MOTORSPORT: It all ends in disappointment for Garage 59 at Spa
Sadly for the Brackley-based Garage 59 team, the event at the Spa-Francorchamps track in Belgium that started full of promise, ultimately ended in disappointment as both of their McLaren 720S GT3 team cars were forced to retire from the event with significant accident damage.
A huge crowd of spectators were trackside for the 74th-running of the Belgian endurance classic, helped in part by the participation of Moto GP legend, Valentino Rossi in an Audi R8, with the race once again was a qualifying round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge and the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe.
A starting grid of sixty-six GT3 specification cars battled wheel-to-wheel in spectacular fashion throughout around the Ardennes venue for the latest edition of a race that was first held back in 1924.
For Garage 59 the weekend started well. Strong performances during pre race qualifying sessions for their McLarens, and a victory for James Baldwin in the 60-minute Fanatec e-Sports GT Pro Series, stood the team in good stead prior to start of the main event.
Following the final official qualifying session, the number 188 McLaren of Alexander West, Miguel Ramos, Henrique Chaves and Dean Macdonald secured third place in the Pro-Am class on the grid, while the team's number 159 car of Nicolai Kjærgaard, Manuel Maldonado, Ethan Simioni and James Baldwin was placed fifth in the Silver Cup class for the start.
The event roared away from the grid with Kjaergaard behind the wheel of 159 and Chaves in the number 188, and both drove strong opening stints to put their cars in contention for class honours.
As the race progressed a number of Full Course Yellow and Safety Car periods slowed proceedings, and during the early hours of the morning the race was halted due to an accident at the Blanchimont corner that required track officials to repair the safety barriers.
It was shortly after action resumed when Garage 59 suffered their first retirement. The number 159, with Ethan Simioni at the wheel, was involved in an incident. The car suffered heavy front end damage, causing an issue with the car's radiator – ending its participation.
Baldwin said: "I've loved every minute of this opportunity to race in the 24 Hours of Spa. It's a shame we didn't make the finish, but it was still an experience I'll never forget, being thrown in at the deep end of GT racing.
"I'd like to thank Garage 59 for having me, it was pleasure to drive their car and work with them."
The team attention switched to number 188, which was running well until Sunday morning when the car was pitched off the circuit in a collision that sent Miguel Ramos crashing at high-speed into track barriers.
Ramos was thankfully uninjured in the huge accident, but the car was badly damaged and an instant retirement.
Chaves commented: "The most important thing is that Miguel is well and didn’t get injured after his scary accident.
"Concerning the race, we were doing well, and I think we were set to finish on the class podium and maybe a win was possible. The way it finished was very unfortunate but racing is sometimes cruel. We will come back stronger in the next race at Hockenheim!”
The end result was a huge disappointment for Garage 59 , although the team with Miguel Ramos continue to lead the overall GT World Challenge Pro-Am title standings with West, Ramos and Chaves still very much in the hunt for the Endurance Cup Pro-Am title.
The first car to cross the line at the fall of the chequered flag was the number 88 AKKODIS ASP Mercedes AMG GT3 of Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, the trio of racers were always in contention for victory, and they finished ahead of their podium rivals AMG Team GetSpeed and Iron Lynx Ferrari.
Driving a Dallara for Buckingham's Team Fox Racing, Tony Bishop scored first and fourth place finishes in rounds of the Monoposto Racing Club Championship at Silverstone last weekend, while local motorcycle racers will be in action at Mallory Park this weekend in the latest round of the East Midland Racing Association (EMRA) Club Championship races.
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell stood on the podium at the end of Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix.
Driving for the Brackley-based Mercedes AMG Petronas team, Russell started the race from pole position – his first in F1, but ultimately finished behind his experienced team-mate.
The race was won by Max Verstappen in a Red Bull. Sebastian Vettel was classified tenth for the Silverstone-based Aston Martin Racing team.
Announcing his retirement, Vettel will be replaced in the Aston Martin line-up next year by Fernando Alonso.