Thursday, January 14, 2021

2021 Dubai 24 Hour Preview

The first major 24-hour race of the sports car racing year is back, as the Dubai 24 Hour returns for its 16th edition. 

Last year's race was significantly shortened due to rain with only 168 laps being completed in seven hours and 18 minutes of race time. The race was not officially called until after an eight-hour and 48-minute red flag period due to flooding of the circuit. Prior to last year, the fewest laps completed in event history was 504 laps in 2008. 

While this event is scheduled during the middle of the pandemic, we are looking at a reduced grid compared to previous years with 53 total entries. Only 17 cars are entered between the two GT3 classes, but we will look at each entry and get a sense of who will be fighting for the overall victory. 

#4 HRT Bilstein Mercedes-AMG GT3 EVO 2020
Drivers: Khaled Al Qubaisi, Hubert Haupt, Maro Engel, Patrick Assenheimer, Ryan Ratcliffe
Why this team could win: Last year, Al Qubaisi and Haupt became the first three-time winner of the Dubai 24 Hour along with Jeroen Bleekemolen. Mercedes-AMG is tied with Porsche for most Dubai 24 Hour victories at five. Engel has won the 24 Hours Nürburgring and he was third in ADAC GT Masters last year. Engel and Assenheimer were co-drivers in the Nürburgring Langstrecken Series in 2020. Ratcliffe is coming off being second in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB Pro-Am class.
Why this team won't win: No manufacture has won the Dubai 24 Hours in consecutive years since Mercedes-AMG did it in 2012 and 2013. No driver has won this race in consecutive years since 2012 and 2013 when Al Qubaisi, Bleekemolen and Sean Edwards did it. Perhaps last year's rain-shortened race will throw off this trend. This will be a contender for the overall victory.

#7 Dinamic Motorsport Porsche 9111 GT3 R (911 II)
Drivers: Roberto Pampanini, Mauro Calamia, Stefano Monaco, Matteo Cairoli
Why this team could win: Cairoli drove for Dinamic in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup last year and they were third in the championship with a victory at the Nürburgring. Monaco and Pampanini won in the 991 class at Pergusa last year. Calamia, Monaco and Pampanini were second overall in the Gulf 12 Hours at Bahrain last week.
Why this team won't win: Though this team had a good result at Bahrain last week, that was a weaker field compared to this race and there were only 12 cars total in the field. I think Cairoli could use some more help in this team and they will not have the muscle to win a 24-hour race. 

#31 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo 2019
Drivers: Kelvin van der Linde, Dries Vanthoor, Frank Bird, Benjamin Goethe, Louis Machiels
Why this team could win: Van der Linde has been a budding Audi driver over the last few seasons and won a handful of races over GT World Challenge Europe Endurance and Sprint series and ADAC GT Masters. Vanthoor was the 2020 GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup champion. Machiels was second in the GT World Challenge Europe Pro-Am championship. WRT has won nearly every major GT3 endurance race, including this one in 2016.
Why this team won't win: When looking at other lineups, I am not sure Bird and Goethe match in quality to the bottom two drivers in some of these other four- and five-driver lineups. 

#36 GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R (911 II)
Drivers: Axcil Jefferies, Julien Andlauer, Frédéric Fatien, Mathieu Jaminet, Alain Ferté
Why this team could win: Fatien and Jaminet won the Coppa Florio at Pergusa last year. Jefferies was second in the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Silver Cup championship. Andlauer picked up two victories in the Michelin Le Mans Cup. Ferté won this race in 2016.
Why this team won't win: It is a pretty good lineup, but it is possible someone else has a better day or this car hits some trouble and loses too much time.

#63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo 2019
Drivers: Rik Breukers, Adrian Amstutz, Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti
Why this team could win: Amstutz and Ineichen won this race in 2014. Breukers won this race in 2019. Ineichen, Breukers and Bortolotti won the 24 Hours of Daytona in the GTD class together twice. Grasser is a heavily successful team.
Why this team won't win: A German manufacture has won this race every year. That trend is bound to end eventually, but currently that fact is not on this team's side. We have seen plenty of good teams in Lamborghinis or Ferraris or Aston Martins in this race that looked like potential winners. Grasser has the potential. 

#83 Racetivity Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo 2020
Drivers: François Perrodo, Charles-Henri Samani, Emmanuel Collard, Matthieu Vaxivière
Why this team could win: Perrodo and Collard won the Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers last year and it was their second time winning that championship. If they can win in the FIA World Endurance Championship, they can win this race. Vaxivière has been an all-around sports car success story with multiple LMP2 class podium finishes at Le Mans and he even has runner-up finishes at Sebring and Petit Le Mans. Perrodo, Collard and Vaxivière have all raced together before.
Why this team won't win: Samani is the one unknown, but there are not many reasons to doubt this team. Anything can happen in the 24-hour race. This team is not going to struggle. 

#92 Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R (991 II)
Drivers: Klaus Bachler, Jürgen Häring, Sven Müller, Wolfgang Triller, Vincent Kolb
Why this team could win: Häring won two races last year in the GT3-Am class. Müller is a Porsche factory driver. Bachler and Kolb won the 24 Hours Barcelona together in 2019. Triller spent 2020 in the European Le Mans Series LMP3 class, where his best result was sixth.
Why this team won't win: I just don't think this lineup is good enough. It isn't the best Herberth Motorsport entry in this race. It is hard to win when you are only second best in your own team. 

#99 Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo 2019
Drivers: Markus Winkelhock, Philipp Sager, Christopher Mies, Finlay Hutchison, Alex Aka
Why this team could win: Winkelhock is a three-time 24 Hours Nürburgring winner and he has won the 24 Hours of Spa twice. Mies was a part of one of those Nürburgring victories. Both drivers have won GT World Challenge Europe championships. Hutchison and Sager are experienced in this event. Sager drove in Porsche Supercup last year. Hutchison and Aka were co-drivers in three GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup races last year.
Why this team won't win: I feel like this team will be too dependent on Winkelhock and Mies and there is only so much the two of them can do. Also, Winkelhock is in a bit of a slump, having not won a race in any category since 2018.

#5 HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo 2020
Drivers: Khaled Al Qubaisi, Valentin Pierburg, Patrick Assenheimer, Florain Scholze, Nico Bastian
Why this team could win: We touched upon Al Qubaisi and Assenheimer above. Bastian is a regular champion in the GT World Challenge Europe Silver Cup, including winning it in both Endurance and Sprint Cup in 2019. Scholze was the 2019 GTWC Europe Am Cup champion in the sprint series. 
Why this team won't win: I have a feeling Pierburg, Scholze and Bastian will be spending most of the time in this car with this being Al Qubaisi and Assenheimer's fall back if the #4 Mercedes-AMG hits some trouble. It is the second car in the team, I doubt it will be fighting for the overall victory, but it could be fighting for top honors in GT3-AM. 

#13 Team Zakspeed Dodge SRT Viper GT3-R
Drivers: Manuel Lauck, Hendrik Still, Evegny Kireev, Sergey Stolyarov, Victor Shaytar
Why this team could win: Shaytar formerly was a successful driver in the FIA World Endurance Championship and European Le Mans Series. Still has competed mostly in GT3 competition. 
Why this team won't win: I didn't know the Dodge Viper was still an eligible car for GT3 competitions and this lineup does not match well with the rest of the GT3 entries in terms of experience.

#19 MP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 (2019)
Drivers: Daniel de Jong, Henk de Jong, Bert de Heus, Jaap van Lagen
Why this team could win: MP Motorsport won this class last year with this exact same lineup. MP Motorsport is an experienced team in this event. 
Why this team won't win: An overall victory is a stretch, but they could successfully defend the GT3-AM race victory. There will be a few challengers up to the task.

#34 Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo 2019
Drivers: Johannes Dr. Kirchhoff, Gustav Edelhoff, Elmar Grimm, Ingo Vogler, Max Edelhoff
Why this team could win: This is a regular entry in the Dubai 24 Hour and the 24H Series. This lineup won at Circuit of the Americas in the GT3-AM class in 2019. Car Collection Motorsport did win overall in this race two years ago.
Why this team won't win: That team that won overall two years ago featured Christopher Haase, Rik Breukers, Frédéric Vervisch and Dimitri Parhfoer. If enough teams run into trouble, the #34 Audi could be in position to capitalize. 

#72 Inception Racing by Optimum McLaren 720S GT3
Drivers: Brendan Iribe, Ollie Millroy, Nick Moss, Joe Osborne
Why this team could win: Millroy is a veteran of Asian Le Mans Series. Osborne is a British GT race winner. This lineup has some experience together. Iribe, Moss and Millroy ran the 2019 Gulf 12 Hours together. Iribe and Millroy ran one British GT round last year, finishing seventh at Silverstone.
Why this team won't win: This will be the first McLaren entry in a GT3 in the history of the Dubai 24 Hour. While McLaren has found moderate success in GT3 racing, it does not have a lot of endurance race success. I can't think of a 24-hour race McLaren has won or at least been in contention. That could be the one thing that brings this team down. Car aside, Iribe and Moss don't have enough experience to compete for a class victory let alone an overall victory. 

#85 CP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo 2020
Drivers: Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub, Joe Foster, Shane Lewis
Why this team could win: This team has won the last three 24H Series races in the GT3-AM class. They are regular race winners in this series. 
Why this team won't win: Something always seems to catch them out in Dubai. Plus, with the depth of the field, I think an overall victory is out of reach, but a class victory is absolutely possible.

#88 Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo 2019
Drivers: Kim Holmgaard, Tim Müller, Milan Dontje, Martin Lechmann
Why this team could win: Dontje previously was a GT4 European Series Silver Cup champion. Holmgaard has spent run Dubai in a variety of class, including TCR and the 997 class. Lechmann won a race in the Lamborghini Cup class of the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe series last year.
Why this team won't win: Too many drivers getting their first crack in the GT3 class.

#91 Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R (991 II)
Drivers: Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Robert Renauer, Alfred Renauer
Why this team could win: These four drivers won two 24H Series races last year in the GT3-Pro class with Bohn, Allemann and Robert Renauer winning three races together. They also won this race in 2017 with Brendon Hartley.
Why this team won't win: It doesn't have Brendon Hartley. In all seriousness though, it is a good combination, but I feel like there are a handful of cars that are a tad stronger, as is usual with the Dubai 24 Hour.

#93 Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R (991 II)
Drivers: Antares Au, Steffen Görig, Daniel Lloyd, John Loggie
Why this team could win: Görig made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut last year in the GTE-Am class, but that race lasted only 80 laps, but this is a pretty amateur lineup with the other three drivers not being regular competitors in any other championship.
Why this team won't win: It is the third of three Herberth entries.

The race record for most laps completed was 628 in 2012 when Al Qubaisi, Bleekemolen, Edwards and Thomas Jäger won the race. However, the next most laps completed in a Dubai 24 Hour was 608 in 2010.

Not only have German manufactures dominated winning Dubai overall, they have dominated the podium with non-German manufactures finishing on the podium only six times in the first 15 years of this race. Only twice has a non-German make been the runner-up finisher. On both occasions, it was a Ferrari in 2011 and 2013. 

Only twice has the overall winning team not included at least one German driver, 2008 with Australians Jonathon Webb and Klark Quick, Briton Tony Quinn and New Zealander Craig Baird; and 2016 with Brits Stuart Leonard and Michael Meadows, Belgian Laurens Vanthoor and Frenchman Alain Ferté.

This year's Dubai 24 Hour will begin at 6:00 a.m. ET on Friday January 15.