24H Series: Samantha Tan out of 12H of Paul Ricard, Corinna Gostner P11
The first 12H of Paul Ricard proved to be an unlucky round for GT4 championship leader Samantha Tan Racing, as the Canadian squad had to retire with engine issues 3 hours into the race. In the GT3 category, Corinna Gostner brought home the MP Racing Mercedes in P6.
The first ever international racing season for 23-year old Samantha Tan had started in the best possible way: a victory in the prestigious 24 Hours of Dubai and another class win at the following 6H of Abu Dhabi – a non-championship race that preceded the European season of the CREVENTIC 24H Season.
At the Mugello 12H, the Canadian lady and her Samantha Tan Racing squad were for the first time on unknown territory, having never raced on any of the racetracks featured on the 2021 24H Series. Nevertheless, the team composed of Samantha, Chandler Hull and Jon Miller were able to claim GT4 pole position on Friday at the Italian circuit and went on to lead most of the first part of the race, until a broken wheel hub cost ST Racing a little over 20 laps.
Despite a smoother Part 2, the North American outfit could not close the gap to the leading GT4 Porsche of Centri Ticino and finished second in class – still bagging significant points for the championship.
Less than a month later, the now championship leading Samantha Tan Racing travelled to the current home of the French Grand Prix, Circuit Paul Ricard, for the 12H race at Le Castellet. At the third points-paying round of the season, though, the grid lost some of its female participants: Mugello podium finisher Karen Gaillard (Vortex V8) wasn't back with the French squad and had to leave her second place in the championship standings in the GT division to a new Vortex trio.
A very strong full-season entry in the TCR category is the Autorama by Wolf Power Racing, which has consistently lined up Swiss racer Jasmin Preisig in the #112 WV Golf GTI TCR. A monumental crash in the Mugello free practice by one of Preisig's teammates took the team out of contention even before the race start and, while the car was back on the grid at Paul Ricard, Preisig was missing from the French round.
Competing in the pole-sitting TCE car in Italy, Sandra van der Sloot was also not found in the latest entry list – leaving Samantha Tan and Corinna Gostner the only two female entrants in France.
The #438 BMW M4 GT4 was again put on class pole position by Jon Miller on Friday, as the #401 PROSport Aston Martin Vantage GT4 was forced to sit out the session due to a practice start that required a full car swap. The car was back for the night practice and showed good speed, proving that the battle for GT4 class victory would be closely fought in the race.
The #58 MP Racing Mercedes AMG GT3 of the Gostner family – which at Mugello also featured an appearance by ELMS and WEC racer Manuela – was sixth fastest after a very solid lap by David Gostner in the final stages of the 30-minute qualify.
Ahead, it was also very close between the #8 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 and the two Herberth Motorsport Porsches, with also the Audi R8 LMS GT3 by German powerhouse Rutronik Racing and the MiddleCap by Scuderia Praha Ferrari not far behind.
On a sunny day in the South of France, the lights went off for the first ever 12H of Paul Ricard at 10am local: as the cars approached the first corner chaos broke loose. David Gostner in the #58 Mercedes was squeezed and pushed wide; the Italian went off track and, in rejoining, hit hardly the #92 Herberth Motorsport Porsche of Bobby Gonzales and the #8 Kessel Racing Ferrari. The latter was heavily damaged and, despite being recovered back to the pits, was soon forced to retire. The #92 Porsche had a similar fate, while the bright green MP Racing Mercedes survived the contact and was actually up to fourth overall.
Former GP2 driver Josef Kral led in the MiddleCap Ferrari, followed by the #91 Herberth Porsche and the Rutronik Audi. Jon Miller took the start in the #438 Samantha Tan Racing BMW – this weekend also including in its lineup Nick Wittmer. Miller held first place in GT4 in the opening laps and was up to P13 overall.
The #701 Vortex was temporarily up to sixth overall and GTX leader, then was spun around and pitted with rear-left suspension damage. When the #278 Ginetta of Colin White came to a halt, the first Code-60 of the day was deployed to allow the recovery of the vehicle.
The leaders took advantage of the neutralization to complete their first stop, which left David Gostner in the overall lead. He would later receive a 30 seconds penalty for overtaking under yellow.
The PROSport Aston Martin moved up into the lead in GT4 (P10 overall), as Nico Verdonck passed Miller in the ST Racing BMW.
After one hour, Gostner pitted for fuel, handing back the top of the classify to Josef Kral. In GT4, Miller held second, approximately 30 seconds behind Verdonck. But, one hour and a half into the race, the American driver had to pull back into the pits for another broken wheel hub. The mechanics did a great job by sending the car out after merely 40 minutes, but Chandler Hull was now 10 laps behind the GT4 leader.
After the first driver change, Bohn took over the #91 Herberth Porsche and rejoined in first place, ahead of Matus Vyboh in the MiddleCap Ferrari and Doppelmayr in the #18 Rutronik Audi. After an outstanding first part of the race, the leading GTX #724 Reiter Engineering KTM X-Bow of Nicolai Elghanayan moved into third place overall, passing Doppelmayr.
There was another Code 60 for the stricken #226 Ligier, which was spun around at the last corner by Thomas Gostner. Gostner was handed a 30s penalty for causing the accident and dropped to seventh.
With nine hours to go, the race went back to green – the #91 Porsche always leading the field.
But there was again drama for the #438 Samantha Tan Racing BMW, as Hull was back in the garage with bearing issues. The Canadian team tried to fix the issue but, after a one-hour stop, decided to call it a day and retired the car. It was certainly a disappointing end for Samantha, who didn't even get to turn one lap on race day.
"The stars were not aligned for us today" – commented Tan.
"We started the race on pole. The crew prepped a great car for us, and Jon Miller, Chandler Hull and I had very strong pace all weekend, but a couple mechanical issues put us out of the race almost 3 hours in. It was extremely unlucky, but we’re keeping the positives in mind for our next race in May: Hockenheim."
"You win some, you lose some." – read the team's statement. "A few unusual mechanical issues prevented us from seeing the chequered flag. Everyone put their best effort forward all weekend, but luck just wasn't on our side today. A big thank you to BMW Motorsport for having constant parts & engineering support for us this weekend."
A third Code 60 was brought out after 4h35m when the #911 Porsche and the second-placed #108 Cupra in TCR class made contact.
Meanwhile, Corinna Gostner had stepped in the MP Racing Mercedes for her first driving shift of the day.
At the mid-race mark, the #91 Herberth Motorsport Porsche of Renauer-Renauer-Bohn-Allemann had managed to open a gap of almost 2 laps to the closest pursuer – the #11 MiddleCap Ferrari of Vyboh-Vyboh-Kral. The #18 Rutronik Audi driven by Doppelmayr-Kaffer-Erhart-Herberger was back to third, despite continuing its battle for overall position with the GTX KTM X-Bow, with Elke Angermayr now in the driving seat.
Corinna Gostner had a solid run in eighth until a contact forced her to pit for repairs. The MP Racing Mercedes dropped to 13th overall (P6 in GT3) and received a penalty for the incident.
The #20 SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes also hit trouble after a great first part of the race: the team had battled for fourth overall before coming together with the #701 Vortex and were forced to a long stop to fix the front diffuser. The Vortex cars, meanwhile, had again shown great speed yet fragile reliability.
When the #712 Vortex brought out a local yellow for yet another technical issue, the leading #91 Porsche pitted under green – possibly anticipating a Code 60 – and lost its 2 lap advantage. Matus Vyboh closed the gap in his #11 Ferrari and reached Daniel Allemann, who had taken over from Renauer.
After another round of pit stops, Vyboh advanced to first place, in what was an outstanding battle for position after over 7 hours of racing.
But positions were restored at the following pitstops, when Ralf Bohn managed to get back ahead of the MiddleCap Ferrari, albeit being slowed by the #58 Mercedes of David Gostner. The latter, over 20 laps down, kept blocking the overall leader throughout his stint and even engaged in a wheel-to-wheel battle with Bohn – who had to make sure to avoid contacts yet couldn't afford to lose time from Miroslav Vyboh in the second placed #11 Ferrari.
With four hours left on the clock, the PROSport Racing Aston Martin lost power and was forced to pit with a turbo issue. Nevertheless, the German team fixed the problem and was back on track despite losing several hours.
There was some more drama for the #188 AC Motorsport Audi, which comfortably topped the TCR category: a wheel hub problem cost Perrin-Detry-Dermont the top of the classify, leaving the two Autorama VW Golf cars in first and second place.
With two hours left on the clock, Corinna Gostner returned back behind the wheel of the #58 MP Racing Mercedes for her second stint of the day. She took over from her brother David in P12 overall, P6 in GT3.
Meanwhile, Robert Renauer was back in the leading Porsche and, after setting the fastest lap of the race to that point, managed to secure again a 2 minute gap to the #11 Ferrari of Miroslav Vyboh.
The third placed Audi of Herberger had to fend off the #88 Car Collection Motorsport Audi, but held on to third, as the #724 Reiter Engineering KTM was fifth overall after an outstanding race.
The sun had set over the Provencal venue and drivers brought home the cars after 12 intense hours of racing at Circuit Paul Ricard. Josef Kral closed on Bohn in the final stint, but Herberth Motorsport crossed the finish line over 3 minutes in front of the Scuderia Praha Ferrari. Doppelmayr-Kaffer-Erhart-Herberger held on to third in the #18 Rutronik Audi.
KTM took a dominant victory in GTX, while the Autorama VW Golf were 1-2 in TCR and both within the overall top ten. Thomas Gostner took over from Corinna in the final hour and brought the #58 Mercedes AMG GT3 home in P11 for MP Racing.
The #226 Nordschleife Racing Ligier won the TCX class, 10 laps ahead of the CWS Engineering Ginetta. The PROsport Aston #401 crossed the line P1 in a troubled race for the GT4 competitors.
The 24H Series will be back in a month's time in Germany, for the Hankook 12H of Hockenheimring.