Team Parker Racing suffered more bad luck in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup, as a software glitch and gearbox failure cost it a legitimate shot at a podium at this year’s 24 Hours of Spa.
The classic race, usually held in the heat of July, moved to a late October date due to the rescheduled 2020 calendar, meaning the team not only had to contend with cool ambient temperatures and increased inclement weather, but also a race held under more hours of darkness than daylight.
Once again lining up in the Bentley Motorsport Academy Continental GT3, Frank Bird, Nicolai Kjærgaard, and Euan McKay, battled wet conditions in practice and qualifying, leaving them further down the order than they’d hoped, but an excellent start to the race provided hopes for silverware at the end of the contest.
All three drivers took single stints to open the race, before Frank remained in the car for a double into hours four and five, where he pulled the car up from ninth in the Silver Cup class, to third by the time he came in to hand over to Euan. Struggling with the clutch at the stop, there was devastation when the Scot pulled over on his out lap with a software glitch which cost the car more than three minutes and sent it tumbling down the order.
Falling back to seventh in class, Euan, then Nicolai, pressed on in the darkness, and when Frank returned to the car at around 02:00, he managed to climb up to fourth, closing to within ten seconds of the car ahead as their pit stop schedules overlapped. Hoping for a Safety Car which would enable the car to recover that ground, the team pressed on over the next few hours as the race settled during the night, but further disaster was about to strike.
At around 07:00, as the oncoming day began to shed some light on the circuit, Frank brought the car into the pits with a gearbox problem, which the team valiantly worked to repair. However, losing some 45 minutes in the garage, the race from then onwards became about completing as many laps as possible.
All three drivers performed well in the final stages as rain set over the Belgian venue, catching out leaders in several classes, and were ultimately rewarded with a fifth-place finish in the Silver Cup, a hard-fought result but one that left the team pondering what might have been.
Frank, Nicolai, and Euan will return to the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup for the final round of the season, the six-hour 1000km Paul Ricard over the weekend of November 13-15, racing into the night at the home of the French Grand Prix.
“It was a mega experience, even without the fans there, to be at the 24 Hours of Spa in a Bentley, to be driving at night, I really enjoyed it all. We could have had a good result, but a few reliability issues cost us but that happens in 24-hour races. I wasn’t sure we were going to finish the race at one point, so I have to say a big thank you to the mechanics for putting a new gearbox in, which they did in rapid time.
“I just got in the car each time and drove flat out. In the night I was mixed up with the Pro drivers and they were dragging me along with them. I had mega pace during my stints and got up to third in the first one and fourth in the second, so I was really happy with the consistency.”
“Quite a lot of what I was looking forward to with the race was the parade and things which couldn’t happen due to Covid, which was a shame, but you could still feel the race was special. My first stint, in dry conditions, was nice, but the second time I got in the car was my first double stint and first in the dark which was a challenge. From there you do one, you sleep, you wake up, feel tired, get in the car, and go again, but it was a great experience.
“I can’t see how we could have avoided the problems we had but there was great teamwork to get the gearbox changed quickly. It was good to see the team was on it and got us back out there, so when you think we were in the pits for a long time, the result wasn’t too bad. In the dry we showed strong pace and hopefully at Paul Ricard we can get a good result.”
“I think we’re all a bit gutted, because we were doing so well, and some mechanical gremlins stopped us from getting a good result. We definitely had the pace but the thing with this race is you need a bit of luck on your side and we didn’t have that, but every single member of the team did a brilliant job. After the pit stop, I think it was a case of the brakes seizing on and grinding the car to a halt. We managed to sort the problem, but it was intermittently coming back on over the next half an hour, though less and less severe, which wasn’t ideal.
“It’s still an achievement to finish and we got a top-five in the Silver Cup so that was some good points. We’ve shown all year we have the pace to take wins, so hopefully we can do that at Paul Ricard.”
Source. Torque/Photo. Bentley