Spyker Squadron finishes strong in last LMS race.
The famous Brazilian track of Interlagos was the scene of the last race in the six-round Le Mans Series today. After five European 1000 km races a field of 14 GT2 cars competed this weekend in the only endurance race on South-American soil: the Mil Milhas Brasil. Spyker Squadron, the factory team of Spyker Cars, entered the number 85 Spyker C8 Spyder GT2R driven by Peter Kox (NL), Mike Hezemans (NL) and Paul van Splunteren (NL).
The race started Saturday at noon with a typical ‘Le Mans' rolling start in dry but humid and windy conditions. Just eight laps in the race Peter Kox returned to the box to get a puncture fixed. Peter Kox: "I hit the curbs hard and it felt like my front-right tire was punctured. I made it straight to the pits were the crew was already waiting to re-fit a new set of tires. Unfortunately, after completing the stop, it turned-out that the tire was undamaged and still okay". Although the pit stop was executed perfectly the team lost some time and at the two-hour mark the C8 Spyder was running in eight position.
Early in the race it became very clear that we would only race for 9-hours. The leading Peugeot 908 prototype completed a third of the 1000 mile race in just three hours and, besides some smaller and individual accidents caused by tire blow-outs, the first part of the race was relatively trouble-free.
In the mean time the car ran like a clock and with the blistering fast pit-stops and a steady but good performance of the drivers the car moved up the ladder every hour in the race. Just after two o'clock clouds packed together and it started raining. Fortunately it did not rain hard enough to interfere with the team's race strategy. Paul was sent out on regular slicks and rejoined the GT2 field in a sixth place. After about twenty minutes it stopped raining and the rest of the race the weather remained dry and calm.
"It is awesome! Although I must admit that it is hard to keep focussed and concentrated with all the traffic out there. I should be able to drive high 1.37's but it is so easy to be distracted by the faster prototypes" said Paul van Splunteren after his first stint in the C8 Spyder. After four hours in the race, with Peter Kox behind the wheel for his second stint, the car was still running in sixth position.
The newly resurfaced track is very hard on the tires. The tires that worked so well for the Dutch team at Silverstone, where they finished third, were a bit of a worry here. The setup of the car had to be changed to cope with both tire temperature and wear and double stinting on the curvy South-American track was out of the question. This also Mike found out in his second stint when he had to return to the box a bit earlier than planned to mitigate the risk of a blow-out because of tire wear. After six hours of racing, with Paul van Splunteren in the car, the team was running in a fourth position.
The gap with the car running in fifth position was big enough for Paul to safely make a stop just before seven o'clock without losing his fourth position. Peter Kox took over but when he left the box to rejoin the field he almost came in contact with another GT2 car in the pit lane. So far all drivers coped well with the traffic and fortunately this time also nothing happened.
At 19:20, just when it was getting darker, the number 20 Pilbeam got into the barriers and the safety car went out to control the pace. It picked up Peter Kox but he and some of the other cars were waved by until the safety car caught the leader. Except for a few lit ‘balloons' there was very little lighting around the track and the drivers completely relied on the lights fitted to the car. No further track accidents occurred and Mike crossed the finish line around nine o'clock in a solid fourth position.
Peter van Erp, team director Spyker Squadron: "I am happy that we finished the race today. One could say that we started from the back of the field after we had to change a tire in lap 8 that was not actually punctured. Fourth position was in reach as we proofed today but competing with the top-3 is beyond our reach. So I am happy that we have finished but for next season we need more overall performance to win podium positions. Paul, who drove the car for the first time, did very well, especially his second stint. I would like to thank all our supporters and fans, our sponsors and partners, the team and our factory colleagues for all their encouragement and support this season. It was a tough and challenging season with a lots of set backs and bad luck. Next year must be better".
"The car ran like a Spyker today" said Jille de Kleine, manager of car #85. "The engine did not miss a beat, we did not spoil a drop of oil and it ran like a clock. We only lost some time in the first stage of the race to replace a tire. Next year we need more speed but the drivers and crew - our pit stops were among the quickest this season - did an excellent job.
Peter Kox: "My last stint went fine and, although we did not take too much risk, I was able to drive fast. I am happy with our performance today and our fourth position. The team was great and although the car would not go faster I am pleased with my first Spyker-finish this season".
Mike Hezemans: "I think we did great today, the car was excellent. My last stint was quite challenging, it was very dark and difficult to see where to go. We maintained a steady pace to avoid most risks whilst not losing our fourth position".
Paul van Splunteren: "It was very cool to drive with Spyker Squadron today together with these two heroes! Mike and Peter were teasing me all day and putting pressure on me by first stating that ‘it did not matter if I made a small mistake' but then later they would say that ‘all depended on me...' I think we have achieved a nice result today. The car was great although it was a bit tough on the tires and physically it was also demanding. But it was a lot of fun to do and nice to work with my friends and the team".