Nick Tandy said the closing stages of the Total 24 Hours of Spa was the “most emotional” stint he’s ever done, with the Englishman able to nurse ROWE Racing’s Porsche 911 GT3 R to victory despite a deteriorating gearbox.
Tandy and fellow factory pilots Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber claimed Porsche’s second consecutive win in the Belgian endurance classic, in an unpredictable race that saw challenging track conditions and a highly competitive fight for top honors.
The No. 98 ROWE Porsche took over the lead following a strategic call for fuel-only on the car’s last pit stop during a Full Course Yellow late in the 23rd hour.
While having previously chased down the pair of leading factory-backed Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evos, Tandy managed to bridge a narrow gap over the No. 66 Attempto Audi of Patric Niederhauser over his closing stint.
It came despite a suspected gearbox issue in the final two laps, which put both Tandy and the German squad on high alert.
“Halfway through the penultimate lap I had a small lock up into the ABS into Turn 8,” Tandy explained. “Then on the exit we immediately had this large knocking noise in the car.
“It sounded to me like a driveshaft joint had broken but the car was still driving.
“It turned out that it probably broke the gearbox casing as well, or the side of the diff casing because unfortunately for our competitors we coated the circuit in oil.
“Honestly this kind of saved us. We could only apologize to our competitors for this.
“I had to drive the last lap-and-a-half almost without going flat out and coasting in the corners.
“Luckily we were able to go faster like this than the others were to drive on our oil!
“But that was the most emotional last stint I’ve ever done.”
Bamber admitted he didn’t feel like they had the quickest car in the race but were able to capitalize on strategy calls that took the trio to the front in a race that featured high attrition.
“We actually struggled in the build up throughout practice,” he said. “We didn’t have the pace and we were trying to work out what was going on with the car and stuff like that.
“We started 20th and just chipped away.
“The team made some awesome calls during the race with the Full Course Yellows and all of that stuff and we strategy-jumped in the middle of the night into the lead of the race for a few laps.
“That brought us into the race. We were in the top-five and had good track position and maintained it.
“The guys were just flawless all day long. I don’t think we had the quickest car today but I think the ROWE guys executed a perfect race.”
Vanthoor: Win “Makes You Forget Everything” After Challenging Year
The Belgian, who scored his second 24H Spa victory and first with Porsche, admitted the win has helped erase some of the memories from a “such a tough” year that had seen Vanthoor and Bamber go winless in their IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans title defense.
Prior to Sunday, Porsche had also yet to win a major 24-hour race this year after failed attempts at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, 24 Hours of Le Mans and most recently the Nürburgring 24 when it was forced to pull the majority of its drivers due to COVID-19-related precautions.
“It’s been such a tough 2020 for us,” said Vanthoor. “We’ve had so many difficult races and disappointments.
“One lap before [the end of the race] when Nick was speaking on the radio, I was looking for the next bridge to jump off.
“The moment he crossed the start/finish line I literally burst into tears.
“For the three of us, this year has been hard. It’s been hard for the whole world but our program is stopping in America and we’ve had a lot of bad luck in our races.
“At one point it starts to weigh on you and it starts to be a bit hard if you have a season like that.
“[Earl and I] didn’t have any wins yet. This just makes you forget everything.”