ROWE RACING narrowly misses another podium at the 24 Hours of Spa

Motorsport can sometimes be merciless. A slow puncture 70 minutes before the end cost ROWE RACING a possible second place at the 100th‑centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Spa after a great fight. German BMW M works driver Max Hesse had to bring forward the #998 BMW M4 GT3’s planned final pit stop by a lap. Because he would have exceeded his maximum driving time in the last stint, he had to make an additional pit stop two and a half minutes before the end. As a result, he, the Brit Dan Harper and the Brazilian Augusto Farfus fell back to sixth place after an exhilarating chase and narrowly missed the overall sixth podium finish for the team from St. Ingbert, which had won three times in their nine previous starts in Spa. Last year’s winners Philipp Eng from Austria, Marco Wittmann from Germany and Nick Yelloly from Great Britain had to retire the #98 BMW M4 GT3 on Saturday evening after just over three hours due to a loss of pressure in the cooling circuit.

After that, all hopes rested on the sister #998 car which had already celebrated victory at the season opener of the GT World Challenge Europe at Le Castellet. After the first rain showers in the early evening, veteran Augusto Farfus and the two “young guns” Dan Harper and Max Hesse worked their way up to third place for the first time. Subsequently, an unfortunate course of one of the numerous safety car periods and a drive-through penalty for missing a red light at the pit exit dropped the trio far back and temporarily even out of the lead lap. In difficult weather conditions for a long time – around midnight, the race was even neutralised for about two and a half hours behind the safety car due to heavy rain – the #998 fought its way back to the front. Especially Dan Harper made up many places early on Sunday morning when he went out on dry tyres as the first driver while the rain was subsiding and was at times more than ten seconds per lap faster.

Over the course of the morning, the ROWE RACING trio had established themselves in the leading group and even led the field for a long time. In the closing stages, they could not quite keep up with the pace of the #51 Ferrari and the ultimately victorious #7 Aston Martin and were initially heading for third place. The great misfortune of the Ferrari crew, who lost the possible victory due to another car stranded in the pit lane, initially pushed final driver Max Hesse back up to second place but then bad luck struck ROWE RACING as well. Due to a slow puncture, Max Hesse had to perform his last tyre change a lap earlier than originally planned. Since he would have exceeded the maximum allowed driving time of 62 minutes by just one minute in his last stint, he had to make another pit stop in the penultimate lap and ultimately finished sixth instead of second. Only a possible further safety car could have extended his maximum driving time, but it did not come.

Hans-Peter Naundorf, Team Principal ROWE RACING: “This race was an unbelievable emotional roller coaster that demanded everything from the team and the drivers. We put on a great show and showed that we are capable, even if we were not rewarded for it in the end. Congratulations to BMW M Team WRT for the podium finish at their home race. All the BMW cars did a superb job and represented the brand with dignity. At times, three BMWs were in the top-four of this extraordinary race. For us, it was very bitter to lose a hard-fought, seemingly tangible, and deserved podium in the end due to a slow puncture that happened just one lap too early. After the early retirement of our defending champions in the #98 BMW M4 GT3 due to a technical defect, which we still need to investigate more closely, and two setbacks for the sister car, the crew of the #998 BMW M4 GT3 impressively fought their way back to the front during the night and early morning hours in sometimes adverse weather conditions. We had set the drivers some difficult tasks and made some bold decisions regarding tyre choice, which paid off and brought us back to the very front of the field. Our team was a fantastic unit and worked super well, otherwise such a performance would not have been possible. We can be proud of that and try to take the positive things with us, despite the initial great disappointment, to give our best again next time.”

Augusto Farfus (#998 ROWE RACING BMW M4 GT3): “This is a bitter pill to swallow. It was a tough race, but we managed it well. In the end, we were on course for the podium, but suffered a puncture 64 minutes before the end. If it had happened one lap later, we would have made it to the end. Due to the regulations, however, we had to pit again. Sometimes this sport can be brutal.”

Dan Harper (#998 ROWE RACING BMW M4 GT3): “It’s very hard to accept after the great efforts from the entire team. Of course, it wasn’t nice that the sister car had to retire early. After that, the focus was on our team. It went very well, in the end, we couldn’t quite keep up with the pace of the Aston Martin and the Ferrari but we were on track for third place, after the Ferrari’s misfortune it even looked like second place. Then we were also unlucky – and that’s how it goes sometimes. We can simply be proud of the job we did. We have once again shown how strong we are in terms of strategy. I would like to thank BMW – and we will attack again next year.”

Max Hesse (#998 ROWE RACING BMW M4 GT3): “It was an exciting weekend. The team and we did a great job in all weather conditions. After the puncture, I had to come in for an extra minute at the end and therefore we lost second place. That hurts. At least there are a few points for sixth place, and congratulations to the WRT guys to Belgium and Munich.”

Philipp Eng (#98 ROWE RACING BMW M4 GT3): “Unfortunately, our title defense did not go well for us. In the early stages, we always lost some time during the pit stops. Then I had to swerve into the gravel bed to avoid an accident in front of me. It initially continued normally and without any signs of a problem, but a few laps later I got a water pressure alarm. We found out that the radiator was damaged, but it certainly had nothing to do with my excursion. What exactly happened, we still have to clarify. All in all, we would have wished for a nicer return to the place of our victory a year ago.”