Stéphane Kox and Gostner sisters complete Gulf 12H
Updated: Dec 18, 2022
Both crews featuring female drivers at the 11th running of the Gulf 12 Hours crossed the finish line; Stéphane Kox was P5 in the AM class after a late contact by one of her teammates, while the Gostner sisters Manuela and Corinna were P7 after battling fuel pump issues throughout the second half of the race.
During the European off-season, the UAE often becomes the centre stage of international GT racing – with two events such as the Gulf 12H and the 24H of Dubai having gained traditional status for the top endurance teams and drivers. While the Dubai 24H opens the racing season, the Gulf 12H at YAS Marina closes the racing year – this year gathering a 34 car field of endurance superstars, with 6 brands represented.
For the first time running a continuous 12-hour race, the 2022 Gulf 12H was also part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli calendar, to round out the season.
Among the star-studded entry list, two crews featured female racing drivers this year: Dutch racer Stéphane Kox returned behind the wheel of the Saalocin Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R after her Asian Le Mans Series campaign earlier this year. Kox – who is also F1 commentator for Dutch TV channel Viaplay – teamed up with her father Peter Kox, Nico Pronk and former professional cyclist Tom Boonen, a six-time Tour de France stage winner now committed to a new adventure in motor racing.
In another family-effort, the Gostner family were back behind the wheel of the bright green #58 MP Racing Mercedes AMG GT3, with Manuela Gostner sharing the car with her sister Corinna, her father Thomas and brother David. The team has entered selected races in the CREVENTIC 24H Series and are collecting experience in long-format races after racing consistently in the Ferrari Challenge. Manuela, the most experienced of the family, had entered the Gulf 12H previously with Iron Dames in 2019. Both the MP Racing and Saalocin Racing crews entered in the GT3 Am class.
In a four-session qualifying disrupted by a heavy downpour in Q3, Lucas Auer/Maro Engel/Maximilian Goetz set pole position for the #98 GruppeM Mercedes AMG Team, ahead of the sister #89 car – as Jules Gounon’s fastest lap in the final qualifying session was ultimately not enough to demote the #98 crew.
Stéphane Kox and the Saalocin Racing team qualified in P26 overall – P6 in class – while the MP Racing Mercedes would take the start from P29 overall, ninth in the AM category.
At the start, Maro Engel retained the lead over Raffaele Marciello and Kelvin van der Linde – who would then move into the race lead at the end of the first lap, when the two GruppeM Mercedes pitted for a very early pit stop strategy. Less than 10 minutes into the race, also van der Linde (Audi Sport Team Tresor) completed his first stop, leaving Alessandro Pier Guidi in the lead in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari.
With more stops happening shortly after, Davide Rigon (#50 AF Corse - Francorchamps Motors Ferrari) was handed the lead, while the #66 Audi had leapfrogged the pole-winning Mercedes. But there was more drama for the #98 Mercedes of Maro Engel, who was forced to pit with smoke coming out of the front-end of the car; having lost several laps, the #98 car was the first surprising retirement.
In the second hour, Murat Cuhadaroglu lost the Kessel Racing Ferrari in Turn 3 and made contact with the barriers, triggering a Full Course Yellow. Nielsen had meanwhile jumped in the driving seat of the #50 Ferrari, holding first place from Niederhauser and Hui. But the Mercedes nightmare was not over yet – as Raffaele Marciello also hit trouble in the #89 Mercedes, which would retire soon after the restart.
In the AM class, Peter Kox managed to bring the #48 Saalocin Porsche up into second place at the end of the first hour of racing during the round of pit stops, before settling within the top-five. Thomas Gostner started the race in the #58 MP Racing Mercedes and ran in eight position; Corinna Gostner took over just before the third hour and had a spin under the YAS Marina hotel, but the car could continue.
Another big sudden downpour mixed up the order soon after, with the #25 Sainteloc Audi moving up the order and into the lead with Haase behind the wheel, before a Safety Car interrupted the action when the #42 Century Motorsport BMW came to a halt.
Haase managed the restart and preceded the #66 Audi of Mattia Drudi and the #75 SPS Mercedes of Philip Ellis. After leading the opening stages, the AF Corse Ferraris of Rovera and Calado were also making up ground once again: it would in fact be the #71 Ferrari to claim the lead with 8 hours to go after the next round of pit stops, when the #77 Porsche driven by Al Faisal and the #25 Sainteloc Audi pitted.
With Stéphane Kox behind the wheel, the #48 Saalocin Porsche had a solid run in the AM class, while also the #58 MP Racing Mercedes started to recover with Manuela Gostner at the helm: after 4 hours, they slotted in seventh and eighth place in class respectively.
The race settled until 6 hours and a half to go, when the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari – second in the AM class up until that point, behind the dominant AF Corse of Prette/Prette/Saada/Grunewald – hit the wall and required the intervention of a Safety Car.
The #71 Francorchamps Motors Ferrari took the opportunity to pit, handing the lead to the Sainteloc Audi – but positions were restored into the sixth hour, when Antonio Fuoco got behind the wheel and opened a 12 second gap to the #66 Audi Sport Team Tresor.
It was a troubled second half of the race for the Gostner family: the #58 Mercedes spent almost three hours in the garage as the MP Racing team tried to fix a fuel pump issue that relegated the AM entry down the order – but in real endurance spirit, Manuela, Corinna, Thomas and David never gave up and were back on track for the final stints.
Another Safety Car was deployed with less than four hours to go, when the #91 Baron Motorsport Ferrari slowed down. At the restart, Alessandro Pier Guidi kept it cool and led the pack – while it was drama for the Audis.
Dennis Marschall made contact with a lapped Porsche and ended the chances of the #66 Audi Sport R8 LMS with 3 hours to go, while the #26 Sainteloc Junior of Gachet/Legeret/Magnus – also among the protagonists of the overall classification throughout the race – came to a halt with 1 hour and 25 minutes to go.
Unchallenged, the #71 and #50 AF Corse Francorchamps Motors Ferraris could then secure a 1-2, even though Nicklas Nielsen was forced to defend in the closing minutes from the recovering #25 Sainteloc Audi of Patric Niederhauser, as the Danish driver was short on fuel.
Antonio Fuoco, James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi sealed victory in the 11th running of the Gulf 12 Hours, ahead of the sister #50 Ferrari of Rigon/Rovera/Nielsen, separated by just 14 seconds after 335 laps. It was Ferrari’s eighth win at the event.
Despite his early retirement, Daniel Juncadella was crowned 2022 Intercontinental GT Champion.
On course to a very solid fourth place in the AM class, the #48 Saalocin Racing Porsche lost a position in the final hour of the race, when former cyclist Tom Boonen was hit by another car and had to be retrieved in the run off. Fortunately, the car could then continue and completed the race in a still positive fifth place in AM.
Stéphane Kox will return behind the wheel of the Saalocin Porsche in less than a month’s time, for the upcoming 24H of Dubai.
The stoic Gostner family also took the chequered flag after a heroic effort by the team to bring back the #58 Mercedes to life in the final hour. Manuela and Corinna Gostner were seventh in class.