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General:
Paffett enjoys eventful GT debut at 24 Hours of Spa

Posted 2nd August 2016

Gary Paffett and his #86 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG Team had an incredibly eventful time at this weekend’s 24 Hours of Spa before finally bringing the car home in fifth place. Making his GT race debut, Gary and his team competed fiercely alongside the sixty-four other cars on the track and experienced all the trials and tribulations that come as part of the territory in endurance racing.

Throughout qualifying the #86 car, alongside the other Mercedes vehicles, displayed an excellent pace. Gary and his fellow drivers, Thomas Jäger and Maximillian Götz, recorded the quickest lap in qualifying but were denied from qualifying in P1 due to a slow-moving car that grinded to a halt during this lap which subsequently resulted in a yellow flag.

The stewards’ decisions post-qualifying meant that Gary and his team were one of many that were disqualified from Superpole qualifying and were issued with a five-minute stop and go penalty at the start of the race.

Paffett was disappointed in having to start Sunday’s race in P13 commenting: “The pace that we showed throughout qualifying was frightening so to end up in the mid-teens was difficult to take. The five-minute stop and go penalty could have left us three laps behind after just the opening hour. Luckily an early yellow flag meant that we only had about a one and a half lap deficit after we had served our penalty.”

Gary’s endurance racing debut got even harder as his team-mate Thomas Jäger suffered with illness throughout the 24-hour period. The most experienced endurance driver in the team, Thomas’ illness ensured that Gary and Maximillian Götz had to endure double and triple stints to complete most of the driving. As Gary himself commented “completing the 24 Hours of Spa is difficult enough with three people, let alone two!”

Gary took his first stint in the car at the first changeover and although he admitted the race felt bizarre at times, it represented all the highs and lows that you come to expect from a 24-hours race. Entering the car determined to navigate his way up the grid, Gary joked at how he “spent the first forty-five minutes of my GT career driving behind a safety car!”

Not only was the constantly changing weather causing headaches for all the teams on the track, the #86 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG Team also had to alter their entire race strategy due to Thomas’ illness. With this, Gary embarked on another triple stint at 4am and reflected on the uniqueness of a 24-hour race.

“Going out at 4am in the middle of the night after only around an hour’s rest felt surreal compared to what I am used to. Going out in the pitch black, racing during the sunrise and bringing the car home in full daylight was an incredible experience that you just can’t get in any other type of race.”

As the race progressed to its final stages the #86 car was running in P3, fighting for second position and looking good for a podium finish which would have represented a monumental effort in the circumstances. Unfortunately for the team, the rain returned and brought with it a chaotic end to the race.

As the excitement ramped up on the track, the #86 car was penalised with a drive-through penalty in their final stop of the race after their entry was deemed unsafe despite there only being two cars in the pit-lane.

Ultimately this penalty ended the team’s hopes of a podium finish as the #BumbleBeast crossed the line in P5. Gary had mixed feelings about the final race result.

“Finishing in P5 is a great result and before the start of the weekend I was just hoping for a good performance. Starting the race in P13, the team have made an excellent recovery but it is disappointing that we were so close to recording an amazing comeback.”

So after a chaotic and tiring weekend, how did Gary find his GT race debut?

“Going into the weekend, it was difficult to know what to expect but I am so glad that I have had the chance to do it. There is disappointment as we were so close to an incredible recovery, but overall we have to be happy with the result and what we have achieved this weekend.”

Next up for Gary, he goes from being one of the least experienced drivers in the field, to the most experienced as he returns to DTM action at the Moscow Raceway on the 20th of August.