Alex MacDowall delivered his best performance of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup season so far during the biggest race of the year over the weekend, taking a well-deserved third place finish in the Silver Cup during the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa.
Fighting back superbly from a challenging qualifying session, Carlisle racer MacDowall and Garage 59 team-mates Valentin Hasse-Clot, Nicolai Kjaergaard and Tuomas Tujula – the latter drafted in for the championship’s longest race – produced a superb showing in the twice-round-the-clock contest.
Beginning the race on Saturday, 31st July, from 36th on the overall grid and 13th in the Silver Cup, the No.159 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 didn’t miss a beat. Second place in class looked likely as the chequered flag neared on Sunday, 1st August, but with less than an hour to run a late downpour arrived at Spa and the team eventually finished in third position.
“We definitely had the pace to win, the car was really strong throughout, but I’m happy to come away from the biggest race of the year with third place and our first podium of the season”, said MacDowall, the reigning Silver Cup Champion, “Just to finish the 24 hours is a pat on the back, it’s such a tough race and so much has to work out for you to even get to the end.
“Although we had quite a lot of rain during the race, all of my stints were in the dry so I feel like I got the easy end of it all really – although I did have some fog in one of my stints, you literally couldn’t see the next corner. Qualifying didn’t go to plan, so we just had to stay out of trouble in the race and deliver the pace we knew we had. All four of us were quick and well matched, it’s a great result.”
Qualifying on Thursday, 29th July, proved frustrating with the combined times of all four drivers leading to 13th fastest in class, 36th on the overall grid. MacDowall had his best lap baulked by a slower ‘Am’ driver in his session, which was also interrupted by two red flag stoppages.
Unfazed and ready to mount a major challenge for Silver Cup honours, the race got underway on Saturday afternoon with Hasse-Clot at the wheel for the opening stint. Although a robust opening meant a drop down to 46th place overall, Hasse-Clot quickly hit back.
When the race fell under Full Course Yellow conditions at the 20-minute mark, due to a multi-car accident at Raidillon, he remained on track as others opted to make pit-stops and duly moved up into 29th place before taking his first stop with 50 minutes elapsed.
Kjaergaard climbed behind the wheel and when the action resumed, one hour and 20 minutes into the race, he was in 40th position and 13th in the Silver Cup. No sooner had the race resumed, very heavy rain started to fall and the circuit quickly became drenched. Initially staying out on slicks, as the rain worsened Kjaergaard then pitted for treaded Pirelli tyres on lap 24.
Dropping close to the tail of the field in 51st position overall, 16th in class, the Garage 59 quartet had an immense amount of work to do just 90 minutes into the race. Moving up the order, within an hour Kjaergaaed had pitted again to hand over the car to MacDowall for his first stint.
Joining the action 13th in Silver and 43rd overall, the Cumbrian made rapid gains – the track surface now dry – and inside half an hour he had climbed into the Silver Cup top 10 and was almost with the outright top 30 with some terrific driving. Tujula took over next, the opening cycle of driver changes concluding when Hasse-Clot got back in the car at around 21.00 local time.
As night properly set-in over Spa-Francorchamps, the team-mates made consistent and impressive progress and around midnight the No.159 Aston Martin broke into the Silver Cup podium placings for the first time.
Through the various pit-stops and driver changes during the small hours of Sunday morning everything went smoothly and, as daybreak came, a podium finish looked an increasingly strong possibility. Into the second half of the race the team held fourth in Silver and were well inside the overall top 20, and by mid-morning MacDowall was running second in class and 13th overall.
Tujula got back in the car at that point, rejoining second in Silver, and as the pit-stop cycles continued he traded the class lead with the No.90 Mercedes-AMG. Kjaergaard took over and held second in Silver with just over two hours to go, moving briefly into the lead as the next stops began.
Hasse-Clot got back behind the wheel for the run to the flag, holding second in class initially and then taking the Silver lead into the final hour. Around the time of his last stop the heavens opened again, so the Aston Martin went back onto wet-weather tyres and a tense finish was in prospect.
There was also an issue with the door catch in the pits, which cost around 40 seconds. Running second in class with 45 minutes to go, Hasse-Clot did slip to third in the Silver Cup – and 14th place overall – which was still a tremendous result.
Germany’s Nurburgring will host round four of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup a month from now, over the weekend 4th/5th September.
GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup ‘Silver Cup’ Standings
10th Alex MacDowall/Valentin Hasse-Clot/Nicolai Kjaergaard, 28pts
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. Garage 59/Drew Gibson