The opening race of the International Endurance Series calendar was held at the well-appointed Dubai Autodrome earlier this month, and though the race ultimately delivered a good, hard won result for the Zest Racecar Engineering team, there’s also no doubt that it provided more than its fair share of ups and downs for Milltek ambassador Lucas Orrock and his team mates. An eventual finish of 2nd in class and 53rd overall proved that the team’s driver lineup is both fast and consistent, and that their newly developed Seat Leon Cup TRE car is capable of fighting at the sharp end of the grid for extended periods of time.
Wednesday afternoon saw the first practice session of the season get underway promptly, with Orrock being joined in the car by Kane Astin, Dan Wheeler and Andy Hack, all three promising veterans of the one make Mini race series, and all keen to get to grips with the heavier, faster Seat. Sadly for all concerned, Wednesday’s practice was curtailed by a decidedly uncharacteristic rain shower, the desert track well and truly soaked by weather that wouldn’t have looked out of place at Silverstone! Thursday’s sessions were better and were run in more typical, dry conditions, the ZRE team making good progress and collectively trimming their lap times as the day wore on. The team eventually finished the day atop the timing sheets for both practice sessions.
Lucas Orrock enjoyed a successful 2015 season and even opened his account with an impressive 9th place overall at Dubai, so qualifying the Leon was left to him. Aware of the need to keep stresses to a minimum in order to promote reliability and prolong component life, Orrock opted to blitz qualifying with one, all-out run in the middle of the session. Though the flawless lap he produced was rewarded with a time of 2:13.9, enough to glue him to the top of the time sheets for most of the session, cooling track temperatures later on resulted in better conditions, and Orrock was pipped to pole in the dying embers of qualifying.
The night practice that followed was enough for the team to finally get to grips with the car, and a session-topping time ensured that everyone was in good spirits as the cars lined up on the grid to take the flag. Orrock started the race behind the wheel and knew from the off that both he and the car were capable of challenging for class honors, something he proved within minutes by storming past six cars and into the lead of the TCR class. All this hard work sadly went unrewarded, the right rear bearing collapsing midway through the 6th lap and forcing an unscheduled pit stop.
A mere nineteen minutes later, and the ZRE Leon was back in one piece and once again out on track, this time with Hack handling driving duties. Extended pitstops are parr for the course in the International Endurance Series, and the sport is littered with examples of teams forcing their way back into contention after unusually long stops. That said, everyone in the team was all too aware that they now faced a stern challenge if they were to trouble to upper reaches of the TRE class. The collapsed bearing had left the Leon floundering and a huge eleven laps shy of the class leading competition, so it really was time to throw everything at the race in an attempt to claw back some ground.
All four drivers rose to the occasion and settled into to their respective night driving shifts, the period when endurance races are at their toughest and most dangerous. Morning finally dawned and with it came news that the spellbinding racing exploits of Orrock, Astin, Wheeler and Hack had been rewarded, the ZRE Leon now up to 42nd overall and 2nd in class, and looking likely to challenge for class honors after all. Fate had other ideas however, with a suspension failure a mere 35 minutes from the checkered flag almost spelling disaster and forcing the team to pull the car into the garage for last minute repairs.
A frenzy of activity and a decidedly hurried repair later, and the Leon was once again back on track and pounding its way round the Dubai Autodrome in an attempt to cement the team’s standing. The flag finally fell a few laps later, bringing the curtain down on a decidedly unpredictable season opener. The ZRE Leon was eventually classified as 2nd in class and 53rd overall, the fast work of all involved having been enough to prevent them from slipping further down the field.
The next race on the International Endurance Series’ packed schedule is the 12 Hours of Mugello, the Italian round taking place on the 18th-19th of March.
For more information on Lucas Orrock – orrock.co.uk
For more information on the 24h Series – www.24hseries.com
For more information on Milltek – www.millteksport.com