The Hankook Dubai 24 hours 2017 – Part 1.

We’d like to wish our readers a very Happy 2017! 

Motorsport has evolved in a big way during the past century. With bigger engines, safety regulations, aerodynamics, lightweight materials and better circuits, the act of racing cars and motorcycles has come a long way since its inception.

However, all the changes have not been for the best, Formula One being a case in point. Gone are the golden days when Senna, Prost, Hunt and Lauda used to engage in wheel to wheel combat on track, with nothing to limit them and no technology coming in their way.

Evolution takes many forms and with motorsport too, there have been a number of new series that have spawned from the basic concept of putting two cars together to see which was fastest. One of them is endurance racing, which involves racing sportscars for 6, 12 or 24 hours continuously. The hallowed races in this series take place at revered tracks like La Sarthe (Le Mans), Daytona and Sebring. However, the race calendar kicks off in Dubai, at the Autodrome. 24 hours of continuous racing? Sign us up!

The race was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. on Friday, the 13th of Jan (Bring your rabbit feet and horseshoes!). I reached the Autodrome at 11 that morning, only to find it buzzing with activity. Cars were being feverishly worked on, chefs were preparing lunch, Red Bull was being stocked in coolers and spectators marvelled at everything in between.

I was working with the GP Extreme race team, who were fielding two Renault Works cars for the race. Resplendent in their yellow livery, the cars were being given their final once over by the mechanics. The excitement was palpable in and around the pit area, as nervous laughs intermingled with the noise of engines being tested.

Close to 1 pm, all the cars were rolled into the pit area for photographs with the whole team, before proceeding out to their placement on track, which had been decided by qualification the previous day. The Dubai police supercar team made an appearance at the front of the grid, getting almost as much attention as the racecars themselves. Celebrities among the crowd included Quattro CEO Stephan Winkelmann and local motorsport supremo Mohammed Bin Sulayem.

Twenty before two, a klaxon reminded us to clear the track and all the teams returned to their respective garages to ‘gear up’ and take their positions. Cigarettes were hastily stubbed out as the atmosphere grew simply electric. And then it began.

Whether you were on the straight, in the grandstand, at the corners, or in the pit area, the noise was simply deafening. Each car had its own signature soundtrack, with the Audi R8s and Lamborghini Huracans emitting their high pitched wail, with the Porsche GT3 flat six following not far behind. The AMG GT3 had a deep rumble, owing to its V8 and happened to be the quietest of the supercar lot. Hard on the brakes, hard on the gas, as the smell of scorched rubber and race fuel permeated the air.

As the day wore on, the drivers settled into their positions, jostling now and again to overtake their immediate competitors. A Lamborghini Huracan GT3 turned out to be an early casualty, catching fire and prompting one of the many Code 60s seen throughout the race, forcing cars to slow down to 60 km/h until it was safe to race again.

Action in the pits continued nonstop, as cars came in incessantly for fuel or early mechanical issues. Crouching in a corner, it was like a riot of colors, as the afternoon sun blazed onto the colourful liveries that made each car stand out from the rest.

Close to sunset, an unfortunate series of events occurred. A Code 60 was declared and for some reason it took more than half an hour to clear it. In addition to frustrating spectators and drivers, the appearance of the purple flag would disturb the tempo of the race as it did in this case. The crowd practically cheered once the race resumed, only for two cars to find themselves in the wall barely a minute later. Half an hour of low speed driving had done away with any heat in the slick rubber that the cars are shorn with, significantly reducing traction. Another agonising twenty minutes and the race was back on, with no major injuries reported.

Night fell and the cars switched on their headlamps. The teams try and get creative with the lighting too in order to better identify their cars, which left a trail of lights as the cars zipped by and turned into red pinpricks before disappearing into the night.

Around 8 p.m., I decided to call it a day. I’d be back in the early hours of the morning.

Catch part 2 here

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