Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon broke AF Corse’s win streak at Yas Marina Circuit by taking a dominant victory in the third edition of the Gulf 12 Hours.
The No. 3 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Bernd Schneider and Khaled Al Qubaisi cruised to a one-minute and 41-second win over the two-time and defending overall winning AF Corse squad, in what was a clear-cut race for the German-run, UAE-backed effort, nearly from the onset.
Bleekemolen led from the green but the Mercedes lost ground during the race’s one-and-only full-course caution in the fourth hour when it made its fourth and final mandatory two-minute and 40-second pit stop just prior to the restart.
It gave the top spot to the No. 1 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Marco Cioci, Michele Rugolo and Steve Wyatt, which finished first in the opening six-hour segment, but with the Black Falcon car crucially on the same lap.
The Dutchman re-took the lead at the start of the second segment, and coupled with solid stints by co-drivers Schneider and Al Qubaisi, gradually extended their lead with no significant challenge from the Ferrari, or anyone else, in the final six hours.
It marked Schneider’s sixth international endurance race victory of the year, adding to his collection of overall wins at the 24 Hours of Dubai, Bathurst 12 Hour, Nurburgring 24, Spa 24 Hours and Blancpain 1000 at the Nurburgring, all with SLS AMG GT3s.
“It was not easy because you had to push all the time,” said the Mercedes factory driver. “The car was not [the same] with the Avon [tires], especially in the hot [conditions]. I was struggling a bit.
“Jeroen was much better in those conditions. He made did a brilliant job and he showed that it was possible to do it. I got some lessons in the hot!”
The only scare for the Black Falcon crew came in the first segment when a wheel nut jammed on their final stop, which saw them lose about 30 seconds.
“We had the pace and could always do it,” Bleekemolen said. “We knew we just had to stay on the lead lap [in the first part of the race], except that I had hoped to be leading and putting other people laps down.
“But in the end, we ended up with the number one car. It didn’t really matter.”
Al Qubaisi, who becomes the first Emirati to win the event, added: “There were a lot of really strong teams and strong driver lineups. It’s not easy to just come in, dominate and win. I feel that we really did well in this race.”
It was the team’s first victory since the death of Sean Edwards, who was part of their winning lineup at Dubai and the Nuburgring this year and was scheduled to race in this event.
Black Falcon paid tribute to Edwards by running decals on both of their cars and dedicated the win to their fallen teammate and friend.
The No. 11 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Daniel Zampieri, Michael Broniszewski and Cesar Ramos bounced back from a tire puncture in the eighth hour to complete the podium in third overall.
The Swiss entry re-took third with less than 1 hour and 40 minutes to go from the No. 7 M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3, which limped to the checkered flag with sparks flying from the right-front of the car.
Despite the late-race issue, the Guy Smith, Steven Kane and Andy Meyrick-driven entry managed to finish fourth, two laps behind the overall winning Mercedes.
GTX class honors went to the No. 91 Nova Race Ginetta G50 GT4 of Giampiero Cristoni, Tommy Lindroth, Tiziano Cappelletti and Matteo Cressoni.
The Stefano De Val, Maurizio Pitorri and Jesùs Fuster-driven No. 95 Avelon Formula Wolf GB08 managed to win the CN class, despite stopping on track in the final honor with gearshift problems.
It rejoined just one lap ahead of its sister entry, which finished second in class and 16th overall.
Sixteen of the 21 starters finished the race, which was divided into two six-hour segments and featured a unique two-hour and 25-minute intermission for teams to work on their cars.
RESULTS: Gulf 12 Hours