Garage 59 finished the second of this weekend’s two, four-hour races at the Dubai Autodrome in fourth and fifth position with the #88 and #59 McLaren 720S GT3s. After a tough start to the Asian Le Mans Series, the McLarens are now back on form and fighting at the front again.
The team had to make a driver substitution during the weekend as Marvin Kirchhöfer was unwell. Luckily, Tom Gamble was available and he jumped on the next flight to step into Marvin’s seat in the #88 McLaren.
GT Qualifying on Saturday morning was punctuated by an almost three-hour gap due to barrier repair work required after a Porsche went off. Once back underway, Alexander West qualified the #88 McLaren in 11th and ninth places respectively for the two races, while Nick Halstead took 16th and 20th in the #59 McLaren.
Both West and Halstead got away well at the start of Saturday’s four-hour race and put in strong early stints. Halstead pitted early during a full course yellow period and West waited until the first stint was completed before pitting to hand over to Gamble when the track was green. The two team cars got back in sync later in the race when the #88 pitted under yellows.
The timing of the full course yellows wasn’t on the team’s side on Saturday but that is the nature of GT racing. Some you win, some you lose. The bigger problem was that the McLaren was down on power but that was soon to change.
Both cars ran well throughout the four hours, only interrupted by a puncture for the #88. The #59 squad cycled through Halstead, followed by Prette and Bell and crossed the line in 14th position. In the #88 McLaren, West, Gamble and Goethe all ran well before finishing in 16th, knocked down the order a little by that puncture.
An overnight Balance of Performance adjustment and a range of set-up changes saw a renewed Garage 59 in the second of the two Dubai races, with both McLarens quickly back on form.
As the #59 McLaren was starting from 20th on the grid, the team took the decision to put Bell in for the start to make up positions. Rob clearly got the memo as by lap nine he had made his way from 20th to second and was busy hunting down the GT leader!
In the #88 McLaren, West started from ninth, thanks to his strong showing in Qualifying. He pitted at the end of his opening stint, still holding onto ninth, to hand over to Gamble.
The second hour saw the first of the Safety Car periods. At the restart both Gamble and Halstead pushed on, with Gamble making his way up to second in the #88 McLaren by making a great move on the D’Station Aston Martin. Unfortunately, he was then handed a drive through penalty for a track limits infringement. He took it immediately so he could get back out before the pack spread out too much.
A full course yellow at the end of the second hour was the cue for both McLarens to pit. West jumped into the #88 and Halstead remained onboard the #59. When the race went green again, Alex was in sixth in the #88 with Nick behind him in seventh place.
A second Safety Car just before the final hour presented the opportunity for Goethe and Prette to take the driving seats for the race to the chequered flag. Benji crossed the line in fourth place, just shy of the podium, with Louis behind him in fifth.
Benji Goethe - #88 McLaren: “Today was a big step up compared to yesterday. The team did a lot of work overnight on the set-up so I am happy to get this result for them. We’ll continue to work hard and aim for the podium in Abu Dhabi.”
Rob Bell - #59 McLaren: “We changed our strategy around today and went against the grain, which meant I started the race. I was happy with the car throughout my stint and managed to pick my way through the traffic and mostly Am drivers who also started. This gave us a solid platform at the front of the pack for Nick to be able to get the most from his time in the car. He did a great job and put into practice what he’d learned from his first ALMS race yesterday. He had a clean stint and this kept us in the hunt for a potential podium. Louis’ pace in the final stint was excellent and he was battling with world class GT drivers throughout his run and almost snatched fourth place from our sister car on the last lap but didn’t quite manage it. Considering we started 20th after a difficult day yesterday, I’m proud of our result and it shows we have the ingredients to challenge for the podium in Abu Dhabi!”