, Maxime Martin and Markus Palttala scoring overall wins in the opening two races at Monza and Silverstone (below) but shakier form later in the season saw the team lose out to their major Belgian rivals Audi Sport Team WRT. On the way though there was a fine effort at the Spa 24 Hours which, but for a starter issue, should have seen the team on the overall podium.

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There was another part Marc VDS funded foray into LMP racing too with Bas Leinders sharing an Oak Racing Morgan with David Heinemeier Hansson at Spa, and Maxime Martin joining the duo for Le Mans, the car featuring Marc VDS badging on the engine cover.

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That same year saw the start of another regular theme to the Marc VDS year with a single car effort at the Nurburgring 24 Hours, the required warm-up race seeing the regular Leinders/Palttala/ Martin trio score a 9th place finish (below)

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The 24 Hours proper would see an even better result, the BMW finishing just off the podium, 4th overall!

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Onto 2013 and another full season in the Blancpain Endurance Series, again with a two car BMW Z4 GT3 entry, expanded to a trio of cars for Spa where the team suffered what would become an almost trademarked spate of ludicrous poor luck, all three retiring with the #3 car, running in a very strong second place, eliminated after the onboard fire extinguisher exploded, taking out the wiring loom!

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There was a win though at Paul Ricard, and points elsewhere too with second place at the season finale at the Nurburgring (above)securing the Pro Cup for the team.

A single car outing at the Baku World Challenge in Azerbaijan looked set to provide positivity with good qualifying form in the bag – a multi-car first corner shunt though spoiled the weekend for the team.

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A two car entry at VLN2 was the warm up for the Nurburgring 24 Hours once again, but there was another ‘Ring outing too, later in the season at VLN7, a single car effort for Maxime Martin and Nicky Catsburg that produced a win (below), Catsburg a near Nurburgring rookie at the time!

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The Nurburgring 24 Hours almost produced the dream result for the team, running a two car effort it was Maxime Martin that stole the Marc VDS show, in weather bad enough to force a Red Flag for track conditions he was the class of the field, it took the combined and astounding talents of Bernd Schneider, Nicki Thiim, Jeroen Bleekemolen and the late and much lamented Sean Edwards to spoil the day for the Belgian team, Martin’s drive though was absolutely world class, top drawer stuff, and BMW were watching!

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2014 saw the team back at the Nurburgring for the first five VLN races, a concerted effort at the 24 Hours beckoned. A win for Catsburg and Dirk Adorf at VLN 3 and a second place for Joerg Muller and Uwe Alzen next time out were good omens, but accidents not of their own making accounted for the efforts of both VDS cars in the 24 Hours, that bad luck still biting!

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At the Spa 24 Hours that bad luck struck again, as the #77 car looked set to grab the win the BMW developed a highly unusual electrical glitch, robbing the car of pace and forcing the team into a decision to double stint tyres at the end of the race that ultimately left the team unable to defend a lead, the gap at the flag was just seven seconds, second place would have to do!

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There was one further outing, and it was another one-off, as the Marc VDS team undertook what was effectively a recon mission on the European Le Mans Series at the Estoril season finale, the solo BMW taking the GTC class win!

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That effort was the precursor for a full season effort in 2015, but not in GTC, instead the team fielded the only unraced iteration of the BMW Z4 GTE, still unhomologated so Le Mans was never on the cards, but a European title might be, Andy Priaulx was drafted in to anchor the effort with Jesse Krohn and Henry Hassid. Electrical niggles though plagued the car and it was left as a dash for points at the end of the season that, as fate would have it, would mean more than just points on the board. More of that in a little while though.

Before then there was another tilt at a pair of major 24 Hour races, Marc VDS again prepping for the Nurburgring 24 Hours with a pair of VLN outings and again performing well.

In the 24 Hours it looked good, again. Pole position for the #26 car though would not translate to a win. Farfus, Muller, Catsburg and Adorf pushed hard but were left to fight back after a serious pit fire. Fourth overall was a real result after a race long sprint.

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Ahead though the #25 car of Maxime Martin, Lucas Luhr, Richard Westbrook and Markus Palttala was in real contention for the win, and had it not been for one factor it likely would have taken it – That factor though was the new iteration of Audi’s R8 LMS, better speed and better fuel consumption gradually saw the Audi edge away. Astonishingly it was second place again for Marc VDS!

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That left one major potential title to grab for the year. The Spa 24 Hours

The team fielded a two car effort plus a special one-off charity car for Belgian racing legends Marc Duez, Eric van de Poele, Pascal Witmeur, and Jean-Michel Martin each of whom would run a single stint to raise money and awareness of a major cancer charity.

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For the race proper it was all business, this mattered!

The pair of VDS BMWs were running very strongly into the last five hours of the race with the #45 car leading and the sister #46 running third. Again though bad luck struck as the leading car retired after another freak issue, the engine seizing after an oil system failure!

That left the surviving #46 car of Markus Palttala, Lucas Luhr and Nicky Catsburg to take the fight to the #2 WRT Audi, finally something went the way of the BMW squad, Catsburg fighting to the front and then a Full Course caution giving them a telling advantage in a routine pit stop!

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It would be a decisive point in the race and after pole position and a DNF in 2011, a fourth place in 2012, a double DNF in 2013 and a very close second place in 2014, Marc VDS Racing took the title that meant most to the team, the Spa 24 Hours, and better still beat their greatest Belgian rivals, WRT Audi, into second place!

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Even with the trophy on the team mantelpiece though there was more drama to come as, weeks after the win, Bas Leinders announced he was to leave the team, and in October Marc van der Straten issued one of the most extraordinary press statements in GT racing history that would see the team’s motorcycle racing programmes continue, but all GT racing ceasing at the end of the season.

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You can read it Here >>

That left the ELMS programme to run to a finish at Estoril, and whilst the stars would not align to leave the team with a Championship title, the BMW Z4 GTE did at least win their very last GT race (above) and add to a roll of honour for the team that includes:

Spa 24 Hours 2015: Overall Winners
Blancpain Endurance Series: 2013, Pro Cup Winners
Race wins in: Blancpain Endurance Series, FIA GT1 World Championship, European Le Mans Series (GTC and GTE), VLN, FIA GT Championship
Podium finishers in: Nurburgring 24 Hours

They campaigned and/ or supported cars in LMP1, LMP2, GT1, GTE, GT3 and G2.

And the sport is the poorer for their departure. Marc VDS, Thanks for the memories!

GG
(with thanks to Stephen Kilbey)