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To come back next year!

Posted 01 Aug, 2013 by in Non classé @en0
To come back next year!

Hexis Racing’s Spa 24 Hours Anti Press Release written by Romane Didier, featuring the fantastic pictures by Antonin Grenier in PDF format.

The main thing about big adventures is that they don’t come along all that often and that things never quite go to plan, and therefore they give those lucky enough to live through them real and unique emotions.

The Total 24 Hours of Spa were to be Hexis Racing’s big adventure for the 2013 season, as it was a major race, and they were aiming to win. The whole team had prepared for this objective. Any uncertainties concerning their future only multiplied their determination, which through the accumulation of wins and titles, has become a defining quality of the team.

It was also a big celebration, shared by tens of thousands of people at various levels: the public who enjoyed the parade and the race, the team members, drivers, members of the press, officials and volunteers, without forgetting all those partygoers who got drunk on decibels during Saturday evening’s concert at the foot of the famous Raidillon.

Personally, the 24 Hours of Spa have given me many moments of passion, since my very first visit to Francorchamps. That was back in 1984, when Jaguar beat BMW in an event which gathered together the leading cars from the European Touring Car Championship.  Twenty-nine years later, I am happy and proud to have followed the race with the Hexis Racing team. Unfortunately, luck was not with them, but the memory of these days spent with the team will remain with me always.

The week started with the Wednesday afternoon parade, a moment to relax and meet the public who lined the eight kilometres between Francorchamps and Spa. GT cars are based on road cars, so they are quite capable of driving down the road to the city centre. On display around the Casino, the crowds flocked to admire them, a moment when motorsport takes over the city centre. Racing around tracks built in the middle of nowhere is good, but it is warming to see how a town, which has gained much from motorsport over the past century, welcomes the participants into their midst.

The cars then headed back to the track, with some surprising drivers behind the wheel! The nr 7 McLaren, for example, was in the hands of the team’s technician Pierre Comby, who had Alexander Sims as a co-driver. Back from their excursion, the teams had plenty of work in order to put the cars back into ‘circuit’ mode.  In order to go on the normal roads, it is vital to increase the ride-height in order to avoid damaging the undertray or the splitter on any bumps in the road.

Watching all the team members complete their final checks before the timed sessions began, I was delighted that the team had opted to be based in the old pit lane, full of history, right at the pit exit, in front of the Raidillon. Away from the comfort of the F1 garages, the media centre and the luxurious hospitality suites, the heart of the circuit nevertheless beats in the endurance pit lane. The garages may be minuscule, but Hexis had four of them, and, along with other advantages, this allowed the team to work in comfort.

I was also surprised by the team’s decision not to place their pit perch on the pit wall as all the other teams did. But what was the point in being one metre from the track, with the cars going by at over 200 kph? The computers and timing screens were set up in one of the four garages, well away from inclement weather, close to the rest of the team, and with an impressive view of the Raidillon. Invention is one of the many qualities of a team which has learned to question every given opinion.

Thursday was, for me, the most thrilling day. Under the oppressive July heat in the Ardennes, all 66 cars would finally be in action.  Everyone was keen to evaluate the potential of each brand, to see which team would be able to make the most of it.

The morning’s first free practice session was followed by the final warm-up, the pre-qualifying session. Everyone was ready for battle for the first qualifying session, which lived up to all expectations as far as the show was concerned. The second session, which took place under the full moon until midnight, was just as captivating. Those outside the top 20 were desperately hunting for that elusive tenth of a second to allow them to take part in Friday evening’s Superpole session. But with the track dirty, greasy and dusty, very few were able.

In the McLaren clan, Hexis Racing was satisfied with a job well done. Eighth on the combined qualifying timesheet, the team had met with no technical issues and was well ahead of the other MP4-12C cars, just as it had been in Silverstone and at the Paul Ricard. The closest car to them was that of Von Ryan Racing, shared by Bruno Senna, Rob Barff and factory test driver Chris Goodwin. It was 28th, over a second slower ! It was clear that the set-up defined by engineer Gautier Bouteiller was working perfectly, and once again, Alvaro Parente had proved his talent.

The team’s second car, the #107 entered in the Pro-Am category, was further back, in 44th place, but the car had been making steady progress since the start of the event. After all, for his first race in this category, and making his debut in the MP4-12C, Côme Ledogar was only 53 hundredths of a second slower than Senna, and 27 from the official McLaren GT driver Rob Bell behind the wheel of the Gulf Racing car.

However, for those close to the team, who could follow the expressions on the face of team manager Philippe Dumas, there was an element of resignation, confirmed the next day during the Superpole. Putting the McLaren tenth on the final starting grid, the team and their lead driver had done their job. They had got the most possible out of the car, but there was no longer any talk of victory. Objectives had been downgraded, with a top five finish becoming the most realistic aim. For that, a faultless performance would be necessary, needing to hope for bad luck from their rivals in order to claim a podium finish.

However, the race started like a fairy tale for Hexis Racing. Alvaro Parente put in a masterly performance, managing to avoid the chaos on the first time through the Raidillon, when Alessandro Pier Guidi’s Ferrari spun in front of the pack!  What a sublime surprise to see the car reach the Combes in third position!  The official McLaren GT driver put in a fine stint, being in the Top Three for the whole of the first hour.

But fate had other things in store for the French team. The nr 7 lost 18 laps due to a broken alternator cable connection. The nr 107 was stuck in the pits for eight laps, after the brake pedal remained stuck in position. Despite the torrid heat, the team worked hard to fix these issues, which tested them to the limit. But despite these worries and the effect they had on the team morale, everyone was soon back in the fight. To finish, to score points towards the Championship, it was well worth the hard work…

…Right up until the 7th hour of the race, when Alexander Sims collided with another car at the bus stop. He brought the nr 7, badly damaged, back to the pits. The team started the repairs, but the more they dismantled the car, the more they realised that it was seriously damaged. The phrase ‘to give up’ is not in the Hexis Racing dictionary, but Philippe Dumas had no other option but to fill out the form signalling their retirement.

Luckily, the nr 107 was still going round like a Blancpain watch, gaining places on a regular basis. 49th after three hours, it climbed back into the top 30 at the mid-race point. The team allowed me to listen in on the radio conversations with the driver. I heard them discuss the fuel consumption, the state of the track during a brief shower, and the encouragements from Philippe Dumas during the difficult double stints.

Around 5 am, I decided to head to the nearby hotel. Shortly afterwards, the nr 107 came to a final halt at the side of the track. When I woke up, it was my Auto Hebdo colleague who gave me the sad news by text message.

I could write many paragraphs on the understandable disappointment from the whole team, on the long hours of work and much sweat which had brought them to that point. For their second 24-hour race, Hexis Racing shone but did not reach their dream, and it is never easy to come down from such hopes and expectation! The biggest teams, the best-prepared factories, the most experienced drivers, have all gone through this phase. It is important to know that you gave your all, that you faced up to each difficulty with courage, and, most importantly… to come back the next year and try again!

Romane Didier

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