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31. July 2017

Small defects deny ROWE RACING deserved reward at the iconic 24 Hours of Spa

10th place overall in the Ardennes / Damaged damper ends #98 BMW M6 GT3’s fantastic catch-up race / #99 dream of defending the title ends early on

Two minor error gremlins denied ROWE RACING their deserved reward for an outstanding job at the 69th edition of the 24 Hours of Spa. Both BMW M6 GT3 of the team from St. Ingbert were among the fastest cars in the top-class field of more than 60 GT3 race cars for large parts of the iconic race on the famous Formula 1 track in the Belgian Ardennes, but they each suffered minor defects, which had a major effect on the race of the ROWE RACING cars. Instead of potential podiums, or even a repeat of last year’s victory, the team had to make do with tenth place in the end.

Four and a half hours before the end of the race, a damaged damper at the rear left ended the fantastic catch-up race of the #98 car. Dutchman Nick Catsburg and the two BMW DTM drivers Tom Blomqvist of Great Britain and Bruno Spengler of Canada catapulted themselves from 42nd on the grid into the temporary lead after almost 17 hours of racing on Sunday morning, and straight into the battle for another podium at one of the major 24-hour races. The necessary repairs pushed the car back four laps and out of the potential candidates for a spot on the podium.

Shortly after 9:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, Blomqvist took the lead in the endurance classic for the first time when, after a restart after one of the many safety car phases, the two rivals in front of him collided and dropped down the field. Alongside Catsburg and Spengler, he drove flawlessly and with great patience to first make into the top 10, before moving up into the top 3 spots during the night. In particular, Catsburg, who was outstanding in second place in the rainy final of the ADAC Zurich 24h race at the Nürburgring, made up valuable time during the night in rainy conditions in a gamble with dry tyres.

In contrast, the dream of successfully defending their title came to an early end for BMW DTM driver Maxime Martin of Belgium and the two BMW works drivers Philipp Eng of Austria and Alexander Sims of Great Britain, after little more than an hour. Right after Sims took over the sister car with #99 from Martin, who moved up from eleventh on the grid into second place after a long first stint, there was an unexpected problem with the rear right wheel, which locked. This is the first time that the team has ever experienced such a defect.

The slow journey back to the pit and the following change of the right rear drive unit, which took the mechanics just ten minutes, saw last year’s winners lose six laps to the front-runners and drop down into 62nd place. But the trio refused to let it get them down and continued at full throttle. This saw the trio battle their way back up into twelfth place before local hero Martin was forced to return the BMW M6 GT3 to the pit with a damaged drive system about 90 minutes before the end of the race.

And there was praise for the team’s performance from BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt. “ROWE RACING did a fantastic job yet again. Unfortunately, technical problems prevented another top result,” said Marquardt: “Bruno Spengler, Tom Blomqvist and Nick Catsburg, as well as Maxime Martin, Philipp Eng and Alexander Sims refused to give up at any point despite various setbacks, and battled to the flag. It’s a shame that they weren’t rewarded for it. The fact that the number 98 made it into the top ten shows what our team and drivers are made of.”

Hans-Peter Naundorf, team principal ROWE RACING: “Naturally, we are a bit disappointed as we had the performance, but couldn’t convert it. We were unable to show our full potential, and this is necessary at an event like this if you want to finish at the top. Our drivers took on the far from easy task that we set them flawlessly, with a lot of ambition, great motivation and extraordinary willpower. I’d like to give very special praise and thanks to everyone involved in our team; to the mechanics and engineers at ROWE Racing, but also to BMW guys, who gave us the best support, and last but not least, our first-class drivers. It’s fun working with this crew that has meshed well over the last two years.”

Tom Blomqvist, ROWE RACING #98 BMW M6 GT3: “We’ll be kicking ourselves a little bit because the pace was there to get a podium. We stayed out of trouble, avoided penalties and ran well, so it was a big shame to have a mechanical issue cost us time. I’m happy with my performance at least, and enjoyed my first 24 Hours of Spa experience a lot. I want to come back next year and challenge for victory again!”

Nick Catsburg, ROWE RACING #98 BMW M6 GT3: “The team did everything right, in terms of strategy and tyre choice. I was on slicks in the wet in the middle of the night. An unusual decision, but one that enabled us to make up a lot of time and fight for first place in the morning. Unfortunately, we had a technical problem that cost us a few laps. These things happen, but it goes without saying that we are disappointed.”

Bruno Spengler, ROWE RACING #98 BMW M6 GT3: “That was a brilliant battle until this morning. The car performed fantastically during the night and in the early hours of the morning in particular, and the team did a great job with the strategy. That was how we moved so far through the field. We could have made it onto the podium with our performance today. After starting from 42nd on the grid – who would have thought that yesterday? Then it all changed unfortunately. A defect cost us a lot of time. It’s a little bit sad since we all fought so hard.”

Alexander Sims, ROWE RACING #99 BMW M6 GT3: “The problem we had unfortunately after the first pit stop with the wheel coming loose this really told the whole story of the race. Without that I really believe we could have been fighting at the front and theoretically for the win. Our pace in the night was really strong. I think we were the fastest car in the night. The first couple of laps after the problem were a little bit difficult when you realize that you lost about ten minutes and you know the race is basically over. But then you get over the emotions and get in the car to do your job. And during the night it is always good fun.”

Maxime Martin, ROWE RACING #99 BMW M6 GT3: “When you have a defect in the first hour of the race and lose as many laps as we did, the remaining 23 hours are an eternity. We refused to give up and tried to make up as much ground on the front-runners as possible. We were one of the fastest cars in the field, and without the defect we would no doubt have had a good chance of battling for the win. But that’s racing; sometimes things go well, other times they don’t.”

Philipp Eng, ROWE RACING #99 BMW M6 GT3: “It’s a real shame when you start a 24-hour race as the defending champions and suffer damage so early on. That affected the morale slightly, but no one let it show. The guys in the pit did a fantastic job, and we did the same on the track. I think that we had a very fast and driveable car. With this speed and our good pit strategy no doubt we could have been up there at the front.”

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