Only 20 days after the test sessions Tech 1 Racing was back at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit to kick off the hectic Total 24 Hours of Spa week in stifling heat.
The team’s four drivers soon found their marks again on the Belgian roller-coaster before qualifying in which the Lexus RC F GT3 clinched fifth place in its category thanks to the successive efforts of Cayrolle, Delhez, Barthez and Buret in the four timed sessions on Thursday evening.
After a final nighttime practice, rain greeted the competitor for the start on Saturday at 16:30. The field had to do three laps behind the safety car before being unleashed. Delhez was given the task of doing the first two stints and drove very carefully in these unfamiliar conditions while several competitors made mistakes.
In the opening hours of the race perturbed by several neutralisations whose timing was anything but helpful to the team, Cayrolle kept #23 in eighth place despite a radio failure after which Barthez and Buret called on all their talent to move up into sixth.
As always the Spa night provided its fair share of twists beginning with the return of showers. Silver driver Buret took full advantage of the wet conditions to shine as he was the quickest in the Am category on the track and he ate into the gap separating Tech 1 Racing from the leaders. But execrable weather conditions made driving increasingly difficult and led to the red flag being waved before 06:00 on Sunday morning.
After more than five-hours of interruption the race was restarted for a final five-hour sprint to the chequered flag. Buret, now on slicks, went into maximum attack mode and got the better of the #488 Ferrari putting the Lexus RC F GT3 in fifth place with three hours to go. Barthez and Delhez also did their bit, but the Belgian hit a technical glitch that caused an off and a long pit stop in the final hour.
In a final flourish, the Tech 1 Racing team found the necessary resources to save its sixth place in the AM Cup at the end of its first Total 24 Hours of Spa.
“Above all, we’re delighted to have finished our first Total 24 Hours of Spa,” analysed Simon Abadie, the Tech 1 Racing Team Manager. “We finished sixth despite conditions that didn’t really help us because of our lack of running in the rain. The showers made things very difficult for the Gentlemen drivers, all the more so as our aim in practice was to find a very good balance in the dry to make things easier for them. In fact, we did so and you could see that in qualifying as third place was within our grasp.
“None of our four drivers made a mistake in the very different race conditions. When the rain arrived, Bernard made a very careful start and we lost a bit of time by putting him on slicks just before another shower hit the circuit. We quickly lost a lap due to neutralisations, but he pulled out all the stops to fight back as did Éric and Fabien who played their part to keep us in the match. In parallel, Timothé was very quick during the night on rain tyres and also on slicks when the race restarted on Sunday lunchtime. We were hoping for better than sixth, but it’s the place we deserved as it was so difficult to hope to do better this weekend. Unlike other events we’ve no reason to have regrets. The drivers, engineers and mechanics all did a great job. Refuelling and driver changes went off without a hitch like the technical stop, which we discovered this week, and we never gave up trying to save our sixth place despite our problems in the final hour.
“We were a bit apprehensive coming into our first Total 24 Hours of Spa,” concluded Abadie. “We were warned that it was radically different from the Le Mans; and it’s true that I’ve rarely seen races like this one! It was a battle for warriors with seventy-two hard chargers sent out on the track and may the best win! You have to be on a war footing all the time and even if the cars are more and more reliable the Spa circuit, the weather, the accidents and the rhythm exhaust everybody. So I’m very proud that our team saw the finish with the unfailing support of Lexus, which helped us to tackle this iconic event. We’re now going to rest and prepare for the last endurance race of the season in Barcelona and try to train ourselves in other 24-Hour events to learn and turn up next year with our skills more finely honed!”
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