Defending Champions Team Bleekemolen Claim 24H Silverstone Pole


(Credit: Nick Smith/TheImageTeam.com)

The pole position for the 2018 Hankook 24H Silverstone has been claimed by the SEAT Leon TCR V3 SEQ of Team Bleekemolen and confirmed after all four drivers successfully completed night qualifying. Sebastiaan Bleekemolen, Melvin de Groot, Robert Smith and Rene Steinmetz took the pole by a slim margin of 0.334 seconds at the head of a hotly contested TCR field to get their title defence off to the best possible start with Sebastiaan setting the time just after the halfway marker.

Qualifying for the twice round the clock endure was shared with the 24H GT Series and 24H Proto runners and most of the issues during the session came courtesy of the more impressive machinery. The session took place under building clouds but the rain held off, the real issue for the teams came in temperature which while higher than a week ago were still rather low. Snow still lay in some of the circuits gravel traps but the circuit itself was clear.

Second place in the TCR field went the way of British GT and Volkswagen Racing Cup regulars J W Bird Motorsport and their Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR DSG. Familiarity with medium sized hatchbacks from several years running VW Sciroccos in the one make touring car championship saw the Paul Dehadray, Kieran Griffin, William Paul and Rory Butcher driven TCR machine step up to join Bleekemolen in the top three two laps after the pole time was set. Not even the new for 2018 Cupra branded Leon TCR could topple the slightly older Leon or the VW Golf with which it shares a platform.

The Kawasaki Racing by Bas Koeten Racing Cupra, one of three Cupra branded Leon entries making the new marques debut in competition just two weeks after its official launch, ended the session 0.795 off the pole time giving Kristian Jepsen, Jan Sorensen, Anthony Lambert and JM Littman the inside of the second row of the 24H Touring Car Endurance Series grid.

Of course, with the first seven hours of the race on Saturday being shared with the larger cars, pole position for the TCES will start behind the 21 car prototype and GT field.

Exceler8 Motorsport impressed on their first-time racing in TCR at the Silverstone 24, presenting a stunningly prepared Audi RS3 LMS SEQ TCR machine with several well known names from British motorsport. James Kaye has BTCC experience while Sandy Mitchell has raced in British GT4. Akhil Rabindra is the unknown quantity for the #106 machine, having plied his trade in the BRDC British Formula 4 and later Formula 3 championships, while Stuart Hall requires no introduction. David Marcussen joins these four experienced hands in the only Audi TCR in the field.

Rik Breukers and father Ivo Breukers share fifth place with Latvian co-driver Konstantins Calko in the family owned SEAT Leon TCR while sixth went to a slightly confusing entrat. Officially entered as a SEAT in the hands of LMS Racing by Bas Koeten Racing, the #129 machine carries all the badging of a Cupra rather than a SEAT., The second Leon entered as a Cupra placed seventh overall and one place behind the #129.

Eighth in the TCR class came the only factory-esque entry in the field. The Team Hyundai Denmark entered Hyundai I30N TCR looks new to the series in shape, livery and team but is actually run by the team formerly known as Team K-Risjer Eva Solo who raced the bright orange Peugeot RCZ in previous events. The driving team have history together but event his comraderie could not lift the I30 the 3.066 seconds to pole.

Team Hyundai can however take solace from the fact that they outpaced two of the stronger TCR machines out there in the form of the Holmgaard Motorsport and Motorsport Developpement Volkswagen Golf GTi TCRs, with DSG and Sequential gearboxes respectively.

Only two of the available classes have opted to race in the 24H Silverstone this year and the field will line up in grid order. Usually a single make class runner, the Hofor Racing powered bei Bonk Motorsport BMW M235i Racing Cup of Martin Kroll, Michael Schrey, Michael Fischer, Bernt Kupper and Gustav Engijahringer have been bumped from the Cup 1 class to A3. Not that it caused any issues for the team though as they grabbed class pole in eleventh place. The only other BMW Racing Cup car to enter came second in the A3 class with Philip Harris, Oliver Bryant, Grahame Bryant, Adam Dawson and William Plant sharing the driving duties for DUWO Racing.

Third in A3 was a shocker as Max Bladon, Rob Smith, Ricky Coomber, Szeto Wing Shaun and Clement Tong rounded out the top three. This is no offense to the drivers of the #134 Exceler8 Racing MINI F56 JCW, rather an acknowledgement of the improvement in pace and professionalism of the team since their car and series debut a year ago.

Fourth in class and fourteenth overall went to Synchro Motorsport’s pair of regular drivers Alyn James and Dan Wheeler, joined by Matt Neal. The team were forced to bring their older Honda Civic Type-R FK2 to Silverstone as due to their status as a factory team – a racing team that works in the Swindon Honda factory by day and races by night and weekend – their new for 2018 Honda Civic Type-R FK8 race car is on a stand at the Geneva Motor Show.

Rounding out the field, some 7.456 seconds off their nearest rival but still gaining pace right up to the end of the session, came the PDM Motorsport BMW Z3 M Coupe.

Night practice was under drastically different conditions and representative times were not posted. Red Camel-Jordans.nl took the top spot in a very wet session ahead of the pole sitters and the Holmgaard Motorsport Volkswagen. The running in darkness is officially a qualifying session, but one to qualify drivers rather than cars, with each driver turning in at least two laps to satisfy race control that they are able to race through the night.

The grid for the Hankook 24H Silverstone will form behind the 12H Silverstone runners for a 10:30 start on Saturday morning. Unlike several other 24H Touring Car Endurance Series events on the calendar however the Silverstone grid will not stop for a split race. Instead the field will go straight through and twice round the clock without cease.