It’s an eerie feeling as you pull into the amazing Dubai Autodrome facility. Situated just a few miles from the famous and beautiful downtown Dubai and less than 100 miles across the water from Iran (!), this expansive facility grew from the sand during the not-so-friendly competition between Dubai and Abu Dhabi to host a Formula One event.
As the completely unsubstantiated story goes, both members of the UAE were feverishly building amazing and “best of the best” facilities for Formula One while simultaneously courting the ubiquitous Mr. Ecclestone to get a deal done.
When the F1 czar arrived in Dubai for a status update meeting, the government representative assigned the project was…..late; something Bernie doesn’t appreciate. A few short minutes later he was whisked down the coast to Abu Dhabi and bang we have the established history of F1 at the beautiful Yas Marina circuit.
With the circuit itself finished in Dubai, construction of the surrounding buildings, hospitality suites, hotels etc. was stopped immediately and, over ten years later, these dusty, ghostlike half-finished structures surround the circuit and create a strange “Planet of the Apes” or “Walking Dead” vibe entering the circuit grounds.
But the heart of the facility is still an awesome F1 quality race track that has flourished in other ways and hosts a 24-hour sports car race that has grown in prestige and entries.
With nearly 100 entries in several classes and boasting a huge group of proper GT3 cars and factory drivers, the 24 Hours of Dubai has now established itself as a world class event and helped keep this facility active and prestigious.
Still smarting from our short-lived effort from last season (our car collected in someone else’s accident less than 40 minutes in), myself and teammates Charlie Putman, Charles Espenlaub and newcomer Andy Pilgrim were quietly optimistic heading into the 2017 version.
Keys to this race are simple: have speed but keep it in your pocket, don’t hit or get hit, stay out of the pits, and raise your head about 18 hours in and play your speed cards if you need to.
Our Nürburgring-based Pro-Sport Performance team had immaculately prepared our 991 Class Porsche and practice/qualifying went smoothly as expected.
At the green flag, however, we discovered that our Achilles heel wasn’t to be the preparation or speed of the car but the fact that the radios weren’t working!
Communication and strategy is key to these long races and at the first caution period our inability to have Charles pit for a splash n’ go lost us a lap on the leader.
It happened again; lost another lap. Hmmm. Trying to adapt to the situation we devised a semi-complicated strategy of decisions to be made from the cockpit based on fuel load, stint time and on track location when the flag comes out.
Although hampered by this braille method approach to strategy, smooth pit stops, a reliable car and super consistent driving by all kept us at least in the top-five for the next 18 hours.
With six hours to go we found ourselves trading P2 and P3 back and forth with a very competitive and quick car led by super fast former Porsche Junior Klaus Bachler, a former teammate of mine.
What a fun race for the last several hours as they pushed, we pushed and we were on or near the same lap count for hours on end. No room for error.
Finally a chink in the armor as they had a slightly longer pit stop and, with Andy at the wheel, we were able to put a lap on our worthy foe and finished in P2 with that lap to spare.
Our distance to the winner in front was, sadly, exactly the amount we lost from the communication issues less than an hour into the race!
Still we were very happy to start Charlie’s assault on the Creventic championship with a bunch of points and leave with a dirty but undamaged race car.
Next up in this series for us is Mugello (yay Pizza!) but as a driver group we are heading to Bathurst first for another super cool bucket list event.
Talk soon…. Assuming your radio works.