Catch part 1 here.
After grabbing some food and much needed sleep, I got back to the Autodrome at about 2:30. The cars were still tearing around the track, lights blazing as they accelerated between corners.
Reaching the GP Extreme garage, I was told the Renault that had been racing in the ‘Pro’ class had been grounded due to a coolant leak earlier on. The expressions on the faces of the mechanics reflected exactly how they felt about it. Additionally, the Duel Racing 911 Cup car had crashed, ending their attempt, which was a pity, because I had seen the car being unloaded from its shipping container just the previous weekend.
In a rather sombre mood, I walked past the garages. The cool night had tempered the excitement considerably as teams looked at their positions realistically. Mechanics were asleep, working on cars, or watching their team’s progress on the flatscreen televisions that were found everywhere. Deciding to head closer to the track, I made my way to one of the hairpin corners and camped there for the next couple of hours.
The cars would come screaming in, brake hard, take the racing line, hit the apex and accelerate hard towards the next corner, only to repeat the process. It was here that you could tell the dynamic difference between cars. The Audi R8 LMSs, the AMG GT3s, the Huracans and the lone SLS would corner flat, with no disturbance between turns. On the other hand, the BMW M4, the Audi RS3 LMS and the ‘Bucket List’ BMW 5 series racecar would exhibit significant body roll, with the numerous hatchbacks displaying similar characteristics.
An oft-captured detail that I saw for the first time was the way the carbon ceramic brake discs glowed red-hot as the cars shed speed for the corners.
I headed back to the garage around 4:30, only to find the pits full of cars. Numerous teams had made the same strategic decision to pit during one of the Code 60s. As the pit crews grabbed their tools and sprinted to their respective cars, the importance of speed was not lost on anybody.
In fact, it was fascinating how certain teams were able to save time on their pitstops. Car windscreens are supposed to be wiped down during a stop, in order to maintain driver visibility. GP Extreme’s garage neighbour GDL Racing simply peeled one layer of protective covering from their Huracan’s windscreen every time it came in, saving precious seconds of their time.
As the green flag was waved and the cars went back out on track, fatigue began to set in and my eyelids began to droop, something that was fixed by a quick espresso.
Alert again, I was just about to leave the garage, when everyone stiffened, a sign that an incident had occurred. Sure enough, a Seat Leon had stopped on track, only to be rear ended by a Renault Clio. Fortunately it was a low speed impact, and both cars were able to return to the pits under their own power. A bit of fluid on track meant that the safety crew was left with the task of dumping sand while the race was Code 60’d. Again.
Once the Seat returned to its garage, the 24 Series TV channel began broadcasting the repair process. Nothing fancy here, just a sledgehammer, some duck tape and zipties and the car was back on track soon after. Welcome to endurance racing.
Back out at the hairpin close to dawn, it became clear that the drivers were also beginning to feel the effects of racing for so long. A couple of missed turns and worsening racing lines were the worst of it, until a hair-raising moment when a Huracan spun mid corner. Luckily there was no collision and the Lambo was able to proceed unharmed.
Dawn broke around 6:45, casting a lovely glow over the cars. As headlamps were gradually switched off, the cars resumed their shapes and sizes once again, a welcome change from the fluorescent pinpricks that marked them out during the night.
Code 60s came and went. A BMW E46 racecar lost a wheel on track. A couple of cars broke down. The ‘Bucket List’ BMW 5 series racecar had an argument with the Armco at Turn 4 and lost.
Unfortunately, the weather only made things worse. What had begun as a clear, crisp winter morning quickly progressed into a sunny, warm and dusty day in Dubai. As the cars blew the dust to and fro on track, visibility began to fall. Yet, the cars kept going.
Around 10 a.m., there was a sudden change in the mood in the GP Extreme garage. The car in the ‘Am(ateur)’ class had been progressively rising through the positions and was now locked in battle with the Car Collection team Audi R8 for 2nd position. A cheer resonated through the garage as the eventual overtake came through at the hands of ex-F1 test driver Nicky Pastorelli, placing GP Extreme 2nd in class, a position they would hold till the end.
The hours ticked by and the crowd continued to grow, as spectators returned to watch the culmination of 24 hours of nonstop racing. In the final hour, there were two Code 60s. The second one occurred within the last ten minutes of the race, with a Porsche Cup car performing a high-speed slide into the safety barriers, illustrating that every minute of those 24 hours counts.
As the race ended, the crews climbed onto the net in the pitlane, to watch their cars complete the final lap, a fitting salute to the mechanical prowess of the automobile and the human skill behind the wheel. As congratulations were passed around and hugs were exchanged, there was a sense of relief that it was all over.
24 hours. Where every second counts. If this isn’t motorsport, then I don’t know what is.
The overall winners were Herberth Motorsport, Manthey Racing and the Black Falcons respectively.
And last, but not least, who says track marshals don’t know how to have fun?
A big thank you to Jordan, Stephan and the crew at GP Extreme for their hospitality and for letting me get in the way with my camera.