Optimum take SP3 pole honours ahead of Dubai 24 Hour race
Yorkshire’s Optimum Motorsport will start the 10th running of the Hankook 24 Hours of Dubai endurance race from the class pole-position; a series of blistering laps from both Bradley Ellis (GBR) and Euan Hankey (GBR) ensured their position at the head of the class, despite a challenge from fellow Ginetta squad, Nova Race.
Ellis, 27, first set a provisional pole time in the hour-long ‘all classes’ qualifying session of the day, a 2:10.046, which acted as a benchmark throughout Thursday’s second qualifying period (for Class A1 up to A4, D1, D2, A3T, and SP3-GT4A runners).
Al Fab Racing’s Aston Martin GT4 was its closest rival, some 4.8s adrift with a 2:14.876. Ellis’ time was backed up by a solid performance from Hankey, who again showed his ability to consistently put together a fast time, amidst the chaos of having 94 other cars attempt to do the same.
Session two saw Ellis again go fastest, and with fewer cars able to take part in the second session the former British GT champion was able to shave almost half a second off his earlier best in a four-lap run that delivered first a 2:10.155, then a 2:09.913 and finally the pole-setting 2:09.672 lap, which saw off a late challenge from experienced Ginetta ace, Matteo Cressoni’s Nova Race G50 GT4 (2:10.703).
“It's amazing feeling to be on pole at my first Dubai 24 and to beat Cressoni by that margin; I didn't think would happen,” said a delighted Ellis post-qualifying. “I knew I could do a mid to high 2:09, so when the 2:09.6 came up on the dash and I had a small amount of traffic I knew there wasn't going to be anymore in our car. Having Euan (Hankey) in the team help's massively as we work really well together. We are able to look and compare data easily to make sure we both maximise our performance. So far the car has been great, we have all been trying to look after the car as much as possible and I believe that if we all just try and keep out of trouble then we should be fine.
“In qualifying we were allowed to run as fast as we wanted but our genuine race pace is very close to the delta time anyway; I think that we can drive at a reasonable pace and not worry too much about the delta times. Ade has done a top job with his pace where it needs to be plus he wasn't fazed at all in the night, so all in all he has done a good solid job without any mistakes. The team have been great and done a very good job; the car so far hasn't missed a beat and feels nice to drive. It really inspires confidence to push, which makes it feel easy to do the lap times required.”
Hankey adds: “We’re delighted to be on pole, and Brad did a great job in making this happen for us; he’s delivered in every single session. My qualifying lap was blighted by a red flag just before Turn 11, so that was the session over for me; we also had an issue with the rear wing which required attention when I was waiting in the pits. I was happy within myself though as at that point on the lap (before it was red-flagged) there was half a tenth between Brad and I; I know the pace is there.
Salih Yoluc and Ade Barwick continued to acquit themselves admirably with the testing conditions of searing Middle Eastern heat, and 94 other cars on a circuit unfamiliar to them both.
Barwick comments: “The atmosphere here is amazing and the team is just first class. It’s manic on track and being in SP3, we’re not the slowest class out there. That’s taken some adjusting as I’m more used to dealing with faster traffic. For me the biggest challenge in the race is the dark and managing the traffic in those conditions; the heat I can deal with!”
Hankey reflects on his regular team-mate’s performance over the past two days of track action: “Salih has done a brilliant job. The simulator certainly helped him to learn the track and right from the word go he was on it and doing some very good times. He's responded well to analysing the data and has overcome the frustration with the traffic admirably.”
The Dubai race begins today at 10am GMT (14:00 local time) and has the most hours in the dark of any 24-hour race, which for a set of relative newcomers (only Ellis has competed in a 24-hour race before) is a new and very real challenge for the team.
Highly experienced team owner and principal, Shaun Goff sums up what the team can expect as they challenge to repeat the 2012 feat of winning the SP3 class.
“There’s little doubt that this race is one of the most difficult to win. There are a large amount of factors outside of your control that can change your race, so you have to be able to adjust and deal with quite a lot behind the wheel. The night presents unique challenges and there is always the possibility of receiving contact from faster class cars as they attempt to pass you. For some drivers fatigue can be an issue due to the heat and then you also have the regular challenges such as managing traffic too. I’m really pleased with the way all four drivers have adjusted and there’s little doubt that if we can have a clean race we will be on the podium come the finish.”