Zolder 24 Hours : two Ultimas take the chequered flag !
On Sunday 22nd August, at 5:30pm, the two teams of Eric Qvick/Christophe Geoffroy/Olivier Bruixola and Patric Derdaele/Peter Theuws/Johan Empsen/Marc Neyens sailed into history by crossing the finish line of the Zolder 24 Hours in their Ultima GTRs. Yes, you read that right - two Ultimas at the start, two Ultimas at the finish of an eventful 24 hours endurance.
Ultima + M3 = GTR 3.2
The Ultimas GTR that compete in the Belcar are powered by a 400+ bhp M3 3.2 racing engine, mated to a Hewland sequential six-speed gearbox. Because of this “small” engine configuration, the Ultimas are eligible for the GTB class, dominated by the ubiquitous Porsche GT3.
Both cars were originally built by Eric Qvick (of Mini S3 fame), but have subsequently been run by two different teams, Qvick Motors Racing on the one hand and Belgium Racing on the other hand. Both teams work closely together though and exchange good and bad experiences. As a result, the Ultimas are not identical. Without entering too much into detail, the most obvious differences concern the suspension and tyre brands (KW and Pirelli for Qvick Racing – Moton and Dunlop for Belgium Racing).
Both teams have made spectacular progress throughout the season, improving their lap times and finishing nearer to the front with each race. Because the Ultimas still lack set-up benchmarks, trouble-shooting remains a trial and error process. However, the extensive development program that the multi-talented Qvick has put the cars through, is definitely paying off.
On the fourth round of Belcar at a flooded Nürburgring, Qvick/Geoffroy scored a superb 2nd in GTB class. It was only bad luck, in the form of a defect wind screen wiper, that prevented their first class win. In this very wet race Derdaele/Theuws finished 6th in class after being penalized for crossing the pit lane exit line too early. It is clear to see that once all teething problems will be solved, the Ultima GTR will become a regular podium finisher and even a class winner.
24 Hours : if not Spa ... then Zolder
Qvick Motors Racing and Belgium Racing were eager to compete in the international FIA GT Spa 24 Hours in July, but unfortunately the FIA decided otherwise. Some regulations regarding crash-test matters sealed their fate and kept the Ultimas away from the Ardennes circuit. This decision in turn left enough time to fully focus on the preparation for the Zolder 24 Hours, Belcar’s major race after all.
During the preparatory period, the Ultimas received the traditional endurance treatment such as fitment of a larger fuel tank, tuning of the engine for reliability instead of peak power output, revision of some aerodynamic tweeks...
Regarding the driver line-up, regular Belcar contenders Eric Qvick and Christophe Geoffroy were joined by Olivier Bruixola on the no 33 Qvick Motors Racing car, while Belgium Racing’s Patric Derdaele and Peter Theuws teamed up with Johan Empsen and Marc Neyens on the no 32 car.
The Zolder 24 Hours may not be a world-wide covered event, but the race is generally being regarded as a very tough race, even tougher than Spa according to some drivers. Consider for a moment fifty GT cars racing on a 4 km track for 24 hours with the fastest GTA cars lapping in the 1:30 region and covering more than 700 laps and you get the picture!
For this year’s race 49 cars signed present for qualifying on Thursday 19th August, including a Corvette C5R, three Vipers GT-R, a bunch of Porsche 996 BiTurbos and GT3s, several BMW M3s V8, a Ford Mondeo Silhouette, a Marcos Mantis and the odd Seat Cupra.
Qvick/Geoffroy/Bruixola managed to put the no 32 on 7th row, qualifying 13th overall and 3rd in GTB with an excellent 1.38.941. One row back stood the no 33 having set a time of 1.39.423. Though qualifying times may not be deemed crucial for a long distance race, the statement made was clear : even in endurance trim, the Ultima GTR could give the GT3s a good run for their money.
The race start was given on Saturday 21st August at 17:30. While the GTA Corvette,Vipers and BiTurbos engaged in an outright battle for the lead, the Ultimas settled for a consistent pace within the limits of a targeted lap time. The amount of fuel aboard should keep them out on the track for 1h45’.
Qvick/Geoffroy/Bruixola enjoyed a hassle-free initial stage of the race, only stopping for the scheduled pit-stops.The latter by the way, are rather hilarious at the Zolder 24 Hours, as the cars have to stop first at a petrol station at the pit entry in order to being served by an official crew assisted by the teams’ fuel men. Once filled up they proceed to their box for the actual pit stop. This petrol station is the only reference left to the early days of Belcar when it was still an amateur event.
In the Lead
Around 22.30 the no 32 car - having already made several stops - pulled in suffering from a broken clutch. The mechanics were able to fix the problem but when the car took to the track again it had dropped back to 35th overall. By that time we had already faced an extended safety car procedure following two crashes.
After 6 hours of racing Qvick/Geoffroy/Bruixola were running 7th overall and were even leading GTB class ! Not for long though as the Ultima no 33 car unexpectedly pitted with a broken rose-joint at the right rear suspension and a punctured oil cooler. Half an hour later, it was back in the race but had fallen to 25th position overall.
Just past midnight the safety car pulled out again for 45 minutes, this time because of a heavy four car collision.
The 12 Hour Mark
During the rest of the night no major dramas were reported, except for another crash and subsequent safety car procedure. At 05:30h, after 12 hours of racing both Ultimas were still running, respectively in 21st (no 33) and 28th (no 32) position. This called for a little celebration so I treated myself to an early morning Belgian beer!
Joy was not to last long though as disaster struck at around 08.00h. The no 32 pitted with a smoking left front tyre, caused by a broken front suspension rose-joint. While the mechanics rushed to fix the problem, the no 33 suddenly pulled to a halt just after turn 1. With the assistance of a recovery vehicle, the Ultima got onto the back straight line from where it limped back to the pits, smoke coming out from the right front wheel arch. A quick check revealed the cause, hardly believable ... a broken rose-joint once again.
Both cars were repaired but at this point the teams decided not to push their luck too far. They kept the cars in the pit box for some time and resumed racing at the final stage of the race. Even by doing so they would still cover enough racing distance to be officially classified.
At 17.30h Patric Derdaele/Peter Theuws/Johan Empsen/Marc Neyens crossed the finish line, finishing 24th.
Eric Qvick/Christophe Geoffroy/Olivier Bruixola took the chequered flag 26th, but not without having set fastest lap in the race (of the GTB finishers) with a spectacular 1.37.590.
Everybody agrees that if it were not for the weak links in the suspension, the Ultimas could have finished way up in the final ranking, also because no other major mechanical problems were reported. Given that this was the Belgian teams’ maiden 24 hours race with the Ultima, their finish is a truly superb achievement and a historical result for the Ultima GTR. To be continued.