Daniel Juncadella revealed that the overnight red flag potentially saved his winning No. 88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo from retirement at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa because the Spaniard had been struggling with a loose pedal box prior to the stoppage.
The AMG Team Akkodis ASP lineup of Juncadella, Jules Gounon and Raffaele Marciello delivered a breakthrough win for Mercedes-AMG on Sunday, giving the manufacturer its first overall victory at Spa since 2013.
However, Juncadella revealed after the race that he encountered an unexpected problem when he took the car over from co-driver Marciello for one of the night stints.
“Just before the red flag I jumped in the car and the pedal box was fully loose and I could not drive, basically,” he explained.
“The pedals were moving up and down. I could not fix it at the time because I was driving flat out.
“But after three corners there was a Full Course Yellow. Even during the Full Course Yellow, I could not fix it.”
Just as Juncadella was struggling to deal with the pedal issue, a big crash for the No. 16 EBM Giga Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R of Matthew Payne triggered a red flag roughly halfway into the tenth hour.
This presented ASP with the break it needed for Juncadella to address the problem under parc ferme conditions and save the front-running car from an early exit.
“I thought during the safety car I might fix it, but then the red flag came,” Juncadella continued. “I could loosen my belt, get out of the car.
“With some help from my mechanics telling me what to do, I could sort it out otherwise it would have been race over, pretty much.”
Juncadella’s co-driver Gounon gave further insight into the tense situation, hinting that the race stoppage saved the Mercedes crew from a DNF and that the Spaniard had to revert to his native tongue in an attempt to solve the problem with another crew member.
“We were really, really lucky when the red flag came out because we were close to retirement,” Gounon told Sportscar365.
“The pedal box was broken, so it was moving and Dani could not drive.
“Dani had to speak in Spanish to the team manager who was speaking Spanish, because it was too much at that moment.
“Too much info to try to do what he said. So he had to go back to his native language.
“When I heard that, I woke up at 3 a.m. when there was a red flag and I was like ‘what’s happening?’
“Then I heard the story that we were so lucky because we could fix it during the red flag.
“At that moment I felt that maybe this one was for us.”
Gounon: Thiim Contact “A Lucky Escape”
The ASP drivers were able to move on from the pedal issue and get into a winning position come Sunday morning.
Then, with Gounon at the wheel, the team had another close call when he encountered the No. 95 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT3 driven by Nicki Thiim.
The two cars went side-by-side through Eau Rouge and up into Raidillon, where a touch resulted in a spin and a puncture for Thiim.
Gounon admitted that he was frightened by the contact and recognized that it could have ended worse, but also said he was determined to get by the Dane in a decisive phase of the race.
“This was scary because when you make contact at 250 km at that corner, you are like ‘holy [crap]’,” said Gounon.
“I was side-by-side with him and I was like ‘sorry mate, we are in contention to win and my foot is stuck to the pedal. Either you lift, or we touch.’
“And we touched because he didn’t lift. He also has big balls.”
Thiim said on the official broadcast that he went into the side-by-side battle up the hill with a similar mindset as Gounon.
“We’re in the dying hours, so of course I’m not going to lift,” the Aston Martin driver spoke. “Go hard or go home.”
Gounon sought out Thiim after the incident and expressed admiration for the level of respect between drivers.
“I went to him after and when I arrived, we had a big hug,” he said.
“I feel sometimes it is pretty amazing to have so much respect between drivers, because we fight fair.
“It was very hard but in the end, it was a lucky escape for him and for us also. So it was something very cool.”