Almost unbelievably I have managed to win the Spa 24 Hour for the second year in a row. This year I raced in the Pro-Am class with the Rinaldi Racing 333 Ferrari, but the most interesting part for me is how I found my way into the Pro-Am #333 car in the first place.
The story started in June, at the Blancpain 6 Hour at Paul Ricard, when Rinaldi Racing needed a last minute Pro to stand in for their regular Gold ranked driver. They decided to go with someone who’s last name is not ‘Perel’, which of course I wasn’t so happy with. Given that the team had only seen me race once it was completely understandable. But at the time I didn’t see it that way.
The 6 Hour race got off to a good start but ended badly when the Pro driver was involved in an incident on track and retired the car. After the race (past midnight), while the team was packing up, I decided to approach Michele Rinaldi and ask him to put me in the Pro-Am car for the next Blancpain race, which happened to be the Spa 24 Hour.
He replied that he didn’t think I was fast enough yet, but if I achieved certain things at the next race he would be willing to consider me for the Endurance seat.
The requirements were extreme, basically implying that it would be impossible: At the next GT Open race I would have to qualify on the front row, lead the race and outpace my Bronze ranked driver by 1.5 seconds.
As 'luck’ would have it our next race was only a week away and it was at Spa!
I responded to the challenge in kind by qualifying on Pole Position, breaking the Spa GT3 Lap Record
, leading the race and outpacing my Bronze team mate by 1.5s. The following week I got a call from Michele to confirm that they would put me in the Pro-Am car for the Spa 24 Hour race. A massive thrill and honestly earned, I am more proud of that weekend than I am of the Spa 24 hour victory itself.
In the end we had an incredible 24 Hour race with a well executed strategy that sandwiched our AM drivers in between double stints from myself and our Gold ranked Pro. This was contrary to our main competition who exclusively used their Pro drivers in the first 12 hours and were left with their AM drivers having to do the final 6 hours.
My personal highlight was grabbing the class lead around 5am with a move on the exit of Eau Rouge which involved a 3-car-wide grass cutting excursion by yours truly.
I want to say a HUGE Thank You to my team, Rinaldi Racing, for giving us a faultless car and strategy. I also need to thank Michele for taking a shot and giving me a chance in the 333 car. Without him I would not be racing this year, for which I’m hugely grateful.