Samantha Tan Racing conquers GT4 class at 24H of Dubai
At the 2021 endurance Dubai classic, driver-owner Samantha Tan claimed GT4 class victory after a flawless team's effort, as also Jasmin Preisig and Karen Gaillard secured podium finishes with thei P2 in the TCR and GTX categories, to round out an impressive start of the racing season for the women on track.
The Dubai 24 Hours race has become a real traditional event to kick off the calendar year in recent time and most of the elite endurance teams and drivers travel to the UAE to contest the competition organized by CREVENTIC.
While the 2020 edition was unfortunately cut short by the torrential rain that forced its cancellation after 8 hours, the 2021 Hankook 24H of Dubai saw perfect weather throughout and the 52 crews put on a show both the GT and TCE categories.
Returning to Dubai after their first experience in 2020 was Canadian squad Samantha Tan Racing, the team founded and led by 23-year old lady Samantha Tan, who has also driven the strikingly beautiful BMW M4 GT4 car in this year's SRO-sanctioned GT4 America championship.
In a remarkable effort, Samantha Tan Racing (Samantha Tan, Chandler Hull, Jon Miller, Nick Wittmer) travelled to the UAE despite the travel difficulties and went on to secure pole position following Nick Wittmer's 2:08.824 lap around the 5.39km Dubai Autodrome.
But the driver-owner of ST Racing wasn't the only woman on track: Jasmin Preisig was back to the Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR car by Autorama Motorsport after a successful campaign in the 2020 24H Series. Preisig - who has also been part of the all-female "Girls Only" project by WS Racing in its inaugural season in the 2019 VLN championship - shared driving duties with Antti Buri, Kari-Pekka Laaksonen, Gustavo Xavier and Miklas Born. The latter signed a 2:09.405 lap that was good enough for pole position in the TCR class, putting the #112 machine in the best position coming into Friday's race.
Last but not least, fellow Swiss racer Karen Gaillard made both her Dubai and 24 hour-race debut as part of the Vortex V8 team, competing in the GTX category. Sharing the seat of the #701 Vortex 1.0 with Frenchmen Lionel Amrouche, Philippe Bonnel and Alban Varutti, Gaillard took the start from third on the grid.
Tan led the GT4 field at the green lights but lost few places after the first hectic laps.
Nevertheless, she completed solid stints and, as she alternated with Chandler Hull, Tan could regain the lead, which was never abandoned again.
The whole team put in an outstanding performance throughout the 24 hours and, with a flawless run, Samantha Tan Racing completed 546 laps and crossed the finish line to take victory at the Dubai 24 Hours, three laps ahead of second-placed Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT4 by PRO sport Racing, driven by Verdonck-Gillion-Lemeret-Matthiesen-Schöll.
“We won the Dubai 24H!” said Samantha after such a historical achievement for her team. “It honestly felt like a flawless race. We spent the majority of it first in class! My co-drivers all did an incredible job. I started the race, trying to be aggressive but also having to remind myself that it’s a long race ahead and keep the car clean."
"There was a Code 60 right at the start, so the team decided to bring me in to top up on fuel so I could run for almost 2 hours. I did back to back stints with Chandler until it got dark, while Nick and Jon drove through the night.”
“I had a stellar night stint, passing many cars and putting our BMW M4 back into 1st in class. It got close with 2nd place after the halfway mark in the race, but during the last 6 hours, we all put in our best effort and gave ourselves a 3-lap lead. The car was amazing the entire race; I can’t thank my team enough for their hard work on giving us the best car and for the perfectly executed pit stops."
The 2021 Dubai 24H marked the first pro victory for the young Canadian, who's now looking forward to keep momentum into the next championship races.
“It was my first 24-hour race, and we won it!" - said teammate Wittmer, who brought the BMW M4 GT4 across the line on Saturday. "There were no issues at all; ST Racing did an amazing job preparing the car to run a full day.”
"Showing up this year and replicating our pole position and strong pace, it’s incredibly satisfying for the whole team to finish the job and win the Dubai 24” - echoed Miller.
"Samantha and Chandler drove an awesome five stints, going back to back for the first 6 hours before Nick and I took over at night - and they handed us the car in P1", he added.
"The story of our race comes down to the crew executing fast pit stops for 24 hours and running a winning strategy with a BMW that was fast and easy to drive."
In an incredibly close TCE duel for the win, the prestigious victory went to the TopCar Sport Cupra TCR #131, driven by Fabian Danz, Adrian Spescha, Patrick Sing, Ronny Jost and Benjamin Leuchter. After securing pole position, the #112 Autorama Motorsport lost ground in the opening hours, dropping to fourth, but was able to recover through the night and catch up with the leader. In the exciting final hours, Preisig's team came increasingly close to re-gain the top spot, but finished just 1 minute and 50 seconds short of the #131 Cupra, which had suffered a power loss during the night but had remained unchallenged after advancing to P1 approximately at the 8-hour mark.
The Swiss Autorama squad was however able to secure second and third, as sister #1 car of #1 of Emil Heyerdahl, Marlon Menden, Jérôme Ogay and Constantin Kletzer completed the podium.
"P2 at the 24H Dubai! It was exhausting but awesome", commented Preisig, thanking her team and sponsors for the effort.
It was certainly an eventful race in the GTX category: the #707 Lamborghini Huracan by ARC Bratislava held the lead comfortably until a fire took the Slovakian outfit out of contention in the early morning's hours. The Leipert Lamborghini Huracan shared by Gorski, Watzinger, Thiel, Lee and Leib was thus promoted to P1, followed by the Vortex V8 team - albeit at over 100-laps distance.
The French team in fact clinched a remarkable runner-up spot despite a really troubled run, hampered by several suspension issues that forced Gaillard and her teammates to lose several laps. After another suspension failure into the final hour, Bonnel was nevertheless able to rejoin the track with 10 minutes left on the clock, taking the deserved chequered flag.
"My first ever 24 hours race and my first ever time in Dubai, it was just incredible!" - wrote Gaillard on her social media profiles.
For the first time since 2013, an Emirati-based team won the overall classify, as Axcil Jefferies, Frederic Fatien, Mathieu Jaminet, Julien Andlauer and Alain Ferté brought the #36 GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R to glory following a perfect run of 600 laps, marking Porsche's sixth win at the UAE's endurance classic.
Behind them, it was a closer battle for second, as the #31 WRT Audi of Vanthoor, van der Linde, Machiels, Goethe and Bird overtook the #4 HRT Bilstein Mercedes AMG GT3 Evo driven by Haupt, Engel, Assenheimer, Ratcliffe and Dubai's specialist Khaled Al Qubaisi - father of the racing sisters Amna and Hamda.
The second and third placed crews were in fact only separated by less than 30 seconds at the finish, after Al Qubaisi was brought back into the pits with 40 minutes left for a driver change. The experienced Emirati driver was also part of the team that finished in fifth overall position, in the second HRT Abu Dhabi Racing Mercedes AMG GT3.
While Samantha Tan Racing will stay in the UAE in order to compete in the upcoming non-championship 6-hour race at YAS Marina Circuit, the 24H Series championship will resume in Italy on 26-27th March, with the Hankook 12H of Mugello.