6H Abu Dhabi: Laura Kraihamer and Aliyyah Koloc win in class, Preisig charges to second
The 6H of Abu Dhabi went down to the wire in most classes - and turned out to be a great success for the three women on the grid: at her return to the 24H Series, Laura Kraihamer claimed a spectacular win in GTX; Aliyyah Koloc took victory in GT4 at only her second race in the series and Jasmin Preisig charged to second in TCR after a stunning final stint.
Having kicked-off the 2023 endurance racing season with its most prestigious race at Dubai, the CREVENTIC 24H Series was soon back on track at Abu Dhabi for the third edition of the 6 Hour race that rounds out the 2022/2023 Middle East Trophy.
The trophy in fact includes the 2022 12H of Kuwait, the 2023 24H of Dubai and the following 6H of Abu Dhabi, before the series will move to Mugello for the European Series by Hankook.
A series regular, class winner and 2022 Vice-Champion in TCE, Jasmin Preisig represents a solid pillar for Wolf-Power Racing. The Swiss driver was back in Abu Dhabi in the #121 Audi RS3 LMS TCR, after a hard-fought podium in Dubai which saw her team battling all sorts of misfortunes to eventually finish third in TCR.
Preisig was joined in the team by Ivars Vallers, Nicolas Baert and Ricky Coomber.
Two series returnees also hit the track at the scenic Yas Marina Circuit: Laura Kraihamer and Aliyyah Koloc. Kraihamer, from Austria, is an established driver with experience in GT4 Germany, DTM Trophy, GT2 Europe and NLS – with a victory in class at the latest Nürburgring 24H race to her name.
Kraihamer returned to the 24H Series after a handful of starts from 2018 to 2020 which also included class wins with KTM – for which the Austrian is a factory driver – and partnered with Domink Olbert, Daniel Drexel and Haytham Qarajouli in the Razoon-more than racing #714 KTM X-Bow in GTX class.
At her return from the Dakar rally less than a week ago, Aliyyah Koloc was back on asphalt for her second ever entry in the CREVENTIC series; Koloc had in fact raced in the Buggyra Racing's Mercedes AMG GT4 at last year's 12H of Spa Francorchamps, combining also campaigns in the French GT4 series and in the EuroNASCAR championship.
Koloc shared the #416 Buggyra Mercedes with Czech drivers Adam Lacko and David Vrsecky in the GT4 class.
Despite the late call – and at her first visit to the Abu Dhabi circuit – Kraihamer adapted quickly and led two practice sessions before the Razoon-more than racing squad claimed pole position.
Both Preisig and Koloc's crews were third in their respective classes – as all of the female drivers had realistic winning chances on Saturday's 6 hour race.
The Story of the race
Pure Rxcing Porsche led the pack into turn 1 from pole position, ahead of the #21 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo of Mathieau Detry (HAAS RT) and the Herberth Motorsport Porsche driven by Felix Neuhofer in the first stint.
Haytham Qarajouli, from pole in the GTX class, initially had to defend from the charging #763 Tischner Motorsport Porsche for class position, but the Razoon-more than racing Kuwaiti driver recovered the overall top-10 and opened a safe gap from its closest class rival – who then engaged in a lengthy battle with the #701 Vortex V8 of Lionel Amrouche.
The GT4 class was just as spectacular, as the Mercedes AMG GT4 of Vrsecky – Aliyyah Koloc's teammate – moved into second place in class and then chased the #438 BMW M4 GT4 operated by Simpson Motorsport. The two teams battled wheel to wheel for almost 20 minutes, before the Buggyra ZM Racing Mercedes finally had the upper hand and moved into the GT4 class lead.
Also from third on the grid, Ivars Vallers had a more challenging start in the #121 Wolf-Power Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR; Jasmin Preisig's teammate was down to fourth in the opening stages, as Sharky-Racing's Roman Mavlanov led the class, ahead of the two AC Motorsport Audis. Vallers could claim back third when the #199 Audi pitted early for fuel.
The first safety car neutralized the race at the one hour mark, when the #979 Speed Lover Porsche of Olivier Dons spun into the pitwall at the final corner, damaging the radiator.
The caution sparked the first round of pit stops: Adam Lacko climbed in the GT4 leading Buggyra ZM Mercedes, retaining class lead, while the second-placed RAM Racing Mercedes GT4 was forced to pit again to close the fuel cap. Ricky Coomber started his first stint in the #121 Audi TCR, while Haytham Qarajouli remained at the wheel of the #714 KTM X-Bow, on top of GTX.
After the stops, Joel Sturm kept the GT3 lead, but Alfred Renauer (Herberth Motorsport Porsche) had leapfrogged the HAAS RT Audi for second.
As the third hour of racing approached, the leading TCR Sharky-Racing Audi came to a halt, but Artur Goroyan was able to reset and restart, albeit dropping to the back of the field. This promoted the #199 AC Motorsport Audi and the #121 Wolf-Power Racing Audi to the top-two TCR positions.
Just after the overall leading #911 Pure Rxcing Porsche had come in for refuelling, the second Safety car was deployed for the stricken #438 BMW M4 GT4 of Vladykin, hit by an alternator problem; while the #91 Herberth Motorsport Porsche gained track position, the closed pitlane meant that the Pure Rxcing strategy turned out to be perfectly timed. On the other hand, the Safety Car brought troubles for the #199 AC Motorsport Audi, leading TCR, as Paul Sieljes had to pit during a closed pitlane and lost track position to the #121 Wolf-Power Racing Audi, just as the race went back to green.
At the restart, though, the #188 AC Motorsport Audi took the class lead with Niels Ulrich Nyboe behind the wheel.
The #714 razoon-more than racing KTM X-Box GTX pitted for its driver change, as Daniel Drexel hopped in and rejoined in second, 14th overall, but reclaimed the lead once the Tischner Motorsport Porsche pitted for the second time. The use of the safety car instead of the Code60 procedures had in fact severely impacted on the teams' strategies in all classes and would shape the order as teams went off-sequence.
With 3 hours and 20 minutes left on the clock, Aliyyah Koloc climbed in the #416 Buggyra ZM Mercedes and started her first stint in the 6H of Abu Dhabi, rejoining from second in class.
Dropped to third during the stint, Ricky Coomber handed over the #121 Wolf-Power Racing Audi TCR to Nicolas Baert. A few moments later, Baert moved up to second, as the #188 AC Motorsport Audi driven by Marcos Costantini stopped at Turn 1 after sustaining a front-left suspension failure that brought out the third Safety Car of the race.
The caution caught off-guard the #176 Sharky-Racing Audi, which lost the class lead by pitting under safety car. Roman Mavlanov, though, closed the gap to Baert in around 20 minutes of green flag racing, moving back into first place in TCR with 2 hours left.
The HAAS RT and Herberth Motorsport Porsche led overall, but with a pit stop deficit to the #911 Pure Rxcing Porsche. Robert Renauer was able to jump ahead of Detry and opened a gap, as the safety car continued to shuffle the order.
Laura Kraihamer took over from Daniel Drexel after a flawless race for the #714 KTM X-Bow – the Austrian ace ready to leave her mark on the race at her return to the CREVENTIC series.
Often around 2 second per lap faster than the car ahead, Kraihamer had to cut down an over 40 second gap after the KTM slipped to second due to the safety car intervention. Kraihamer, while having to save fuel, ultimately caught up and overtook the #763 Porsche at the following round of pit stops.
With 1 hour and 42 minute to go, Nicolas Baert brought the #121 Audi in the pits and handed over to Jasmin Preisig, as the Swiss racer tackled the final stint of the race. After a long stop to check the status of the suspensions following the other Audis' issues, Preisig rejoined second in class.
After taking the start in the Buggyra ZM Racing Mercedes GT4, David Vrescky was back in the driving seat, taking over from Aliyyah Koloc who completed a solid stint in second.
As the final hour approached, Laura Kraihamer pitted from the GTX lead and handed over to Dominik Olbert. The white and red KTM was then back on top after a few laps, as pit stops cycled. Similarly, the #16 Buggyra ZM Racing Mercedes GT4 snatched the lead in GT4 once the #405 Ram Racing pitted.
But several classes – including the GT3, 992, GTX and TCR categories – went down to the wire, as the top two cars were separated only by a few seconds.
Michael Tischner remained at striking distance and with 10 minutes to go, the GTX leaders battled it out, as Olbert tried to keep the pursuing Porsche at bay while still saving fuel.
After a Code60 with less than 10 minutes to go, Joel Sturm managed to snatch the overall lead from Neuhofer's Herberth Motorsport Porsche, after the #911 Pure Rxcing Porsche had steadily gained precious seconds. Malykhin-Sturm-King claimed a last minute victory for the #911 crew, ahead of Herberth Motorsport (Neuhofer-Neuhofer-Renauer-Renauer) and HAAS RT (Perrin-Detry-Soulet).
On the final lap, Olbert was able to pull away slightly from Tischner and the #714 razoon-more than racing KTM X-Bow crossed the finish line in first place in GTX, after an incredibly close battle that gave Laura Kraihamer and her teammates Olbert, Drexel and Qarajouli the class win.
"It was my first time racing in Abu Dhabi and the track is incredible" – Laura told us after the race. "The race itself was really a challenge for us. In the last two stints that I and Dominik did, we had quite a lot of work with tyre and fuel saving", she explained.
"We really tried to bring it home and save fuel because the changed safety car regulations also changed the race a little bit. So we just had to try and stay at the front."
Kraihamer returns to the 24H Series with a win after the 2020 season, when she scored one win and two podiums out of two participations.
The GTX back-to-back wins in Dubai and Abu Dhabi crowned Razoon-more than racing in the Middle East Trophy.
In a heroic last stint, Jasmin Presig managed to recover almost 40 seconds in the final hour of racing to the TCR leader – the #176 Sharky-Racing Audi; the Swiss talent almost achieved what would have been an outstanding class victory, when the late Code60 possibly denied her the opportunity to complete the task. She finished just 6 seconds short of a win, still securing second in TCR in a smoother race for the Wolf-Power Racing team after very troubled runs in Kuwait and Dubai.
Nevertheless, Jasmin and her teammates clinched the Middle East Trophy in the TCR class, having scored 104 points across the last three races. Preisig and Vallers took honors in the drivers' standings as well.
Last but certainly not least, Aliyyah Koloc, Adam Lacko and David Vrsecky brought home the GT4 victory after a very consistent race by all three drivers that gained Buggyra Racing's first win in the series. Having run in contention for the win since the opening minutes, the decisive pass came in the final hour, but was the culmination of a greatly executed race by the whole team.
The 12 Hours of Mugello will launch the European Series on 25-26 March. In the 2022 edition, Samantha Tan and her ST Racing team made history and claimed outright victory in the brand new BMW M4 GT3, in a global first.