Dubai UAE, 16 November 2018: Charles Weerts and Mike den Tandt clinched victory for Audi Sport Team WRT in the inaugural race of the Gulf Sportscar Championship, despite losing the lead from pole position.
Weerts, who was making his sportscar debut, has never experienced a rolling start, and lost the lead of the race immediately; first to third place starter Jordan Grogor in the GPX Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, before fellow front row starter Rob Barff (#88 Dragon Racing Ferrari 458 GT3) led the way from Turn 9 on the opening tour, demoting Weerts to third.
With Barff quickly attempting to take advantage of his lead, extending it to over a second by the end of the opening lap, Weerts soon began to make amends for his lack of experience, passing Grogor at Turn 6 on lap two.
That enabled the 17-year-old to turn his attentions to Barff and chase down the Ferrari that was already 1.7 seconds ahead.
With Grogor struggling with power steering issues, Weerts reined Barff in, and by lap five was close enough to attempt a daring move up the inside of Turn 7 before thinking better of the manoevre and drawing back.
A lap later though, while setting the fastest lap of the race, the Audi was well placed as it crossed the pit straight, and Weerts made his move cleanly up the inside of Turn 1 and immediately sprinted clear of Barff’s Ferrari.
With the #88 car hoping to catch the Audi while it sat in the pits due to its longer Balance of Performance stop time, both cars entered the pit lane at the first opportunity with 30 minutes remaining.
The Audi returned in the lead with den Tandt at the wheel, while Barff handed over to team-mate Leon Price as Grogor continued despite his 20-second deficit.
Despite being briefly held up by traffic, den Tandt continually extended his lead over Price to take victory by almost 90 seconds.
Behind Grogor, the #8 Dragon Racing Ferrari 458 Challenge pairing of Josh Price and Zaamin Jaffer were fourth and claimed GT Cup class honours, ahead of the #31 Knight Connection Porsche 996 RS of Gilles Petit.
The second round of the Gulf Sportscar Championship will take place at Dubai Autodrome on December 7th.
Charles Weerts (#21 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 LMS):
“I went at the right speed at the start, and was expecting the lights to go out earlier than they did. When I realised I was going to be going too fast, I lifted off the throttle to correct it but the lights then went out, just at the wrong time! The #88 Ferrari next to me made a good start, so it made for a good battle for a few laps.
“The Ferrari was so fast on the straights that it was difficult to get past so any move had to be made into a corner. So I managed to pass Jordan’s Ferrari at Turn 6, then eventually past Rob at Turn 1. I really had to nail the exit to be able to get them.”
Mike den Tandt (#21 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 LMS):
“The driver change was good as we had practiced it all week ahead of the Nations Cup in Bahrain. We lost some time during my opening laps because I was behind some other cars. I didn’t know what to expect and just made sure I was faster than anyone else while being safe and consistent. It’s been a great weekend for the team.”
Rob Barff (#88 Dragon Racing Ferrari 488 GT3):
“It’s nice to be a part of a bit of history, to be here at Dubai for the first round of the Gulf Sportscar Championship. I had a good race with Charles [Weerts]. I did what I could off the start but the combination of the Audi and Charles, they were just too quick so once he got by, he drew away a little.
“Charles tried to put a move on Jordan [Grogor] for the lead and so I just nipped up the inside of him at Turn 7 and I took the lead at Turn 9. Jordan’s been struggling with the brakes on the 458 and I knew that, so I showed him my nose and he let me through.
“Leon did a great job. I handed him a good car and a good clean set of tyres and he lapped super-consistently within a couple of tenths of a second which, for an Am, is superb over a two-minute lap and it’s great to be on the podium.”
Jordan Grogor (#24 GP Extreme Ferrari 458 Italia GT3):
“I had a great start, put it in the lead but I knew it was only a matter of time before they came past. The new cars are a lot quicker but it was good fun.
“The track condition was okay, the race went as expected. This generation of car doesn’t have a lot of aero so it makes it tricky with the tyres and it gets quite hot but it was good racing. One or two more laps and we could have nicked a second place.
“It was fun. It’s nice to be racing in Dubai again. The Grand Prix circuit is great and it was a nice 50 minutes. I’ve got a lot of history with the car. It’s like a part of the family so it was nice to drive it. I’ll put it in the museum and let it look good.”
Report: Driving Force Events Limited
Photos: Aaron Meriwether & Arthur Rosales