Sims wins iconic 24 Hours of Spa
2nd August 2016
With a faultless race, Alexander Sims and his Rowe Racing team-mates Philipp Eng and Maxime Martin overcame strong challengers to claim victory in the demanding 69th edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, held in Belgium on 30-31 July 2016.
Despite a gruelling 24 hours and a sudden downpour in the closing minutes of the race, 28-year-old Cambridgeshire driver Sims successfully guided the #99 BMW M6 GT3 around the undulating Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the closing laps to cross the line almost two minutes ahead of his closest rivals.
In the first of the weekend’s qualifying sessions, Sims secured a fastest lap time of 2:19.188 to put the Rowe Racing BMW tenth on the timesheets. This was followed by him lapping the circuit in 2:19.977 during the night-time qualifying session. The average of the two times put the trio into the top 20 cars, advancing them to the Super Pole qualifying session.
Sims took to the wheel of the #99 BMW M6 GT3 for Super Pole, which allows each of the top 20 drivers two flying laps to set their best time. Sims set a 2:20.775 followed by a 2:19.865. These lap times and a series of disqualifications for other competitors secured the #99 Rowe Racing trio 11th place on the grid for the 24-hour race.
Sims’ team-mate Martin was first in the car for the 24-hour race. The Belgian driver maintained 11th position in the 65-strong field at the start but a collision between a Porsche and Ferrari shortly into the race caused a 70-minute safety car period for barrier repairs. This marked the start of many strategic yellow flag pit-stops for Rowe Racing, with Martin handing the car over to Sims, who began to climb through the field.
Following further driver changes, Martin was in the car doing a double stint as the race approached the four-hour mark, having taken the lead on lap 85. Sims maintained the position at the front during a double stint as darkness fell on the circuit. After six hours, Sims was out in front and secured the team its first points of the race, bringing home 12 points as the leader at that time.
During the night, the team made full advantage of strategic pit-stops with Eng taking a safety car opportunity to change brakes and complete the mandatory five-minute technical pit-stop. He handed the #99 BMW back over to Sims in sixth place, who clocked fastest race laps as he made his way back through the pack.
Come morning there was a three-way battle for the lead but a fire for the #6 Audi and a drive-through penalty for the #8 Bentley put the Rowe Racing trio back in the lead with four hours to go.
Still ahead of the field with one hour left on the clock, Sims was back in the car and expecting to go the full distance. However, heavy rain began to fall and he was forced to pit and switch to rain tyres. Several cars were to fall foul of the weather, causing a full-course yellow flag. But the brief shower was soon over, the race returned to green with Sims in the lead. After 24 hours and 531 laps, Sims crossed the line first to claim victory for Rowe Racing and BMW. It’s Sims’ third consecutive podium in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, but his first win in the iconic race.
“What an incredible race!” says Sims. “I’m so pleased that we were able to win the biggest GT race in the world! The team did an incredible job with preparation and strategy – the car felt great in every stint.
“With the BMW M6 being a new car this season, a lot of work went into this win behind the scenes. We took a lot of learnings from the Nürburgring 24 Hours back in May, there was a lot of preparation before the race and so much effort was invested during practice, qualifying and each race stint. This is such a punishing race for everyone involved. Philipp and Maxime both drove brilliantly and helped to put us in a fantastic position as the clock ticked towards 24 hours.
“The last stint was reasonably hectic but I didn’t feel the pressure. We were in a good position and the team was keeping me informed, I just needed to make sure I did my job and brought the car home – I’m so happy that it was in first place!”
Sims next races in the British GT Championship with Barwell Motorsport on 6-7 August 2016 at Snetterton. He’ll then return to Rowe Racing duties in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup in Budapest, Hungary, on 26-28 August 2016.
Track Days / Test Days / MotorsportDays.com