When we first learned we’d have the opportunity to visit the Dubai 24H race
, courtesy of title sponsor Dunlop, our initial plan was a simple one: go along to spectate, see what the vibe was like at this relative newcomer to the endurance racing circuit, come back and report.
All of that changed, though, when we found out that PH had a vested interest. Not only would there be a British team taking part, but that team would include several ex-pat PHers – namely shirt, rabailey, samnorthy, IanUAE and e21jason. This we had to see.
Team boss Spencer watches on tensely
So it was that we were introduced to SVDP Racing
. SVDP, so named for founder Spencer Vanderpal, would be racing a BMW 120d in the D1 category of this year’s race, held at the Dubai Autodrome. But this was no sponsored-to-the-nines outfit replete with its own pay drivers. No, these guys race off their own backs. Their only sponsorship in this event was to come in the form of catering, provided by the Hilton Hotel – other than that, Spencer himself would be footing most of the bills.
For the love
Why does he do it? "I love racing," he explains. Simple, really. "I’ve raced since I was 19, and starting SVDP was the best way to carry on my racing career at the time." Spencer can count among his past credits the 2007-2008 Dubai Autodrome Motorsport Club Open Saloon championship, so it’s fair to say that he’s no rookie around here. In recent years, he’s ploughed more money than he can remember into the purchase and preparation of his 120d. The aim? Nothing more than to compete - sponsors or no.
The 120d laps on into the sunset
Of course, to be here, Spencer needs some fellow drivers, and they come in the form of Jason O’Keefe, Wubbe Herlaar, Kris Budnik and Jonathan Mullan. When we catch up with them on the Saturday morning, it’s Budnik who’s just finished his final stint. He tells us racing in the Dubai 24H is a great experience, although a little more tiring than the ProTour GT Challenge series he’s more used to in his native South Africa. "I think I’ve had about an hour’s sleep so far since yesterday morning," he chuckles. "It’s a great event, though. Driving through the night was a bit hairy, but the other racers are really respectful, and the track is just incredible – it’s such a fantastic venue."
It hasn’t all been sweetness and light for SVDP, though, and their 120d’s history has been chequered. At last year’s Dubai 24H, they didn’t even get to start the race, and at the Barcelona 24H, steering failure and a dead engine nine hours in wrecked their chances. And it looked like things could quite easily go the same way this year when another engine failure in qualifying left them using their last spare – and untested – engine.
Encounter with a 130i resulted in some bruising...
However, fortune favours the brave, and with that in mind, the team waded into the race with aplomb, taking an early lead in their class. Throughout the night, though, a shunt saw them lose that lead, and so it remained into the morning. The first-placed Seat Leon seemed indomitable – until, that is, an engine problem brought them into the pits for 45 minutes. SVDP took a five-lap advantage, but with a loose toe link and a dying rear wheel bearing, there was some considerable doubt as to whether they could hold it. But hold it they did, romping home to take the class victory by just two laps.
Best in class
That’s a remarkable achievement for this team, and one Spencer’s waited for for a long time. "Standing on the top step of the Dubai Autodrome podium, my home track, was really emotional," he says. "Emotional for our great team and everyone involved. I have stood on the podium on many occasions in the various UAE national series races, but doing so on an international race of this magnitude, and to come first, is really a great achievement."
Big smiles all round? That'll be a win, then
Of course, there were plenty of other races outside of the D1 class, and huge credit has to be given to the Black Falcon team’s Mercedes SLS GT3 that took the overall victory with its driver lineup of Bernd Schneider, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Sean Edwards and Khaled Al Qubaisi, as well as all the other class winners. But, somewhat unsurprisingly, it’s the achievements of Spencer and his team that we’re most impressed with. And we look forward to hearing more as they bring the BMW to Europe to take part in the Barcelona 24h and either Spa or Britcar. And after that? Well, who knows... but we do know Spencer’s just laid his hands on a former BTCC Honda Civic Type-R, so expect to hear more from this little team with big ideas!