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FOSTER: Dubai Debrief

Joe Foster joins Sportscar365 for insight into 2016 24H Series, kicking off with Dubai…

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

So as a columnist for Sportscar365, I suppose there ought not to be much to say about our 35 minute run in the 2016 iteration of the 24 Hours of Dubai; a run which sadly ended with a newly built Porsche 991 needing a new chassis.

Upon reflection, however, I do think that there are a few things of relevance to offer.

First of all, in spite of what I admit were preconceptions I had, the International Endurance Series powered by Hankook is a well-run, well-conceived and creative approach to getting back to the roots, the tradition and the original intention of endurance sports car racing.

It’s not perfect I admit, but I am impressed by the energy that the small Dutch agency Creventic brings to this series and the resulting huge grids of diverse sports cars that take the green flag.

Could there be a lesson here for our friends at American sanctioning bodies?

As their largest event, the 24 Hours of Dubai has matured over its 11-year history into a well-respected event with over a 100-car entry that this week included over 35 proper GT3 machines in the top class.

Mercedes and Audi brought factory pro drivers and the nearly 20 entries in the 991 Porsche class were also piloted by a deep field of professionals mixed into the Pro-Am based class.

I was grateful to share an entry in the 991 class with my long time friends and co-drivers Charlie Putman and Charles Espenlaub alongside Dutch Porsche standout Xavier Maassen. Our car was prepared with skill by the German-based MRS GT outfit.

So looking around at the staggering crowd of cars in the paddock I thought: so what’s the formula here and who’s paying for all of this?

Well let’s do some quick math from the perspective of the gentleman driver: there are about 108 hours of actual racing in the six series events and the drive time rules would require a minimum of approximately 30 hours of actual racing drive time from any one driver over the entire season (we are leaving out testing/practice/qualifying just to look at actual racing).

A bit of research on running budgets, a pencil and a paper towel yield approximately $22,000 per hour of actual racing seat time for a gentleman driver if he generates the entire budget for a 991 class car, chooses his co-drivers and goes for a championship.

Want to move up to the A6 class and race a real GT3 car at F1 quality tracks around the world? That’s about $32,000 per actual racing hour behind the wheel.

For the sake of comparison, GT3 Cup in the U.S. yields about $25,000/hour, CTSC is about $75,000 an hour (GS Championship contender), WeatherTech GTD about $160,000 an hour (no s**t).

As a side note, the Creventic series numbers include the use of the car, whereas only the CTSC number just mentioned includes the use of a car.

Our poor punter who wants to do GT3 Cup still needs to drop $250k on a car and our GTD contender needs to drop almost $1million on a car, wheels and spare parts before opening the trailer door at Daytona.

Some will undoubtedly argue the numbers but trust me I’ve lived and breathed these budgets for years putting these programs together and I’m close I assure you.

So now the huge grid here in Dubai started making sense; and the reason we see more and more Americans heading afar to race makes sense too.

Now there’s an intangible value to the big shows, Sebring, Daytona, blue-riband events for sure. But how much value?

Its not like GTD gets real television coverage. It’s a different value proposition for everyone who contemplates these things but clearly when it comes to well-run, well-executed events at amazing historic race tracks that we’ve dreamed of since being kids then the Creventic folks may be onto something here.

Of course it’s really not an apples to apples comparison is it? If you need a place to park your huge motor coach and you love long lines in the autograph session then its not for you.

If you just want to race a lot, learn a lot and you’re not afraid of a little mystery food occasionally then consider it.

With nearly 400 drivers present to compete in Dubai there was, as expected, a wide array of driver skill and experience that I admit caused a few comical/scary surprises in practice.

It became clear that maintaining the pace in hugely congested traffic situations was really going to be the key in this long event.

But in addition to a promoter test day there was plenty of practice time to adjust to such crazy traffic and help everyone Amateur, Pro-Am and Professional alike to learn how to swim in the same tank.

Honestly, I admit I had a great time learning the awesome Dubai Autodrome circuit in my precious few practice laps and had a great time working the extensive traffic.

In my opinion not nearly enough emphasis is placed by young drivers, team managers and manufacturer “talent spotters” on the lost art of working traffic.

Its so easy to forget that what wins a long endurance race is decidedly not a single fast lap but simply fewer slow laps due to traffic and careful attention to every detail that keeps your car rolling around the track and not in the pits.

It’s a calm, controlled aggression from a driver that sees and reads the traffic several moves ahead and consistently keeps ones car out of harms way. You hope!

Our strategy through practice and qualifying was to set up a car that was easy to drive on old tires, easy to drive off line and could get a consistently quick run over the course of a set of tires.

Our engineer and the MRS crew gave us exactly that and Xavier took the green flag in our No. 78 Porsche under strict marching orders. We would cruise for 18 hours and push towards the finish, and make 17 pit stops.

Alas the best plans can go awry as a driver in a Ginetta lost control and took our beautiful red, white and blue Porsche to the inner wall on the front straight.

Race Over. So at least some things remain the same wherever in the world you race: you still can’t control other people and dumb things still happen.

The car that eventually won our class did so at an average green flag lap time that was distinctly slower than our worse case average. She is a cruel mistress this sport.

Nevertheless, we were welcomed by an enthusiastic and beautiful place in Dubai and it was an amazing opportunity to come visit and experience this awesome race track.

Looking forward to some equally awesome Italian food in Florence this March so will check in again after Mugello. Hopefully more racing action to discuss then!

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