After a wait of two years the SEAT Leon TCR of Red Camel-Jordans,nl has finally returned to the top step of a 24H Series podium after claiming victory in the Hankook 24H Silverstone. Konstantins Calko joined father and son duo Ivo and Rik Breukers in the #303 SEAT Leon V3 DSG machine equipped with an advanced active suspension system from sponsors Tractive.
The second round of the 2018 Touring Car Endurance Series took place on the Silverstone Grand Prix (Arena) layout in challenging conditions and shared its grid and first seven hours with the GT and Proto series. A diminished grid, in large part caused by the forced move to an early March date and logistical constraints with getting cars back from Dubai, fought hard for recognition in the early stages as a thrilling GT race came to its conclusion. The spectacle was then diminished by the lack of touring car runners, 15 entered and 2 retired by the 8th hour, but several true endurance stories emerged.
The TCES entrants were spared the worst of the rain suffered by the GT and Prototype runners on Friday. It was so bad in fact that Stuart Hall of the Exceler8 Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS entry went faster in the TCR car in night practice than he had achieved in the #31 ROFGO Racing Mercedes-AMG GT GT3 he raced in the 12H GT race immediately prior to practice.
Even the eventual winner has a tale to tell, being one of eleven cars in the final result, two of which were retired to receive post-race time penalties. More important to the result though was the big loss of time caused by an off track moment for Ivo Breukers in the early running. On one lap Ivo straight lined the Becketts esses providing images more familiar to rally fans than endurance racers. A lap later Breukers Snr was back and avoided the identical incident by turning shallower into the corner and running into the gravel trap. Now had he been able to carry straight on this would have been fine as wet gravel offers reasonable traction, unfortunately he turned 90 left and got stuck in his own tracks from the previous lap’s incident. A tow rope was required.
Several spectacular spins were also highlights to the Red Camel team’s race. The team were using an active suspension system provided by their main sponsor Tractive which allows the driver to control suspension stiffness, roll and yaw from a tablet computer bolted to the dash. This gave the car an amazing advantage in the wet conditions and the dry but resulted in a remarkably unforgiving car in transitional conditions which challenged all but Rik Breukers who looked in both SEAT and Lamborghini as if he could drive an Eel and set fastest lap.
2017 race winners Team Bleekemolen took second place two laps down on the leaders in an identical but for the trick suspension SEAT Leon. Rene Steinmetz, Melvin de Groot and Robert Smith joined Sebastiaan Bleekemolen in their title defence but couldn’t match the pace of the Red Camel machine when quick adjustments to the cars geometry were vital.
Rounding out the overall and TCR class podium was a piece of good news for the Volkswagen Group in general and SEAT’s new Cupra brand in particular. The new for 2018 branding was present on all three of Bas Koeten Racing’s SEAT Leon machines, though it was the one officially entered as a SEAT LCR TCR V2 DSG that carried Anti Buri, Karl-Pekka Laaksonen and Olll Kangas to a well deserved podium finish. That’s an all SEAT podium.
First of the non-Spanish machines went to the Holmgaard Motorsport entered #102 Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR DSG. In fact, in TCR, if it wasn’t a Volkswagen Group product it didn’t finish with NKPP Racing by Bas Koeten Racing finishing in fifith, Kawasaki Racing by Bas Koeten Racing in eighth overall chased by the J W Bird Motorsport Volkswagen in ninth. The Exceler8 Audi would finish in 11th overall and the final runner in the class.
Most impressive performance should probably go to British GT racer Rory Butcher in the J W Bird VW Golf. The car is new to the team and the team new to the series but Rory shot off at the start like the proverbial scalded cat to a 38 lap stint at the head of the TCES field before the more experienced teams got to grips with the conditions and began to overhaul.
The only other class in the race was the A2 class, serving as a bit of catch all for five cars, two of which would usually be racing in the Cup 1 BMW 235i Racing Cup class. Unsurprisingly these factory built racers dominated the class, finishing 34 laps and 31 laps ahead of the nearest class rival. Hofor Racing powered bei Bonk Motorsport took the class victory for Martin Kroll, Michael Schrey, Michael Fischer, Bernd Kupper and Gustav Engliaeheringer. Duwo Racing came in second place with a fan favorite rounding out the podium.
PDM Motorsport are a brave lot for turning out to race against two factory-built BMW race cars, a MINI built for endurance racing by the biggest team in MINI Challenge and a Honda Civic built and race proven over five years by factory workers from the Honda plant in Swindon. These are rivals to give pause to some of the best cars and teams in production car racing.
PDM arrived to race with a 19 year old BMW from obscurity. The Z3M Coupe was never a factory race car, was never a big seller and was replaced in reasonably quick fashion by the bigger and faster Z4. None of this worried the PDM crew who turned up, set up and set about their business of quietly, without fanfare or fireworks, creeping up the order to a class podium. Thus proving beyond doubt, that you can go racing on a budget.
Tales of woe in the Hankook 24H Silverstone are never few but this years woe was greater than normal. Motorsport Developpement turned in just 36 laps in their beautifully presented but rather unrealiable Volkswagen Golf TCR machine. They were packed up and ready to roll when the paddock gates were opened to allow the 12H runners to vacate the circuit.
Team Hyundai Denmark were looking great for the first eight or so hours in their brand new i30 N TCR. Unfortunately new car problems come for more than one direction and it wasn’t the damage the car sustained which ended their effort before 20:00 on Saturday but a lack of spare parts. Wishbones and drive shafts being the problem and with no other Hyundai teams at the track to poach from Soren Jonsson’s face dropped on live TV as he was told the car was out.
Synchro Motorsport were trialled as usual, this 24 hours reminding all who were present of the 2012 Silverstone 24 in which engines and gearboxes were being changed as often as drivers in the old but loved Honda Jazz. It wasn’t quite as arduous this year for Alyn James, Dan Wheeler and BTCC legend Matt Neal. An early cooling issue was tracked to a pinprick split in a coolant hose, and excuse readily grabbed by Alyn when offered for a rather impressive 720 degree spin at Becketts in the gathering gloom.
Matt Neal wasn’t above a problem or two either with the conditions, faster traffic and an ailing FK2 Civic to deal with, he found himself in Ivo Breuker’s freshly ploughed vegetable garden at Becketts and in need of a two rope. Then the real work started as the engine finally let go. Synchro don’t know how to say ‘I give up’ so out came a spare engine for a car which turned its last lap in a frontline race this weekend. New Type-R engine and sequential gearbox installed the team were back out on track but determined to finish in 12th place overall and in the pit lane.
The Swindon team will no doubt be glad to get the car back to the workshop and begin preparing their new shape FK8 Civic for its competitive debut at Silverstone in April during the Britcar Endurance Championship.
Still greater challenges were faced by the Exceler8 Motorsport outfit though who for five hours straight had one car or the other in the garage on Saturday evening. The #134 MINI R56 JCW would break a track rod early on and require attention before heading back out and developing engine problems. Max Bladon, Clemont Tong, Rob Smith, Szeto Wing Shun and Ricky Coomber waited patiently for the team to carry out a full engine change in less than 4 hours before heading back out and developing yet more problems. Oh, and they had another crash.
Meanwhile the Audi RS3 LMS run by the team was giving them greif as well. David Marcussen, Akhil Rabindra, Sandy Mitchell and James Kaye suffered from an electrical issue throughout the first eight hours which was eventually traced to the turbo wastegate. Still both the Exceler8 problem children were repaired, resent and classified as running finishers at the end. An amazing effort from the team.
Cars were not the only thing to stop either, the early morning came with a thick band of fog which caused a four and three-quarter hour stoppage to the race which resumed at 06:45, just in time for Radiolemans.com to resume coverage. Had it not been for this delay the 411 laps of the leader could very well have hit the milestone 500 laps mark by the end of the race.
The 24H Series Touring Car Endurance Series returns to action at Imola in May while the GT and Prototype fields race at Navarra in April.