Serralles Forced to the Limit at Spa 24 Hours
London, U.K. – Felix Serralles debuted in the world’s most prestigious GT3 race and undisputed season highlight of the Blancpain GT Series this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps. The Puerto Rican driving in the #88 AMG GT3 displayed great speed and overtaking ability, but fell victim to an unavoidable collision at 2am on Sunday morning.
The gruelling 24-hour endurance race got underway at 16:30 CET on Saturday and had claimed no less than 27 DNFs by the same time on Sunday afternoon out of 63 entrants. The race was eventually won by the #25 Audi, followed by the #8 Bentley and the #90 AMG respectively.
Serralles was accompanied in the #88 AMG by returning drivers of the 24-hour event, Dani Juncadella and Tristan Vautier. Juncadella contested the Super Pole qualifying session for the #88 car on Friday evening, lining up P20 for the start of the race. The Spaniard returned to the cockpit on Saturday afternoon to contest the first stint of the race.
Under dry conditions, the race got underway without major incident as the cars accelerated from the rolling start down towards the Eau Rouge complex. Juncadella held position and settled in for his double stint. After 2 hours on track, the #88 pitted for its first driver change and Serralles took to the wheel. Juncadella reported understeer on the car and had been involved in a bumper-to-bumper incident that fortunately only inflicted some cosmetic damage to the front grill of the AMG GT3.
After the first round of driver changes and an hour into Serralles’ first double stint, the Puerto Rican was up to P14 and setting good pace in between the #85 and #4 AMG cars. 20 minutes later and Serralles was up to P12, edging the #88 car closer towards the Top 10 pack. His successful overtakes into Les Combes were smoothly executed and he pressed on before handing the car over to Vautier at 21:00.
At 22:30 (25% race distance), Vautier was running in P10 and completing the first laps under darkness around the 7km circuit, while the #55 Ferrari continued its 6-hour lead from pole position. Vautier put tremendous pressure on the tail of the #97 Aston Martin during the closing stages of his double stint, enabling Juncadella to rejoin the circuit in P13 at 23:00. Serralles took comfort in the team’s rest cabin as night racing continued and Juncadella was lapping +1.5s off the leaders.
By midnight the race had already witnessed a number of collisions, including a high-speed crash into the barrier at the top crest of Eau Rouge, which completely wrote off the #50 Ferrari and caused subsequent danger as it rebounded from the barrier back onto the racing line of the circuit. Other incidents were less dramatic, but retirements continued approximately on an hourly basis throughout the race.
As Serralles took over from Juncadella at 1:15 on Sunday morning, another consistent stint at the same pace became the objective for Serralles. The #88 car was beginning to mount a strong challenge to crack into the Top 5 when disaster struck at 2:00. Serralles entered the high-speed downhill corners of Sector 2 through the forest and suddenly came across a limping McLaren without any prior yellow flags to warn him of the upcoming danger. To avoid crashing into the slow moving McLaren, Serralles veered to the outside but could not squeeze through without meeting the barrier. The incident was an untimely end to the race for the #88 squad and Serralles fortunately walked away from the impact without injury.
Reflecting on the race, Serralles said:
“It was a sad end to our 24-hour race. We had a lose-lose situation as a slow limping car decided to go on the racing line in a fast corner during the night. I avoided the car and ended up in the wall rather than taking him out.
“Congratulations to the #90 AMG for finishing in third place – it was a great team effort by AKKA ASP! I’m so proud to be running with such a great team. You have to enjoy every moment because you never know when it will be your last time in the car. Now it’s onto the next round and I just can’t wait to drive again.”
Team principal Jérôme Policand commented:
“Having started a bit further down the grid, the #88 had a winning trio with three top drivers. I knew that anything was possible and this position on the grid wasn’t really an issue. This proved true as the car made it unhindered into the Top 10.
“Unfortunately, during the night, a rather silly incident occurred. Whilst Felix Serralles was at the wheel, he couldn’t avoid, at the Karting corner, a McLaren in his trajectory that was driving slow, and that apparently hadn’t been reported. [Felix] ploughed into the tyre wall. Although he did manage to bring it back to the garage, it was too damaged to be repaired.”
It was certainly a weekend of misfortune for Serralles and his teammates, as nothing more could have been expected from the Puerto Rican under the circumstances. With four different manufacturers featuring in the Top 4 finishers at the 24 Hours of Spa, this year has been another reminder of the outstanding level of competition and performance between the drivers and teams on the grid. While shorter than hoped for and lacking a worthy end result, the event has been an important milestone for Serralles as he continues to prove his talent amongst the world’s best GT drivers.