I can’t believe it… I won the Crown Jewel of international GT racing, the Total 24 Hours of Spa!
My week got off to a perfect start during our first practice session when I ended up first in class in wet track conditions. The three hour session was quite tough because it started wet and then dried out towards the end. Luckily my engineer gave me a shot in both conditions which helped with weekend preparation.
Qualifying wasn’t as easy though but with a last minute lap during the night session I grabbed pole position for my team which set us up well for the race.
I was a bit tense during the first phase of qualifying and made a mistake during my lap but we decided to give it another go during the night session and it worked. Usually Pole Position is meaningless at this race but it was important for me as I’d missed the chance to even do qualifying last year.
Overall we were quite far down though, 43rd, which can increase the likelihood of a crash in the first hour… Something I wanted to avoid!
The start took place late afternoon on Saturday and I was due to take it as I was one of the fastest drivers in our car and expected to do most of the driving – between 10 and 12 hours of the race.
We maintained the lead in class at the start while battling up to 34th position overall. From then on it was a case of avoiding incidents and unnecessary pit stops.
My co-drivers all did an amazing job, none of them made a single mistake during their stints and stuck to the plan of maintaining a decent pace which wouldn’t result in any mistakes.
A little known fact is that Championship points are awarded at different phases of the race. You get half points at the 6 hour and 12 hour marks, so our initial focus was on leading those two phases, which we did! Once through that we started to consider the bigger picture.
The saying goes ‘Survive the night, see where you are and then start talking about wins and podiums’, well we survived the night and we were leading! It was around this time that the nerves started to pick up again.
The next morning the 888 was still in one piece and leading our class, which meant a win was now on the cards.
Our main competitors couldn’t keep up and started to experience crashes and unreliability while trying to keep pace with us. They also suffered some contact when being lapped by the ruthless Pro-class leaders and experienced some punctures along the way. Meanwhile at the front we were just making sure we were circulating at a reasonable pace, avoiding risk.
By the end of the race we crossed the line with a massive four lap lead and just missed out on a top 20 finish overall, a dream come true for me.
There are few words to describe how incredible it is to win a race you’ve been dreaming about most of your life. To not only take part, but to actually win it, is a fairy tale for me. Despite daydreaming about it everyday you never really know if it could actually happen but it did and I’m hugely proud.
I need to say a massive thank you to my team, Kessel Ferrari, and my co-drivers Jacques Duyver, Marco Zanuttini and Nicki Cadei. Everyone did an incredible job!
We now only need 6 points to seal the Blancpain Endurance Championship at the final round in Barcelona in September, but before that I need to focus on the Blancpain Sprint Championship in Hungary at the end of August… I can’t wait!