Heartbreak for Tan and Preisig, Leewattanavalagul takes TCR win at 24H Barcelona
Long-time race leaders Samantha Tan and Jasmin Preisig retired from the 24H of Barcelona after leading 13 and 15 hours in class - but Nattanid Leewattanavalagul continued the tradition of great female performances in 24H Series by claiming victory in TCR.
The 24 Hours of Barcelona - a popular event on the CREVENTIC 24H Series calendar at the end of summer - was again an important event for the women of the championship.
Reigning champion Samantha Tan took victory in the GT4 class in 2021, before securing the overall title at Samantha Tan Racing's first year in international competitions.
Previously, Laura Kraihamer had also taken class victory in 2020, as well as Spaniard Alba Cano in the TCR class in 2018.
Cano, as well as previous series champion Chantal Prinz, were back on the grid of a 24H Series race last weekend, for the second 24-hour race of the year after Dubai.
Samantha Tan was also back for the occasion, returning after her historic win at the 12H of Mugello back in March.
Also ready to tackle the TCR class was 2021 category runner up Jasmin Preisig, at the wheel of the #116 Wolf Power Racing Audi RS3 TCR, as well as Thai racer Nattanid Leewattanavalagul, who joined the series with highly impressive squad BBR in the #158 Cupra TCR.
At the home of the Spanish F1 GP, ST Racing was quickly up to speed after an unlucky season marked by lack of spare parts in their GTWC America efforts. Nevertheless, driver/owner Samantha Tan soon showed outstanding pace in practice and qualifying, where the combined times put the #1 BMW M4 GT3 in P3 in class and fifth overall on the grid.
In TCR, Jasmin Preisig and her teammates clinched a class and division pole position - but the Swiss team had a strong rival to beat in the race: the #158 BBR Cupra of Dechathorn Phuakkarawut / Kantadhee Kusiri / Kantasak Kusiri / Grant Supaphongs / Nattanid Leewattanavalagul, who set the second time in qualifying and was ready to put on a challenge.
At the race start, Nick Wittmer (ST Racing) was quickly up into third place from fifth on the grid following a brilliant start - as the first Code60 of the race neutralized the action for the accident of the #720 Lamborghini of Butkevicius, sent into the wall on the main straight.
Wittmer passed Espenlaub (CP Racing Mercedes) at the restart and chased the #92 Herberth Motorsport Porsche. In the opening hour, the TCR teams with women in their lineups were running first, second and third, with the pole-winning #116 Wolf Power Racing leading in class.
While still recovering from an allergic reaction the day before, Samantha Tan took the helm of the #1 BMW after Wittmer's double stint and continued the chase, setting impressive lap times. ST Racing moved into the lead into the fifth hour, with masterful strategic work by the Canadian squad when the #91 leading Porsche spun in the gravel at Turn 3.
From that moment on, Nick Wittmer, Samantha Tan, Bryson Morris and Steven Aghakhani - at his first race with ST Racing - were in complete control of the race for the following 13 hours.
In the #11 Hofor-Racing Mercedes AMG GT3, Chantal Prinz and her family team climbed the order until fourth place, but were hit by another car which damaged the right-rear suspension. After 50 minutes of repair, the car was ready to go out on track again, albeit outside the overall top ten.
"The car was afterwards not in a great balance and we had to handle it for the rest of the race", Chantal wrote. "Then we got hit a second time, where the exhaust got compressed which cost us also a bit performance of the car." In TCR, the #116 Wolf Power Racing Audi and the #158 BBR Cupra traded positions in the opening hours, but it would be Jasmin Preisig's team to build a gap and to gain a full lap of advantage on Saturday evening. At around 3am, there was heartbreak for the overall leading ST Racing BMW: a head gasket issue suddenly terminated their race. Unable to repair the TwinPower Turbo six-cylinder on the spot, the team retired after leading 383 laps. “Sometimes you just run out of luck." - said Samantha Tan. "We got up to speed quickly this weekend, and I was the first to qualify - setting us at P3 overall. We finished qualifying P3 in class, P5 overall." "Nick started the race and immediately gained positions in his first stint. Shortly after, we were leading the field and fast, consistent stints from all our drivers kept us there for the next 12 hours. Unfortunately, a blown head gasket forced us to retire at around 3am." "I’m absolutely gutted, knowing we had incredible pace and an immaculate car setup", Tan continued. "But that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, we can keep our heads high and keep pushing at the next one.”
A few hours later, TCR leaders also ran out of luck. With steady pace, Preisig was looking strong for another class win, when a gearbox issue ended their 15-hour run in the lead. The #158 BBR Cupra was unchallenged from there, putting in consistent lap times from all its five drivers. Among them, Nattanid Leewattanavalagul completed two untroubled stints and contributed to extending the team's lead by over 3 minutes on the sister #159 car. Spanish touring car specialist Alba Cano - race winner in the 2021 Spanish TCR with Monlau Competicion - was recovering from early issues that had put the #123 RAILEQUIP BY TOTCAR SPORT Cupra in fifth place in class. While reducing the gap in the final hours, the car had a suspension failure with less than 30 minutes to go, but was nevertheless classified in fourth place. The returning Chantal Prinz - who had paused GT3 racing for over 3 years to start a family - was awarded with the Spirit of the Race Award by RadioLeMans, for the family's efforts to return to the series. Despite the technical challenges after the contacts, the #11 Mercedes was 8th in GT3 Am, P15 overall across the finish line. "It was great to be back on track with the GT3 and the great support of our team", Prinz stated. "We also had fun with all the well known faces and competitors in the paddock!"
After 24 hours of great racing action, Nattanid Leewattanavalagul continued the tradition of great female performances in the 24H Series and stepped on top of the podium, claiming victory in the TCR class. With five victories this year, BBR cemented its overall TCE Teams’ European championship title. Nattanid Leewattanavalagul completed the European campaign second in the TCE Ladies Trophy, behind Jasmin Preisig. The WTM Racing Ferrari of Georg Weiss / Leonard Weiss / Nicolas Varrone / Daniel Keilwitz / Indy Dontje swept the competition after the retirement of ST Racing, with only the Phoenix Racing Audi of Doppelmayr-Kaffer-Erhart-Herberger able to alternate on top of the leaderboard during the pit stop sequences. While the 24H of Barcelona rounded out the European season, 24H Series will return to the track for a new exciting event: the Hankook 12H of Kuwait on 30 November-2 December, at the Kuwait Motor Town facility.