Nick Yelloly felt that his No. 98 ROWE Racing BMW M4 GT3 was “able to fight” for the win at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa until a puncture prevented it from challenging.
The British driver was running third with just under two hours to go when his car’s right-rear Pirelli tire went down on the entry to Pouhon corner, while the lost time spent crawling back to the pits contributed to a sixth-place finish.
Yelloly, who teamed up with Augusto Farfus and Nicky Catsburg, told Sportscar365 that the puncture’s cause was not immediately clear; however its outcome was an obvious blow to the ROWE team’s chances.
With two and a half hours to go, Yelloly overtook Iron Lynx Ferrari driver Daniel Serra on the Kemmel Straight and worked his way onto the tail of eventual winner Marciello.
“There was no bang or rattle under the car,” he said. “It was just one of those things.
“Definitely [it cost] a podium, but we were able to fight for the win today. Particularly on the first half of a stint. If we had track position, we could have potentially been in the fight.
“I brought it back [to the pits] as fast as I could without causing too much damage to the car. I felt crap because I could see the guys coming by, but at least we got to the finish and got two cars in the top six.
“With a puncture, it’s better than not finishing. We’ll just have to come and get them next year.”
Yelloly reckoned that the No. 98 BMW was a match for the winning No. 88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo in the clear and warm conditions of Sunday afternoon.
After qualifying 15th, the ROWE crew climbed to the sharp end and took the lead for the first time at the five-hour mark, just before 10 p.m., and remained one of the key contenders during the dark hours.
“I really think we could have taken it to them if we hadn’t had the punctures,” Yelloly said.
“The No. 98 in particular was on fire and all the drivers were doing a great job.
“We just don’t know because we weren’t directly in the fight for the last couple of stints. We could have challenged them, at least.”
A puncture also affected the late-race progress of the No. 50 ROWE BMW which featured the Junior Team lineup of Dan Harper, Neil Verhagen and Max Hesse.
Harper explained that his car, which jumped to second behind the No. 98 when the red flag occurred in the 10th hour, had its right-rear go down in the penultimate stint.
“We were close to getting a podium or fighting for the victory,” said Harper, who was vying for a place on the podium and ended up fifth.
“Also the sister car. But it’s motorsport. We both got a puncture towards the end.
“We did lose a bit of time, pitting three laps earlier than expected. It definitely cost us 10 or 15 seconds.
“Overall we’re very happy. It was our first time here at this race [as the Junior Team].
“It was a very cool experience and ROWE did a fantastic job. We had a car which was capable to win, but we just had a bit of bad luck.”
Yelloly felt that BMW M Motorsport and ROWE Racing could draw positives from the M4 GT3’s Spa debut, considering both cars were in the mix until near the end.
While the old BMW M6 GT3 won at Spa twice in the hands of ROWE in 2016 and Walkenhorst Motorsport in 2018, the last two years saw retirements for both of the manufacturer’s Pro-class entries from Walkenhorst.
“The driveability over a stint has improved massively versus the M6,” Yelloly said.
“I don’t think anyone who hasn’t driven an M6 understands how hard it was to manage over a stint, whereas the M4 is much more manageable.
“Overtaking a Porsche mid to end of a stint was unheard of in an M6. Comfort in the car, the basics, were great. Generally, I think we’ve kept our high-speed performance from the M6 but we’ve gained in the medium and low-speed.
“Next year we’ll get all our stuff sorted and we should be able to challenge for much bigger wins more often.”