24 Hours in the desert

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In an enterprising move, local race driver Thomas Raldorf put together a team to compete in the Dunlop Dubai 24 Hour race a couple of weeks ago.  This was a first for the Pizza Company team and the first for the Tourism Authority of Thailand, backing a local team in this prestigious international competition.

The team took Thai mechanics to Dubai, and the driving duties were shared between Thai drivers Ekarat Wihawatprapa, Pitsanu Sirimongkolkasem, and Thomas Raldorf plus Jakob Borum (Denmark) and Niels Borum (Denmark).

Thomas battling with a BMW Z4.Thomas battling with a BMW Z4.

The race Team from Thailand left for Dubai in the start of January 2012 to compete against cars and drivers from all over the world.  The event has an internationally recognized status as one of the famous 24-hour races, with many factory teams entered.  2012 was no exception, with drivers like Bernd Schneider, Jarooen Bleekemolen, Thomas Enge, and many others.

Team owner Thomas Raldorf started his preparations for the event back in August 2011, and felt he was well prepared when the car was shipped to the UAE in the start of December, but he later came to learn that a 24-hour race is like nothing else.

The Thailand Team in Dubai.The Thailand Team in Dubai.

On the 11th of January the car went to the track for the first practice sessions.  It became clear that there was an issue with the sensors in the car, and the fuel mixture was wrong, so time was spent of getting this right and the team pulled a long all-nighter to get the car ready for qualifying the following day.

In the first and second qualifying sessions the team again had a fuel issue, so they ended up last in their class, and had to start last on the starting grind the following day. The team again pulled a long all-nighter and got everything sorted and in the morning warm up set their fastest lap of the event so far, and nine seconds faster than qualifying.

The race started at 2 p.m. local time in Dubai with two flying laps and a rolling start, and slowly the team moved its way upwards and was up to 7th place in class after the first six laps, and the team was now three seconds faster that they had been and was 2nd fastest in class.  However, after the first six laps the team was also passed for the first time by the leading cars, and now needed to spend a lot of their time looking in the mirrors for the much faster outright contenders with their Mercedes SLS AMG’s, Lamborghini’s, BMW’s and Porsches.

In the pits at night.In the pits at night.

The Pizza Company team had long range tanks fitted to the Honda; however, the fuel delivery system then played up and the tanks would not drain into each other.  Eventually, the extra tanks were taken out, and the team just had to make more frequent pit stops than anyone else.  In fact, the team made 30 pit stops during the 24 hour race (a record in itself)!

With the race being run in darkness as well as during the day, this brought an additional factor to play, one that the team had not experienced before.  To be able to see the track at racing speeds, auxiliary lights were installed, but when the team went to use them as darkness fell, the combined amperage was such that it immediately blew fuses.  They tried running with just two lights, but it still blew fuses, so in desperation they ran with no extra lights, and followed the tail lights of the cars in front.  A risky maneuver, but the best that could be done under the circumstances.

Another problem then appeared.  If they ran the engine up to 7,000 RPM the ECU immediately turned off the engine and the driver had to try and reset the computer in the ECU, whilst on the move.  Eventually they found that by keeping to a 6,800 RPM limit, they could continue, albeit at a slower speed.

“Alone” in the Dubai desert.“Alone” in the Dubai desert.

The team soldiered on, despite everything, with just finishing in mind.  However, with one hour to go it looked like 6th would be possible!  With 10 minutes the Thailand team climbed to 6th place in class, where they finished.

At the start of the event there had been a total of 75 cars, but many of them had not been able to finish and others had finished but had many problems during the race and spent a long time in the pits, so the small team ended up 46th overall.

Thomas sent a bulletin back to Thailand as they crossed the finishing line, saying We did it!!!!  416 laps, 2242 km driven, 30 pit stops, 46th overall and 6th in class.

The team was very happy to have been able to finish such a long and hard event, and plans were made right away to join the 2013 Dubai 24 Hour event again, as they now knew much more and would be much better prepared.

The Motorsports media in Dubai was very interested in the little team from Thailand and the fact they had traveled all the way to Dubai to compete with the big name teams like Besaplast and S.I.G. from Germany, and was also very interested in knowing more about motor sport in Thailand as most of them had no idea how big motor sport is here.

The Team would like to thank a number of companies and people who made it possible for them to join the event and to keep going during the event, with everything from finances to parts and contacts:

The Pizza Company, Raiden, B-Quik, Liqui Moly, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Unicar (D2 Suspension), RAAT, Sa-ing Garden and Khun Charoen Auamchan, Thon-Sticker, NFS, LAP 57, Spencer (SVDP Racing), James Kaye, Duel Racing and Creventic.

And a ‘Well Done’, from us at Pattaya Mail.