Renger van der Zande said that Honda Team Motul’s unexpected run to sixth place overall in the Total 24 Hours of Spa “almost felt like a victory”.
The No. 30 Honda NSX GT3 Evo, which van der Zande shared with Bertrand Baguette and Mario Farnbacher, gradually rose into the top 10 after starting 33rd on the 72-car grid.
Van der Zande told Sportscar365 that the team’s progression through the field was aided by the track conditions, while problems in the cockpit required perseverance.
“In the dry, we were over a second slower than the other cars, but as soon as it started dripping I was taking so many risks and it was paying off,” said the Dutch driver.
“In the half that we were in the wet, we were good, so that was the advantage and that’s why we were moving forward.
“It was a long drive because I did two and a half hours in the car and without drinking because the system broke in the first hour. The air conditioning broke so it was really hot, 40-plus degrees in the cockpit.
“For the last five hours it was like that, so it was not easy. But in the end, I’m super happy with the performance.
“HPD and Honda, JAS of course who builds the car, hats off to them because it’s not easy to come into a field like this with so many factory drivers, and to finish in the top 10 it’s almost like a victory, to be honest.”
His co-driver Baguette said Honda’s off-key qualifying pace stemmed from “strange tire behavior” in last week’s extreme heat, while the final result was unexpected considering the NSX used at Spa had never driven on rain tires before.
“We have been working really hard. We’ve done just a few test days, to be honest, one at Misano between the California 8 Hours and here,” Baguette told Sportscar365.
“Just to tell you how few laps [we did] with that car, and every time we put the car on the floor we kept going quicker.
“We keep learning, so to be honest being sixth here is amazing for us. We learned a lot of things this weekend and we will keep going forward with the car.
“When you look at the results, you see Porsche, Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, and then Honda. It’s great, it’s crazy to be fighting with those guys. Hopefully, we will be even stronger in the future.”
Red Flag “Killed” Honda’s Strategy
Baguette noted that the lengthy red-flag period which took place for six hours on Sunday morning almost played against Honda in the subsequent run to the checkered flag.
“It was not a good time for us because at the end of the race we would have needed a splash which would cost us so many places, so it’s good there was a Full Course Yellow at the end,” he said.
“The red flag really killed our strategy. We would have been P10 or P11 because we were screwed by the red, but at the end the FCY saved us and we managed to achieve a fantastic result.”
Van der Zande was in the car for the final stint and needed to save fuel whilst keeping the new tire-shod No. 98 ROWE Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R of Mathieu Jaminet at bay.
After several attempts, Jaminet eventually muscled his way past coming out of La Source hairpin.
“We were very tight, saving fuel for the last one and a half hours,” said van der Zande, who admitted there was “no chance” to defend from the Porsche with the Honda running on stint-and-a-half old tires.
“It was like racing in IMSA where you save more fuel and I know how to do that. But it was enjoyable. We are looking back at a really nice event.”