The 2012 Total 24 Hours of Spa was another challenging test of endurance and reliability for the McLaren GT customer teams competing at the headline event of the Blancpain Endurance Series over the weekend, 27-29 July.
McLaren 12C GT3
All nine examples of the 12C GT3 performed well around the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit despite harsh conditions throughout, but the incident-filled race took its toll. The punishing circuit and challenging weather saw an extremely high attrition rate throughout the field, but two 12C GT3 cars successfully crossed the line to claim P9 and P30.
The #88 12C GT3, run by Von Ryan Racing and driven by Alvaro Parente, Rob Barff, Roger Wills and McLaren Automotive Chief Test Driver, Chris Goodwin, battled hard into an impressive 4th place in the Pro-Am class, and P9 overall. The team’s #60 blue-and-black car piloted by Julian Draper, Matt Draper, Stephen Jelley and Stef Dusseldorp crossed the line P30 after a tough 24 hours.
Each of the nine cars showed strong pace throughout the weekend’s qualifying sessions, with five 12C GT3s in the top 20 for the start of the race. The striking dragon-liveried #88 car was the top-qualifying McLaren, claiming pole position in the highly-competitive Pro-Am class, and 3rd overall.
The opening stint was headlined by the #9 Gulf Racing UK car driven by McLaren ‘works’ driver, Rob Bell. After showing good pace during the weekend’s free practice sessions, a difficult qualifying saw the car line up in P51. However, by the end of his double stint, Bell’s strong pace in the 12C GT3 had moved him up to 7th position. The Belgian Boutsen-Ginion Racing team also put in an impressive performance in front of a home crowd with two cars, and the #5 orange-and-black 12C GT3 was the front-running McLaren as the light faded, leading the Pro-Am class, and in P5 overall.
The 4.352-mile (7.004 km) Spa-Francorchamps circuit, notorious for its own micro-climate, saw extreme changes in weather throughout the 24 hours. The opening laps took place in the dry, but conditions quickly changed, and a heavy downpour over part of the circuit during the first scheduled pit window resulted in some teams requiring an additional stop for wet tyres. Further rain showers throughout the remainder of the race ensured the teams and drivers were challenged until the end of the race.
During the 24 hours, the harsh conditions saw more than half the grid forced to retire. As darkness fell, a bold call to change to slick tyres by the Gulf Racing and Von Ryan Racing teams proved successful as the track dried, and gained both teams an advantage over the rest of the field. However, the track’s slippery conditions off the dry line were unforgiving and caused both Gulf Racing cars to retire after leaving the track.
Chris Goodwin, McLaren Automotive Chief Test Driver, and driver of the #88 Von Ryan Racing 12C GT3, explained: “The Spa 24 hour race is unlike any other race on the GT calendar; it is a real event from the minute the teams arrive here, and it was fantastic to see the nine 12C GT3s in the parade through the town’s streets before the race. Then, to see them on track, and having five qualify in the top 20, is a real testament to the performance of the teams, and the developments that have been made throughout this season. This is the ultimate test of endurance and reliability for the cars, the drivers and the teams.”
Goodwin continued: “Doing anything non-stop for 24 hours is difficult, but putting in consistently competitive laps, around one of the most demanding circuits in such changeable conditions, is extremely tough. The fact that more than 30 cars were forced to retire from this event shows just how demanding a race it is. To have two cars finish, one in the top 10, in this, the debut competitive year for the 12C GT3, is a big result.”
The Lapidus Racing team showed good race pace after qualifying P12 on the grid, but an early collision saw the team lose time. The team worked hard to get the 12C GT3 back on track, and were making progress before coming together with the fast-charging #5 Boutsen-Ginion Racing car, bringing a premature end to the race for both teams. The ART Grand Prix and ASM teams also ran well in the opening 12 hours of the race posting competitive lap times, but the demanding circuit and treacherous conditions saw both teams forced to retire.
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