© Ryan Ratcliffe 2018

Produced by Abbott Designs Ltd

24H SERIES

COTA 24H - 11-12/11/17


Successful premiere for Black Falcon at COTA 24H USA

Team BLACK FALCON have achieved a fantastic second position finish overall at the end of the inaugural 24H COTA USA, held at the home of the US Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Circuit Of The Americas. This new-for-2017 24-hour race was staged over two segments, with a 14-hour opening session running deep into darkness on Saturday finished off with the 10-hour daylight blast to the flag starting early on Sunday morning. In the thick of the lead battle over the course of the entire race, Team BLACK FALCON also finished as the highest place representative of the Mercedes-AMG brand. 


Team BLACK FALCON entered a pair of cars in this final major round-the-clock race for 2017, with a solo Mercedes-AMG GT3 entered in the headline A6-Pro class along with their development Mercedes-AMG GT4 in SP2.


The #3 GT3 was driven by the stellar crew of Abdulaziz Al Faisal (Saudi Arabia), Ben Keating (United States Of America), Jeroen Bleekemolen (Netherlands) and Luca Stolz (Germany), with Jeroen also celebrating his 50th start in a 24-hour race.


The #2 Mercedes-AMG Test Team Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT4 starred the multinational line-up of Mustafa Mehmet Kaya (Turkey), Saud Al Faisal (Saudi Arabia), Ryan Ratcliffe (United Kingdom), Gabrielle Piana (Italy) and Thomas Jäger (Germany).


Following the opening practice session in which the team were right at the sharp end, Qualifying went perfectly for Team BLACK FALCON: pole position the result after a stellar effort from #3’s quartet of driving talent. Red flags interrupted the flow of the session, but the #3 team didn’t let that put them off their stride. Maximum attack from the drivers achieved the fastest lap, but the fact that the gap to the second-placed Porsche was only 0.032 seconds showed how hard they had to push. The #2’s drivers set the fifth quickest SP2-class lap in the GT4 Mercedes, 20th overall. 


At 09:00 on Saturday morning, the 41 entries blasted uphill to the blind first turn, signalling the start of the 14-hour opening part of the race: Jeroen behind the wheel of #3 and Thomas in control of #2. Team BLACK FALCON’s #3 GT3 fought hard throughout the day and into the darkness, rarely off the lead lap and often in the lead itself. Traffic was a constant factor around the 5.49km circuit, with cars of significantly varying performance represented across the field. Catching slower cars in the challenging opening sweepers of the Circuit Of The Americas could lose a driver precious seconds, but Jeroen’s experience of the track from racing in the IMSA and World Challenge along with Ben’s local knowledge were key factor’s in the team’s strategy. Unfortunately an accident for the #2 GT4 had put that car on the back foot, but the performance of both the car and its drivers was never in question. #3 would complete the opening 14 hours in a solid second position, having led for 124 laps of 353 laps and also set the quickest lap overall. However, further trouble right at the very end of Saturday’s running meant that #2 didn’t actually cross the line, but they were classified 20th and a positive was that they had also set a fastest class lap-time during the first part of the race.


Overnight, cars were kept under parc fermé conditions, the teams restarting their cars early the next morning in the condition they finished. Unfortunately #2’s participation came to a premature end: electrical issues with the car meant it couldn’t take the start and the GT4 was retired from the race. But the #3 crew resumed their chase of the lead, Jeroen taking the 08:00 start with a lap to make back up on the leader, and all four drivers fighting every minute of the 10 hours. Frustratingly, a damper issue cost the Mercedes four laps in repair time, and although the Team BLACK FALCON mechanics put in a massive effort to turn the car around quickly, and total commitment from Jeroen, Ben, Abdulaziz and Luca won them back vital seconds lap after lap, the gap to the leader was just that little bit too much to bridge. #3 had to settle for second when the chequered flag was finally shown at 20:00 that evening.


As ever, the whole team put in a fantastic effort, and despite the disappointment of the DNF for #2, that car once again showed its potential and highlighted the performance of its drivers, while the drivers of #3 celebrated the final endurance outing for the GT3 this year with the taste of champagne. The team’s mechanics were excellent as ever, coping with all the challenges that a 24-hour race could throw at them.


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