Gary Paffett had plenty of positives to take away from the infamous Total 24 Hours of Spa, after finishing the twice-round-the-clock race in 20th position with his Mercedes-AMG Team Strakka Racing in the third round of Intercontinental GT Challenge competition. In addition, the Mercedes factory driver set the best qualifying time for his car, allowing him to handle the Superpole shootout where he qualified a respectable 15th.
Gary’s weekend got off to a positive start in his Mercedes-AMG GT3. The 2018 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters champion teamed up with Lewis Williamson and Tristan Vautier to tackle the toughest GT race in the world, over a weekend that would see challenging weather conditions.
In the event’s first practice session - during a blistering heatwave - Tristan set a time that got the car comfortably into the top-15 fastest cars. With a best lap of 2:21.253s, a benchmark time for the #44 car was in the books in an incredibly competitive field of 72 entrants.
With three drivers in the team, the #44 car only took part in qualifying sessions two, three and four with Gary handling the last run. Tristan was the first driver to set a time, and he cemented P22. Next, it was Lewis’ turn and he fared better with a P9 of 2:19.894s, just 0.663 seconds behind the P1 car.
Finally, it was Gary’s time to tackle qualifying and the Fitbit-sponsored driver set to work around the 4.352-mile track. Gary, setting the fastest lap time of the trio, finished his session in seventh place - meaning the team finished in 8th position in the combined qualifying standings.
As Gary set the quickest time for the outfit, it was decided that the British driver would drive the car in the pole position shootout where the fastest 20 competitors would battle it out for the number one spot on the grid.
Gary’s Superpole performance saw the SAP-sponsored driver secure 15th place on the grid for the 71st edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
The race itself was filled with mixed emotions. The trio got off to a positive start and they climbed as high as 10th in the opening stints. However, they were then forced into the pits with an unfortunate right puncture only two hours into the race. From that point onwards, it was a recovery drive for the #44 Strakka Racing boys as they had fallen behind the lead lap.
With the weather still causing havoc for the strategists, the race progressed into a pure gamble of pitstop and tyre strategies. The field of cars fought the relentless weather, during which full course yellows and safety cars were used.
The car was then handed a stop-go penalty for violating the length of a stint and dropped the car down the order with less than three hours of running to go.
Having amassed a total of 360 laps throughout the 24-hour race, the #44 car crossed the line in 20th position overall.
“The race was really tricky for us,” Gary said after the weekend. “Initially, we were having some problems. When Lewis was in the car, we had a puncture right after a pit stop and he had to come in once again straight away. Such slight time losses added up during the night and we dropped from the lead lap due to unfortunately timed safety car.
"Towards the end we got a stop and go penalty and, therefore, our chances for the overall win were unfortunately gone. We had a reliable Mercedes-AMG GT3 that reached the end and it had good pace, so we take that with us to the next round at Suzuka with confidence.”
Gary’s next outing in the Intercontinental GT Challenge will take place at Suzuka, Japan on 23-25 August.