Class podium for Jasmin Preisig and Stephane Kox at Dubai 24H
Class pole-sitter Jasmin Preisig had to endure a trouble-filled 24 Hours of Dubai, but eventually navigated through adversities to finish on the TCR podium for Wolf-Power Racing. An early gearbox issue complicated the race of Stephane Kox in the first hour, but steady pace meant the Dutchwoman finished second in GT3-Am.
The 2023 Dubai 24 Hours opened the sportscar season, as per tradition, with one of the most anticipated events in January.
The 18th edition of CREVENTIC's biggest race of the year was back to a over 50 car field – and with two female drivers: Stephane Kox (Saalocin by Kox Racing) and Jasmin Preisig (Wolf-Power Racing), respectively in the GT3-Am and TCR categories.
In a series that has often featured a high number of female entrants - and also crowned several class champions, as well as Samantha Tan as the overall champion in 2021 – Kox and Preisig both entered the 2023 racing season with high hopes, but had to fight against all odds to eventually climb on the podium, after an eventful race for both their teams.
In the #48 Porsche 911 GT3 R, Dutchwoman Stephane Kox, her father Peter Kox, Nico Pronk, Dennis Retera and former cycling star and Tour de France stage winner turned racing driver Tom Boonen were ready to tackle the 24h race strong of their fifth place in class at the Gulf 12H in Abu Dhabi last month, which provided the team with a good base to build on.
An experienced TCR racer and multiple title winner in the 24H Series, Jasmin Preisig was back with Swiss team Wolf-Power Racing, at the wheel of the newly-coloured #121 Audi RS3 LMS TCR, which she shares with Ivars Valler, Calle Bergman and Andreas Höfler.
The squad has a proven victory record and always showed speed on all tracks - but has been affected by an incredible amount of bad luck and unreliability over the past 24H Series events; at the 2022 12H of Kuwait, for example, Preisig and her teammates bounced back after an endless series of misfortunes – which included a late delivery of their container at the track, contacts from higher classes in the race, technical failures or all sorts, to ultimately finish on the TCR class podium.
At the 2023 24 Hours of Dubai, the drivers of the #121 Audi had seemingly found redemption after a really strong start of their weekend in practice and qualifying, when Preisig, Vallers, Bergman and Höfler put the #121 Audi on pole position in the TCE division after the combined qualifying.
And the Wolf-Power Racing team clearly had the pace to win in class, as its drivers showed in the first part of the race - but again a streak of events out of their control turned their race into yet another "spirit of the race" award contender.
The story of the race
The two HRT Mercedes AMG topped qualifying in the overall classification, as the #777 Al Manar Racing entry of Stolz-Schiller-Jefferies-Konrad preceded the #4 Abu Dhabi Racing entry of Haupt-Al Qubaisi-Baud-Gounon-Stolz, having also led the practice sessions. After the four combined qualifying, the #911 Pure Rxcing Porsche defended third, and would share the second row of the grid with the #7 WRT BMW M4 GT3, at the Belgian team's first ever race with BMW equipment. The Saalocin by Kox Racing Porsche of Stephane Kox and her teammates was P20 in the overall GT3 qualifying. Preisig's Wolf-Power Racing Audi dominated qualifying, with an average time of 2:11.942 - almost 5 seconds faster than the closest TCR competitor, the #106 VW Golf GTI TCR of Chkondali-Girard-Sallenbach-Mougenot-Duffieux, and also ahead of the sole TCX entry, the Team Sorg Rennsport Porsche 718 Cayman GT4. At the wheel of the pole-sitting #777 Mercedes, Stolz kept the lead over Jules Gounon's #4 Abu Dhabi Racing sister car, who held positions ahead of the #911 Rxing Porsche and the #10 Grove Porsche driven by Earl Bamber. Both would be passed by the recovering #7 WRT BMW of Dries Vanthoor. There was early trouble for the #48 Saalocin by Kox Racing Porsche driven by Peter Kox at the start: after only four laps, Stephane's father had to pit with gearbox issues and the team lost over one hour in the garage to replace the whole gearbox. Unfortunately, this mechanical problem would hamped the team's race, having lost over 30 laps in the first hour of racing.
In TCR, the #117 Wolf-Power Racing Audi took the lead, with Ivars Vallers - who had taken the start in the pole-sitting #121 sister car – dropped to fourth. The top four cars, though, remained one the same lap throughout the first hour, when the #106 700Miles VW Golf TCR hit trouble. Dries Vanthoor continued his charge in the WRT BMW and first passed Gounon's Mercedes, before claiming the overall lead with a pass on Luca Stolz on the main straight. After the first Code60 – caused by a crash involving the #932 HRT Performance Porsche Cup - the positions temporarily changed, as the #99 Attempto Racing Audi moved into the lead as most of the field pitted and teams went for different strategies. After two hours of racing, the #117 Audi kept the lead in TCR, followed by the #121 Wolf-Power Racing, who had meanwhile claimed back second place. A few more Code60 followed, as the #7 WRT BMW tried to catch back the top of the overall standings in between green flags, with Klingmann behind the wheel. It all went wrong for the two HRT Mercedes at around the four hour mark: first the #4 Abu Dhabi Racing AMG GT3 Evo hit the barriers at turn 14 and caught fire; Sebastian Baud was luckily quickly out of the car, but the team was out of the race. Less than an hour later, the sister #777 Al Manar Racing Mercedes also retired, after being wheeled back in the garage with a technical issue. Simmenauer meanwhile continued to lead for WRT, as Sean Gelael had brought the #46 BMW M4 GT3 in second place after an early accident by Tim Whale, who could continue without major damage. In her first stint behind the wheel of the #121 Wolf-Power Racing Audi, Jasmin Preisig continued the recovery and temporarily moved into the TCR class lead, approximately 12 seconds ahead of the #188 AC Motorsport Audi, as the #117 Wolf-Power Racing lost several laps in the garage for technical issues. The two class leaders swapped places once again in the following hours, as the AC Motorsport crew changed brakes. Overall, positions settled with Menchaca in control for the #7 WRT BMW, followed by the ò91 Herberth Motorsport Porsche of Robert Renauer, who was back ahead of the #21 HAAS RT Audi after a rear-right puncture. Jasmin Preisig and her teammates were looking strong in TCR, running second and on the same lap as the class leader - when all went wrong around the mid-race mark: the #121 Audi had to be towed back to the pits with a gearbox issue. While the car rejoined initially retaining second – as also the sister car was soon back in the garage for troubles and the #199 AC Motorsport Audi was struck by an engine failure - they would have to stop again during the night for a clutch issue.
Once back on track, there was no respite from misfortune for the #121 crew, as they were hit and sent into the barriers at Turn 14 by the #931 HRT Performance Porsche Cup. The accident significantly damaged the front end of the Audi RS3 LMS TCR, but the team never gave up and fixed the car as best ast they could. In the early hours of Sunday morning, though, they had dropped to third. After the setback in the first minutes of the race, the #48 Saalocin by Kox Racing Porsche meanwhile was making up ground with steady pace, gaining positions in the overall classification. Stephane Kox and her teammates ran clean stints and caught back the GT3 field, albeit with a significant lap margin. In the final six hours, the #91 Herberth Motorsport Audi remained the #7 WRT BMW's strongest rival for the overall win; while the Porsche claimed the top spot after the round of pit stops, the two teams swapped places until Vanthoor was able to eventually pass Allemann. WRT was then able to extend the gap after a Code60 timing went in their favour during a refuelling for the #91 Porsche. With three hours to go, there was more trouble for Preisig, whose #121 Audi came to a halt at Turn 7. The Wolf-Power Racing machine spent most of the following hours in the garage again – but the spirit of endurance meant that the Swiss team's mechanics kept working tirelessly to send the car back out on track for the final hour of racing, in the attempt to keep third in TCR and fourth in TCE. With 40 minutes to go, the Herberth Motorsport Porsche gambled on a shorter pit stop and gained track position over overall race leader Vanthoor. Renauer, though, had to perform one last splash and dash with 20 minutes to go during the final Code60, ultimately handing back the first place to Vanthoor – who brought home the win for Team WRT, at the Belgian squad's first ever outing in BMW machinery. The sister #46 car – driven by Whale-Rossi-Gelael-Hesse-Martin – was third across the finish line, in another strong performance for Valentino Rossi's crew. Stephane Kox, Peter Kox, Nico Pronk, Dennis Retera and Tom Boonen drove a very solid race and recovered to P21 overall, 13th among the GT3 entries and securing a second place in the GT3-Am class. Jasmin Preisig, Ivars Valler, Calle Bergman and Andreas Höfler fought against all odds and claimed third in TCR, stepping on the podium after a challenging race that tested the Swiss outfit through difficulties. TCR victory went to the #188 AC Motorsport Audi of Perrin-Mettler-Born-Dejonghe, 50 laps ahead of the #117 Wolf-Power Racing Audi driven by Menden-Menden-Huff-Posavac. It was Stephane Perrin's second ever TCE win, just before his switch to GT3 machinery for the upcoming races.
Cars will hit the track in a few days, for the 6H of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit. Jasmin Preisig will be back in the driving seat of the #121 Wolf-Power Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR, while Aliyyah Koloc is set to join the field in the #416 Buggyra ZM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4 – in her second 24H Series outing since last year's 12H of Spa Francorchamps.