The 2017 sportscar racing season truly gets under way this weekend after an almost non-existent off season with the 11th running of the 24H Series Dubai 24 Hour. Its entry list is once again enormous with almost 100 cars set to take the start, featuring a variety of teams head to the Middle East to kick off the new season in the heat at the Dubai Autodrome.
This year there’s quality from top to bottom, despite a lack of brand new machinery up front in the A6 (GT3) class to spur teams to field world-class driver lineups. It’s a testament to what the event has become, as like the Rolex 24 Hours, the Dubai 24 has become a traditional January race, with a solid place on everyone’s calendar.
Here’s part 1 of DSC’s look at the runners and riders ahead of this year’s 24 hours, which you can follow on DSC all week long:
A6 Pro (13 cars)
A6-Pro – 2 – Black Falcon – Khaled Al Qubaisi, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Patrick Assenheimer, Manuel Metzger – Mercedes AMG GT3
A6-Pro – 3 – Black Falcon – Abdulaziz Al Faisal, Hubert Haupt, Yelmer Buurman, Michal Broniszewski, Maro Engel – Mercedes AMG GT3
A6-Pro – 4 – Belgian Audi Club WRT – Enzo Ide, Stuart Leonard, Robin Frijns, Christopher Mies, Ruben Maes – Audi R8 LMS
A6-Pro – 7 – HB Racing – Herbert Handlos, Norbert Siedler, Sam Tordoff, Florian Spengler – Lamborghini Huracan GT3
A6-Pro -12 – Manthey Racing – Otto Klohn, Sven Müller, Matteo Cairoli, Jochen Krumbach – Porsche 991 GT3 R
A6-Pro -14 – Optimum Motorsport – Joe Osborne, Flick Haigh, Ryan Ratcliffe, Christopher Haase – Audi R8 LMS
A6-Pro -16 – SPS automotive-performance – Valentin Pierburg, Tim Müller, Lance-David Arnold, Tom Onslow-Cole – Mercedes AMG GT3
A6-Pro – 21 – Konrad Motorsport – Marc Basseng, Marco Mapelli, Jules Gounon, Luca Stolz, Franz Konrad – Lamborghini Huracan GT3
A6-Pro – 28 – GP Extreme – Jordan Grogor, Louis Deletraz, Jean-Eric Vergne, Nicky Pastorelli – Renault RS01 FGT3
A6-Pro – 76 – Imsa Performance – Raymond Narac, Thierry Cornac, Maxime Jousse, Mathieu Jaminet – Porsche 991 GT3 R (4000cc)
A6-Pro – 911 – Herberth Motorsport – Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Robert Renauer, Alfred Renauer – Porsche 991 GT3 R (4000cc)
A6-Pro – 963 – GRT Grasser Racing Team – Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart, Rik Breukers, Rolf Ineichen, Mark Ineichen – Lamborghini Huracan GT3
A6-Pro – 964 – GRT Grasser Racing Team – Rolf Ineichen, Christian Engelhart, Ezequiel Companc, Adrian Amstutz – Lamborghini Huracan GT3
At the top of the tree in A6 Pro, which is where the overall winner will likely come from, we have a collection of 13 GT3 cars, featuring some of the world’s best GT drivers and teams.
Let’s start with the defending champions in the Audi camp, which this year consists of a WRT and Optimum R8 LMS in Pro.
Belgian Audi Club WRT will be looking to defend its title after winning the race in 2016 with Alain Ferte, Michael Meadows, Stuart Leonard and Laurens Vanthoor. Of the victors from its triumph last year, only Stuart Leonard returns to the team. He will be joined by a very capable quartet this time round and has every chance of taking a second win on the bounce at the race.
Leonard in the #4 will be driving with the ultra fast Robin Frijns, who won the Sepang 12 Hours at the end of 2016, Ruben Maes and the reigning Blancpain Sprint Cup Champions Enzo Ide and Christopher Mies.
For British GT regulars Optimum Motorsport, Brits Joe Osborne and Ryan Ratcliffe will parter up with Audi Factory star Christopher Haase and Flick Haigh who recently impressed with her defensive driving while under pressure during the Gulf 12 Hours last December.
Fellow German brand Mercedes meanwhile will be represented by three AMG GT3s in the in the Pro class, in the car’s second attempt at the race after it made its global debut in 2016.
The two key entries here come from the 2016 Nurburgring 24 Hours winner Black Falcon, which is looking for its fourth overall victory in the event with two very capable AMG GT3 lineups.
Driving in its #2 car is an experienced quartet of Khaled Al Qubaisi, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Patrick Assenheimer, Manuel Metzger, while Abdulaziz Al Faisal, Hubert Haupt, Yelmer Buurman, Michal Broniszewski and Maro Engel make up the equally talented set of drivers in the #3. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the Black Falcon team, which always gets the most out of what it has, approaches the race after suffering multiple teething issues with the AMG GT3 when it debuted the car a year ago.
The third A6 Pro Merc on the list comes courtesy of German outfit SPS automotive performance. Driving its challenger will be Valentin Pierburg, Tim Müller, Lance-David Arnold and Tom Onslow-Cole.
The final of the three German manufacturers taking part in the race is Porsche, with a very dangerous trio of 991 GT3 Rs coming from Manthey Racing, Herberth Motorsport and IMSA Performance. The most recent edition of Porsche’s GT3 machine has often impressed in sprint races and remained quiet in endurance events, but in 2016 had a great run in the 24H series, winning two races with Herberth Motorsport at Barcelona and Paul Ricard.
For Manthey Racing, Otto Klohs, newly named Porsche Factory GT Driver Sven Muller, Matteo Carol and VLN stalwart Jochen Krumbach will share the wheel of its #12 991 as it looks to start the season with a bang.
IMSA Performance in its standout KODAK livery is also heading to Dubai with a set of drivers capable of challenging up front. The French team brings four French drivers to the party, with Raymond Narac, Thierry Cornac, Maxime Jousse and Mathieu Jaminet set to peddle the #76 Porsche.
Last season’s 24H Series runner up Herberth Motorsport meanwhile, has the most intriguing lineup of the three, with 2015 FIA WEC Champion Brendon Hartley joining Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn and the Renauer brothers Alfred and Robert. The team are extremely capable when it comes to long races, and with the addition of Hartley it’s going to be a car to watch.
The remaining five cars in the class are Lamborghini Huracans and a Renault R.S.01 fielded by GP Extreme featuring ex-F1 driver Jean-Eric Vergne. And the win could feasibly come from one of those, with the Huracan driver rosters all strong and the Renault R.S.01 a car which when on the pace can fight with the best that GT3 has to offer.
The Grasser Racing Team, which is also set to compete in the Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours following on from its Dubai 24 Hour attack, is bringing a pair of lime green Huracans to the party with its headliner featuring a very capable lineup. In the #963, Lamborghini Factory Driver Mirko Bortolotti, will race alongside Christian Engelhart, Rik Breukers, Rolf Ineichen, Mark Ineichen. Both Engelhart and Ineichen will be on double duty and drive in the #964 also, with Ezequiel Companc and Adrian Amstutz.
The third Lamborghini on the list is from Konrad Motorsport which narrowly missed out on winning the race last year. The Austrian outfit will bring a very rapid quartet with Marc Basseng, Marco Mapelli, Jules Gounon and Luca Stolz driving with team owner Franz Konrad.
The fourth and final Huracan down to race is from HB Motorsport, with BTCC runner up Sam Tordoff, who will be piloting a Huracan in this year’s British GT Championship, driving alongside Rinaldi Racing regular Norbert Siedler, Herbert Handlos and Florian Spengler.
A6/A6-Am (12 cars)
A6-Am – 1 – Hofor-Racing – Michael Kroll, Chantal Kroll, Roland Eggimann, Kenneth Heyer, Christiaan Frankenhout – Mercedes AMG GT3
A6-Am – 5 – Belgian Audi Club WRT – Mohammed Bin Saud Al Saud, Mohammed Bin Faisal Al Saud, Marcel Fässler, Michael Vergers – Audi R8 LMS
A6-Am – 17 – IDEC SPORT RACING – Patrice Lafargue, Paul Lafargue, Gabriel Abergel, Alban Varutti – Mercedes AMG GT3 (6200cc)
A6-Am – 18 – V8 Racing – Wolf Nathan NED Rick Abresch NED Loris Hezemans – Chevrolet Corvette C6-ZR1
A6-Am – 19 – Eurotrac (by Bas Koeten) – Bert de Heus, Daniel de Jong, Ivo Breukers, Leon Rijnbeek – Dodge Viper CC Series 2
A6-Am – 22 – Gravity Racing International – Vincent Radermecker. Gerard Lopez, Christian Kelders, Jarek Janis – Mercedes SLS AMG GT3
A6-Am – 27 – GP Extreme – Frederic Fatien, Tiziano Carugati, Josh Webster, Stuart Hall – Renault RS01 FGT3
A6-Am – 29 – Forch Racing powered by Olimp – Robert Kubica, Robert Lukas, Marcin Jedlinski, Wolf Henzler, Santiago Creel – Porsche 991 GT3 R
A6-Am – 33 – Car Collection Motorsport – Peter Schmidt – Audi R8 LMS
A6-Am – 34 – Car Collection Motorsport – Johannes Dr. Kirchhoff, Gustav Edelhoff, Max Edelhoff, Elmar Grimm, Ingo Vogler – Audi R8 LMS
A6 – 25 – HTP Motorsport – Wim de Pundert, Bernd Schneider, Carsten Tilke, Alexander Hrachowina – Mercedes AMG GT3
A6 – 66 – Attempto Racing – Jürgen Häring, Mike Hansch, Dietmar Ulrich, Andreas Liehm, Arkin Aka – Porsche 991 GT3 R
This year’s A6-Am division will be made up of a competitive 10 cars, with six marques represented. The the division that requires the teams to stick to a ‘bracket’ time in the race with only a limited number of ‘Joker’ laps before time penalties start to come into play.
The most intriguing entry is arguably WRT’s #5 Audi, which features ex-Audi LMP1 star Marcel Fassler who will race with Englishman Michael Vergers and the Saudi Arabian duo of Mohammed Bin Saud Al Saud and Mohammed Bin Faisal Al Saud.
Another star name in Am is Robert Kubica, who continues to dip his toe in the endurance water with this, his first 24-hour races. The Polish F1 race winner will driver for Polish team Forch Racing with fellow Poles Robert Lukas, Marcin Jedlinski, Mexican Santiago Creel and experienced GT star Wolf Henzler.
Kubica competed in the Six Hours of Rome and 12 Hours of Mugello last year as well as tested ByKolles’ CLM in the end-of-season FIA WEC Rookie Test. Will this race tempt him to take on a full-season GT/sportscar programme, after years away from full-time circuit racing since his rallying incident?
Of the other runners of note, Car Collection Motorsport is bringing along a pair of Audi R8 LMS’, Gp Extreme is fielding a second Renault with ex-Aston Martin factory driver Stuart Hall and Englishman Josh Webster heading the car’s four peddlers, IDEC Sport will race an all-French AMG GT3, and Gravity International will race a sole SLS AMG GT3, the only one in the race.
And to add further variety, Eurotrac and V8 Racing will bring some American machinery to the race, with the former racing an older Dodge Viper CC, and the latter an ex-works Pratt and Miller C6 ZR1 Corvette.
Of the two teams down to race in the A6 class, Attempto Racing will race a Porsche 991 GT3 R and HTP Motorsport is bringing a single AMG GT3 for a more low-key entry with the ageless Bernd Schneider the big name there.