British racer Adam Christodoulou started the season by charging into the first race of the 2014 with an incredible performance at the wheel of the Team Black Falcon Mercedes SLS GT3.
The season started early for the former British Formula Renault Champion; only ten days into the new year and he was already on the grid of the first twenty four hour marathon drive of the season. The race would be in amongst the hot, arid deserts of the United Arab Emirates, on the 5.4 kilometre circuit of the Dubai Autodrome.
Expectations were high. Team Black Falcon had outstanding form at this event in the past two years – outright winners twice – and were seeking to achieve the hat trick in 2014.
Christo would be sharing the drive with four co-drivers; Khaled Al Qubaisi (Abu Dhabi), Jeroen Bleekemolen (Netherlands), Abdulaziz Turki Al Faisal (Saudi Arabia) and Hubert Haupt (Germany).
With five drivers to rotate through, it was always going to be tough to get everyone out for a good stint during testing, but each driver got their opportunity during the night practice session and as part of qualification for the race.
Good pace during both day and night practices were promising signs.
Qualifying followed, starting on Thursday afternoon, and it was pretty tough in the heat. Even so, the team chalked up a respectable 4th place overall on Friday afternoon’s starting grid.
At 1.53pm, all seventy nine cars lined up on the tarmac. There was a two minute silence before the get-go, and in the standing heat the temperature was now approaching 30 degrees and the pressure was starting to really mount.
The track was dusty. Slight winds blew a constant thin film of desert sand across black stuff, but finally at 1.55pm the cars we’re given to signal to get out on track for a few minutes ahead of the race. At 2.00pm, the official race start time, the lights finally switched to green and the race roared into life.
Christodoulou was the first driver out in the number 2 badge SLS, and into the first four corners, found himself jostling side-by-side with the number 3 badge Porsche before eventually dipping back into fourth place.
The car was performing well, and the first stint passed off smoothly. By lap four the team were already carving through lapped traffic. This set the tone for the rest of the race the drivers remained super-vigilant about avoiding contact with other vehicles as much as was humanly possible.
In the first pit stop Abdulaziz stepped in to replace Christodoulou. He too had a great run, and in turn he handed over to Hubert, then he to Khaled, then the wheel came back to Christodoulou once more.
Things had been progressing smoothly until what appeared to be some minor contact from an earlier stint wasn’t quite as insignificant as had first seemed, and it came back to haunt the team when the rear suspension had to be changed, and cost precious laps that dropped Team Black Falcon number 2 outside the top ten, and put the car over ten laps behind.
To compound problems, the passenger side Gullwing door opened mid-race, which caused a delay whilst the track marshals stepped in to get it closed again. And later that night the car encountered two high speed tyre blow-outs caused by debris on the track, and which also caused damage to the car. Yet the chase remained strong.
By sunrise the SLS was back into fifth, and not too longer after, had climbed back into third position. The mayhem had calmed somewhat, and the team were now sailing through the final stint of the race.
Khaled was back in the car, and with fifteen minutes to go with over two laps behind him and two laps in front of him to his nearest competitors, everything was looking positive. But fortunes can change so quickly out on track, and it was only through his skill and reactions that he managed to avoid the consequences of slower car during an overtaking manoeuvre that nearly put him in the pitwall. The end plate of the rear wing had clipped the barrier, but thankfully the car escaped what could have been a far worse outcome.
Khaled was able to get the car going once more, and nursed it around the final laps of the race.
The chequered flag fell, and Team Black Falcon finished the Dubai 24 hours in third place. The car had taken a battering, yet despite the setbacks, it was an incredible result that in such a condition the vehicle had taken the team to a podium result.
After the race, Christodoulou congratulated the team, “I want to say a huge thank you and congratulations to Team Black Falcon, all of our crew today, and all of my team mates for making it such a memorable race and getting us through all 597 laps! I hope we’re all able to be back again next year to compete in this great race together in 2015.”