Friday, January 5, 2018

2018 Dubai 24 Hour Preview: Part I (A6 Class)

The season of previews continues and we have the first endurance race of the season on the cards. The January jewel in the Persian Gulf, the Dubai 24 Hour returns for the 13th consecutive year. The race is still a week away but there is so much to cover that the race has to be previewed now. Once again, this event has an impressive entry list of drivers and for the second consecutive year this preview has to be broken into two parts.

This part features the A6 class, both PRO entries and AM entries. The A6 class is predominantly filled with GT3 entries and it is the class that will likely take the overall victory. Twenty-five cars are entered in the A6 class for the 2018 race with 11 PRO entries and 15 AM entries. This preview will look at each entry; give you the drivers entered for each car, a reason why that car could win the Dubai 24 Hour and a reason why that car won't win the Dubai 24 Hour. We will start with the Pro entries.

Note that this is using the entry list of Friday January 5th and could be changed in the coming week.

#2 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Abdulaziz Al Faisal, Hubert Haput, Yelmer Buurman, Gabriele Paiani
Why this car could win: Black Falcon has won this race three times and Al Faisal, Haupt and Buurman won in 2015 with Oliver Webb. This team also finished third last year, the top Mercedes.
Why this car won't win: Mercedes-AMG has not won the last two years at Dubai and the manufacture didn't win a 24H Series race overall in 2017. Plus, the #2 Mercedes has a very tough teammate.

#3 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Khaled Al Qubaisi, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Luca Stolz, Manuel Metzger
Why this car could win: Al Qubaisi and Bleekemolen won the 2012 and 2013 Dubai 24 Hour. Bleekemolen is one of the more underrated GT drivers in the world. Metzger won the 2016 24 Hours Nürburgring with Black Falcon
Why this car won't win: Stolz is the young driver in the group and I don't want to say he is the weakest link. This could be his breakout race.

#5 Ram Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Remon Leonard Vos, Tom Onslow-Cole, Euan Hankey
Why this car could win: Tom Onslow-Cole won the 2015 24H Series A6 class champion and Euan Hankey finished second in the 2017 European Le Mans Series GT championship. Leonard Vos and Onslow-Cole finished fourth last year in the 12H Mugello and third in the 12H Imola.
Why this car won't win: The Dubai 24 Hour has only been won by a team of three drivers once and that was 2010. A British team has never won the Dubai 24 Hour.

#8 Lambda Performance Ford GT Lambda
Drivers: Nico Verdonck, Frank Kechele, Csaba Walter, Daniel Keilwitz
Why this car could win: Keilwitz finished second in the 2017 ADAC GT Masters championship and this could be a breakout year for the soon-to-be Pirelli World Challenge driver. Nico Verdonck has sports car experience. Verdonck and Kechele drove this car to a seventh and second-place finish in the 2015 ADAC GT Masters season finale at Hockenheim.
Why this car won't win: I don't know about this car. Lambda ran this car sporadically in ADAC GT Masters from 2012 to 2015. It had some good races but I think it is asking at lot for this to win a 24-hour race.

#9 BWT Mücke Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Markus Winkelhock, Mike-David Ortmann, Andreas Weishaupt, Ricardo Feller, Christer Jöns
Why this car could win: Winkelhock is one of Audi's top drivers. Jöns has won at Bathurst and the Nürburgring. Weishaupt won the ADAC GT Masters Gentleman Class championship in 2015. Feller and Ortmann are two younger drivers with Feller driving for the Audi Sport racing academy and Ortmann having run Formula 4
Why this car won't win: This might be a line-up where, while being balanced between experienced drivers and young drivers, it could lack the depth needed compared to some of the other A6 entries.

#12 Manthey Racing Porsche 991 GT3 R
Drivers: Otto Klohs, Lars Kern, Matheiu Jaminet, Sven Müller
Why this car could win: This is as close to a factory team as you can get. Jaminet and Müller are two of the top young Porsche drivers and this race could be a breakout for both of them. Klohs and Müller finished second in last year's race driving for Manthey.
Why this car won't win: Porsche won last year and the last three Dubai 24 Hours have been won by three different manufactures.

#20 D'station Racing Porsche 991 GT3 R
Drivers: Satoshi Hoshino, Seiji Ara, Tomonobu Fujii, Tsubasa Kondo
Why this car could win: Ara has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Fujii has won multiple 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Ara, Hoshino and Kondo finished third in the 2017 Super Taikyu ST-X championship.
Why this car won't win: This is a big step up for this team and to win this race with the depth of the field is a major task.

#28 GP Extreme Renault RS01 GT3
Drivers: Jean-Pierre Valentini, Axcil Jefferies, Nicky Pastorelli, Alban Varutti
Why this car could win: This might be one of the best looking cars on the grid. The car has won races in the International GT Open. Pastorelli has Dubai 24 Hour experience and ran a handful of Champ Car races in 2006. Jefferies has run Formula Two races and Indy Lights and he has moved onto Lamborghini Super Trofeo. Valentini and Jeffries ran together for GP Extreme at Circuit Paul Ricard and Portimão with Pastorelli joining the team in Portugal.
Why this car won't win: It is an inexperienced line-up plus I don't think the car can beat the German manufactures.

#96 Optimum Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Christopher Haase, Bradley Ellis, Oliver Wilkinson
Why this car could win: Haase is a marvel in endurance races and there aren't many he hasn't won. However, this is one missing from his trophy case and I am sure he will be motivated. Haase and Optimum Motorsport finished fourth last year at Dubai. Ellis won the 2007 British GT Championship. Wilkinson ran in GT4 with Optimum Motorsport at Portimão last year.
Why this car won't win: We have already covered three-drive line-ups and I think Ellis and Wilkinson are at least a year away from being able to win this race.

#777 MS7 by WRT Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Mohammed Bin Saud Al Saud, Michael Vergers, Dries Vanthoor, Christopher Mies
Why this car could win: Like Christopher Haase, Christopher Mies has won his fair share of endurance races and he too has not won the Dubai 24 Hour. Dries Vanthoor had a good season in the Blancpain GT Series last year. Vergers and Al Saud finished sixth in this race last year with Marcel Fässler as one of their co-drivers.
Why this car won't win: This is a good line-up and WRT won the 2016 Dubai 24 Hour. It is hard to come up with a reason why this car won't win. If it doesn't win it is because it is outright beat or something breaks.

#964 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Mark Ineichen, Rolf Ineichen, Christian Engelhart, Mirko Bortolotti
Why this car could win: This team won last year's Blancpain GT Series champions and the Ineichen won the 2014 Dubai 24 Hour. GRT Grasser Racing Team's Blancpain GT Series title broke a stranglehold German manufactures on the championship.
Why this car won't win: Every Dubai 24 Hour has been won by a German manufacture. The top finishing Lamborghini last year was the SPX-class winning Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo, 18th overall, and the top A6 class Lamborghini was 21st overall.

#1 Hofor-Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Michael Kroll, Chantal Kroll, Roland Eggimann, Kenneth Heyer, Christiaan Frankenhout
Why this car could win: Hofor-Racing is the dominant team in 24H Series. It won four of seven A6-AM races last year and the team has won the A6-AM class the last two years.
Why this car won't win: It hasn't be able to beat the Herberth Motorsport Porsche for overall victories and the A6 class grid is much deeper than most 24H Series races.

#7 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Kriton Lendoudis, Rui Águas, Saud Al Faisal, Saeed Al Mouri
Why this car could win: Black Falcon always fields contenders and Águas has been a successful GT driver.
Why this car won't win: It is an inexperienced line-up and will struggle to beat its teammates.

#16 SPS automotive performance Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Valentin Pierburg, Tim Müller, Lance David Arnold, Dominik Baumann
Why this car could win: Arnold, Müller and Pierburg have been regular Dubai 24 Hour competitors.
Why this car won't win: This car isn't even in the top five best Mercedes-AMGs.

#18 V8 Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6-ZR1
Drivers: Luc Braams, Duncan Huisman, Alex van t'Hoff, Rick Abresch, Finlay Hutchison
Why this car could win: V8 Racing always brings a Corvette and it always runs well for part of the Dubai 24 Hour.
Why this car won't win: It hasn't run well for the entire Dubai 24 Hour and it is outnumbered by German cars.

#19 MP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Daniel de Jong, Henk de Jong, Bert de Heus
Why this car could win: Daniel de Jong has had success in junior formula racing and MP Motorsport has fielded some good junior formula programs.
Why this car won't win: Three drivers and this is an all-Dutch line-up and no Dubai 24 Hour overall winner has had all its drivers hail from the same country.

#24 SPS automotive performance Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Alexandre Coigny, Iradj Alexander, Richard Feller, Antonin Borga
Why this car could win: It is another Dubai 24 Hour regular.
Why this car won't win: See its teammate plus it is an all-Swiss line-up and what did we say with the MP Motorsport entry?

#25 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Alexander Hrachowina, Indy Dontje, Bernd Schneider, Martin Konrad, Brice Bosi
Why this car could win: Schneider has won this race prior and Dontje is an up-and-coming driver. HTP Motorsport has been a successful team in GT3 endurance racing.
Why this car won't win: I don't think the line-up is going to beat some of the big boys.

#27 GP Extreme Renault RS01 GT3
Drivers: Frédéric Fatien, Roald Goethe, Stuart Hall, Jordon Grogor
Why this car could win: Hall and Goethe have been Aston Martin factory drivers and won the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship GTE-AM championship. Fatien and Grogor have been regular 24H Series competitors.
Why this car won't win: I will say this team is a sleeper but, as with its sister car, it has a mighty task to top the German manufactures.

#33 Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Dirg Parhofer, Dimitri Parhofer, Rémi Terrail, Ali Çapan, Frank Stippler
Why this car could win: The car also won in A6-AM at Imola and Dimitri Parhofer was one of the drivers to win at Imola. Car Collection Motorsport did win in A6-AM at Circuit of the Americas in November.
Why this car won't win: The field is really deep and this is a driver line-up that hasn't spent a lot of time together.

#34 Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Johannes Dr. Kirchhoff, Gustav Edelhoff, Elmar Grimm, Ingo Vogler, Wiggo Dalmo
Why this car could win: This is the team that won at Circuit of the Americas with the exception being Dalmo in for Max Edelhoff. This is an experienced group of drivers.
Why this car won't win: The field is a lot deeper that it was in Texas.

#66 Attempto Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Why this car could win: Without any drivers I am not sure I can find a reason why it could.
Why this car won't win: It is hard to win without any drivers.

#85 PROsport Performance Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub, Joe Foster, Adam Christodoulou
Why this car could win: Putman, Espenlaub and Foster are making the step up after winning the 2017 24H Series 991 class championship. Christodoulou finished on the Dubai 24 Hour A6-PRO podium twice and he has class victories in the 24 Hours Nürburgring.
Why this car won't win: It is a big step up from 991 class to A6 however I would not be surprised if this car does well because the drivers take care of it and doesn't put it in a position it shouldn't be in.

#911 Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Robert Renauer, Alfred Renauer, Dennis Olsen
Why this car could win: This is the defending Dubai 24 Hour winner and outside of Brendon Hartley exiting for Dennis Olsen, it is the same line-up. Olsen finished second in the 2017 Porsche Supercup and he won three races. This team won four 24H Series races last year.
Why this car won't win: Repeating is difficult and only twice has a team successfully defended a Dubai 24 Hour victory.

#963 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Mark Ineichen, Roberto Pampanini, Christoph Lenz, Mauro Calamia, Rik Breukers
Why this car could win: Ineichen has won the Dubai 24 Hour before. Breukers is making a step up and GRT Grasser Racing Team is a top team.
Why this car won't win: It is the second-best of the Grasser Lamborghinis.

#991 Gulf Racing Japan Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: John Wartique, Nicolas Saelens, Philipp Sager, Hisashi Kunie, Kimihiro Yashiro
Why this car could win: Gulf Racing Japan finished eighth in the Super GT Series GT300 championship. Plus, the car is in the famous Gulf Racing livery. That has to given them an extra couple tenths of a second.
Why this car won't win: Not the most experienced line-up and a livery can only do so much.

Coming next week we will be a look at a handful of other interesting Dubai 24 Hour entries from the other eight classes.