Remember Le Mans last June? It was pretty crazy right? 60 cars across four (okay, technically five) categories, all charging around the 13.6km Circuit de La Sarthe in pursuit of endurance racing’s biggest prize. There’s nothing else in the world quite like it.
But that doesn’t make it the only formula that works. What Creventic’s Dubai 24h lacks in prestige, it more than makes up for with the sheer amount of on-track action. When this year’s edition began on Friday afternoon a whopping 92 starters squeezed onto the grid in the Arab state, and with just 5.4km of asphalt to share between them there was drama at literally every turn.
Consider as well that with everything from hardcore Lambos to suped-up Clios on display, on this occasion the field contained no less than ten different classes. That meant ten different battles for victory unfolding side by side, and with such a variety in speeds across the board the task of negotiating traffic was a constant factor. Utter chaos.
But amongst the frenzy of a 24-hour race, there is usually one thing that you can rely on: that in the end, a German manufacturer will win. And sure enough, shortly after 2pm on Saturday there were a trio of black, red and yellow striped flags hanging over the podium as Herberth Motorsport’s Porsche 991 GT3 R took victory ahead of the identical 991 of Manthey Racing and one of Black Falcon’s Mercedes AMG GTs. Herberth’s tally of 578 laps handed LMP1 driver Brendon Hartley his first win in a twice round the clock race, which the New Zealander said was “an awesome experience”.
With bundles of character on display on the circuit, it was interesting to see how the event fared beyond the barriers. Motor City’s Dubai Autodrome – one of only three dozen tracks with the FIA’s top Grade I status – is a peculiar place because it is littered with buildings that are either abandoned or still under construction. The financial crash of nearly a decade ago had an impact even in this oil-rich region, all but killing the dream of a thriving town to supplement the motorsport arena.
An entire grandstand lies derelict at the end of the pit straight, while on the opposite side of the complex the foundations of a theme park continue to gather dust swept over from the nearby desert lands. It’s an eerie backdrop for a race, and quite a contrast to the abundance of skyscrapers on the horizon.
It might not be a festival like, for example, the Nürburgring 24 Hours (the rocky perimeter means camping is virtually impossible), but the Dubai 24h does have its positives. There’s a relaxed feel about the place even when the audience levels peak, and anyone can mooch around the garages to observe progress behind the scenes at close quarters. That’s never a bad thing.
But the main attraction has to be the grid itself. Be it thunderous GT monsters or plucky touring cars, there’s something in the spectacle for everyone. Click through to see some of our favourites, and a few shots from the rest of the event.
Pick up next month’s copy of Top Gear magazine for a more in depth look at the Dubai 24hrs…
Photos: Joel Kernasenko