© Ryan Ratcliffe 2018

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Disappointing debut for Triple Eight at Spa 24 Hours

BMW Customer Team, Triple Eight Racing, failed to finish the Total 24 Hours of Spa following a high-speed accident for Ryan Ratcliffe just past the five hour mark of the endurance epic. The Welshman escaped unharmed, but the damage to the #888 BMW Z4 GT3 was too severe, forcing the British squad to retire from the fourth round of the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series.

Following a performance that showed good pace in the bronze practice session on Tuesday, the team from Greatworth (Banbury, England) and drivers Lee Mowle (GBR), Dirk Muller (GER), Joe Osborne (GBR), and Ryan Ratcliffe (GBR) were brimming with confidence going into Thursday’s practice and qualifying sessions.

With Muller and Osborne leading the way, the duo were looking pacey against their peers, and in pre-qualifying Triple Eight were fifth in the Pro-Am class, thirteenth overall. Buoyed by this pace, Osborne qualified the BMW, but was unable to make inroads into the overall top twenty qualifiers; traffic on his first run limited progress and then a red flag while on a hot-lap later stunted the team’s progress up the order. With results finalised, Triple Eight would start Saturday’s race 39th overall.

Until this point the Belgian circuit had been basked in summer sunshine, but as is seemingly tradition and motorsport folklore, the rain came hard on Saturday morning, showing little sign of easing before the mid-afternoon race start. German ace Muller started the race, and quickly progressed, taking to the horrendous conditions with ease and picking off five rivals on the opening lap of the 4.35-mile Spa Francorchamps circuit.

A further three laps followed on lap two, before the BMW factory racer became embroiled in a battle with the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari of Marco Seefried for 30th place.

Just 23 laps passed before the first safety car period was called, and Triple Eight were sitting pretty, 27th overall and now tenth in Pro-Am. The caution period continued for some time, with a second following just three minutes after the race had gone green to race. It was a frustrating time for the Triple Eight team as they hoped to make the most of Muller’s wet weather abilities and the unpleasant and challenging conditions on track, as quickly as possible, before sending out Osborne and bronze ranked duo, Mowle and Ratcliffe.

After almost two hours at the wheel Triple Eight received a minor blow, a drive-through penalty, for working on the rear-wing of the Z4 GT3 in the pitlane, and after taking the reprimand, Muller pitted a lap later from 28th overall (11th in class) to handover to Osborne, who re-joined down in 39th place overall, 14th in class.

With heavy rain once again making the Belgian track almost undriveable, after some two hours, race organisers brought out a virtual safety car period to slow down proceedings and try to keep as many cars in the race as possible. As with the first occasion, no sooner had the race resumed and a safety car was required, this time because two Pro class cars crashed.

At this point, Osborne was 31st (11th in class) and making giant strides forward, hustling and harrying his more experienced rivals, and by the third hour the British racer was in the overall top 25. Mowle took over twenty minutes later and re-joined in 35th place, with a significant amount of Pro drivers on track too; there was little that could be done to prevent conceding places, but a strong end to his stint behind the wheel ensured that 90 minutes later, Ratcliffe could takeover in 36th with a pacey car underneath him.

With darkness setting in, Ratcliffe had to keep things going through one of the more taxing parts of a 24-hour race, and looked to be settling in well. However, on lap 95, after going quicker than he had previously in the first two sectors, Ratcliffe put a wheel off the circuit as he passed a Bentley at the feared Blanchimont corner. This spun the Triple Eight BMW and resulted in a sizeable left-hand impact on the inside of the corner.

The accident resulted in a safety car period and once the Z4 was taken back to the pits and assessed by the experienced Triple Eight crew, the decision was taken to retire and withdraw from the race.

It was a disappointing end to what had been a positive weekend, but Triple Eight and its drivers will bounce-back ahead of the Blancpain Endurance Series finale in Germany at the world-famous Nürburgring circuit (19-20 September).

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