Race teams enter the 24 Hours of Spa, fully in the knowledge that the race will test them in every way possible. This year’s race was no different with huge crashes and heavy downpours resulting in only 32 of the 58 starters making it to the chequered flag. The Garage 59 team are happy to finish this massive test of endurance with two out of three possible podium finishes.
The #95 Aston Martin Vantage GT3, run in collaboration with Aston Martin Racing, and driven by Nicki Thiim, Marco Sørensen and Ross Gunn finished in third place overall. The crew were so competitive throughout the week, taking second place on the grid for the start and Fastest Lap of the race for Thiim, that they were ultimately a little disappointed to finish in third place.
“To finish third is amazing, but you know there was maybe even more we could have achieved in different circumstances,” said Thiim. “The car was fast, and I think we had the package to win. Working with Garage 59 was great and they, combined with some of our old WEC crew, made a great team. We definitely had the speed and the car to fight for the win, but just not the luck.”
The #159 Aston Martin crew of Valentin Hasse-Clot, Nicolai Kjærgaard, Alex MacDowall, and Tuomas Tujula were due a change of luck. It came their way at Spa but they fought for every bit of it. After qualifying in 13th place in the Silver Cup class they knew they had to focus and push for every position in the race. Their hard work and dedication paid off and they were fighting for the lead on Sunday morning before a long pit stop and a track limits penalty knocked them down a position. They dug in again and crossed the line in third place in class.
“It was a hectic race of recovery for us in the #159 Vantage,” said Hasse-Clot. “As a team we made no mistakes but then with just a couple of hours to go we were leading, then we had a problem with the door not latching in a pit stop and then got pinged for track limits! We got back out in second but the rain at the end was incredible. The track was so slippery so I couldn’t take any risks. I thought we were going to lose the podium but I focused on staying on the track and refusing to give up third place. It’s a great result for the team. The car was strong all weekend, especially in the high speed corners like Eau Rouge and Blanchimont. Now we look forward to the rest of the season in GT World Challenge Europe!”
Unfortunately one of the non-finishers was the #188 Aston Martin of Alexander West, Chris Goodwin, Marvin Kirchhöfer and Charlie Eastwood. It was a crushing blow as the Vantage had started the race from pole position in Pro-Am and was leading the class when it developed an issue with the gearbox. All was not lost though as the #188 scored points for second place at the six-hour mark so the championship battle lives on!
“Spa 24 once again proved to be the toughest race on the calendar, explained Goodwin. “An eventful first few hours saw weather and safety cars affect our strong starting position. Nonetheless, good strategy calls and strong pace on track got us to score points for second place at the six hour mark. We were looking comfortable for P1 points heading towards half distance when gearbox issues struck. A lengthy stop for repairs in the garage delayed us by around 20 laps and from then on the chance of a result was lost. The Garage 59 team got the car back on track and again the car showed great pace, enough to confirm that we had been a strong contender for the win. Deciding to retire the car and live to fight another day is always difficult, especially after such a massive team effort and strong performances all week from all of the drivers. We will be back!”
Garage 59 team principal, Andrew Kirkaldy, was pleased to see the team excel and to work hand-in-hand with the crew from Aston Martin Racing.
“Spa has been a thorn in our side for a while now so to get two podiums here is great, and considering there were only three Aston Martins in the race, that’s a pretty good podium hit rate,” said Kirkaldy. “We felt like we had a good car in Pro-Am, which is important for us in terms of the championship, so it was a blow to lose that car in the night. It has been a good weekend; a great effort in collaboration with the Prodrive/AMR guys. It’s a big operation to run three cars but it worked well from the start. It has been good to have the Pro drivers here as it helps with the set up of the car. All three Vantages were competitive all weekend. The Pro guys did great, I’m delighted for the #159 guys and I think this will give them a boost as we head into the remainder of the season but like any racer, I prefer it when we win!”
The Garage 59 squad will get their next opportunity to go for a win in just a few weeks when the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup arrives at Brands Hatch for its UK rounds on 28-29 August.