LEONID MACHITSKI CLAIM ANOTHER AM CUP CHAMPIONSHIP
It is the race that drivers dream of winning, standing on top spot of the podium at the famous Spa-Francorchamps. As previous winners will show, there’s no better feeling than tasting the sweet taste of Champagne after a grueling and physically demanding Total 24 Hours of Spa, whilst being overwhelmed with joy.
The 2019 edition of the biggest GT3 race of the year got underway in stormy conditions, heavy rain pounded the circuit and after an emotionally charged 356 laps around the Spa- Francorchamps Leonid Machitski once again claimed victory in the AM Cup Championship wrapping up the 2019 title, making it back-to-back championships with one round still to go.
Proceedings kicked off for the Barwell Motorsport Team from the Bronze Test and it was a chance for the team to prepare their #77 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 and find a balanced set- up for the drivers for the big race. Motivation was high for Leonid Matchiski, Adrian Amstutz, Richard Abra and Patrick Kujala as the team moved through the sessions getting quicker and quicker, the team grew in confidence and knew that they’d have a car that would challenge for race honours.
The team dominated Pre-Qualifying with Patrick Kujala setting the pace early on. But it was Qualifying where it all mattered. Leonid and the Barwell Motorsport Team pushed the Vimetco Extrusion and Renaissance Construction backed #77 Lamborghini Huracán to the limits and recorded a rapid 2:22.144 lap time storming to take pole position for the Barwell Motorsport Team in the AM Cup Category. It was also the quickest lap time overall in the session. The team would line-up on the biggest ever grid (with 72 entered cars) would start from P1 in class.
The cars lined up on the grid with race start just moments away, but dark grey clouds circulated across the circuit, painting a gloomy picture before it started raining heavily and Race Control had no other option but to begin the 24hrs of Spa behind the Safety Car.
It was lights out! The race got underway with 72 cars storming down into Eau-Rouge and up to Raidillon. The thunderous roar could be heard throughout the Ardennes forest as fans cheered from the stands. It was adrenaline-rushing racing as the Barwell Motorsport #77 began racing through the grid, whilst protecting the position as they had the Am Cup Championship to win.
As the day turned to night, the lights of the GT3 cars lit up the dark Ardennes Forest. With tricky and difficult driving conditions, the race was plagued with FCY sessions, red flags and a series of crashes up and down the grid making it one of the scariest Total 24 Hours of Spa on record.
Weather conditions worsened, and eventually heavy rain stopped play after 5am with the event being red flagged for over 6 hours until the weather had cleared. Conditions were difficult with only 5m of visibility and deemed unsafe for the class of 2019 to race in. At 11:15am, the alarms rang out throughout the paddock as teams were able to get race ready again. They followed the Safety Car for two laps and the race got underway once again.
Despite finishing as runner-up two of the #77 Barwell Lamborghini’s crew – Leonid Machitski and Adrian Amstutz – once again clinched the Endurance Cup crown with a round to spare.
The pressure is now off as Leonid and his teammates can race into Barcelona for the final round of the 2019 Blancpain GT Series on 28-29 September.
Leonid Machitski: “We knew that it was an important race for us and to create a winning strategy that would maximize the team’s points for the Championship. At the Total 24hrs of Spa there are points awarded to the leading team for the 6hr mark, 12hr mark and then the final 24hrs, so we started the race with strategies for the first 6 and 12 hours. Our strategy for the 24hours was simple, we had to win the championship not the race. But obviously if we won the race, then that was amazing. But it was important for us to be in first place at the 6hr and 12hr mark and after that we’d maximize what we could for the 24hrs of Spa. Mathematically we have won the championship.
Our race strategy worked perfectly because we were first at the 6hr mark and then again at the 12hr mark. Our championship rival, car #188 had an incident during the race which resulted in them dropping places, good for us as they were the only ones that could challenge us for the championship. It is impossible for them now to catch us.
The #33 car had a very strong line-up with no limitations on driving stints for the drivers, so we were very limited in terms of how much we could use Patrick and Rich. But we wanted to drive our own race and did not want to consciously complete directly with them. Yes, it would be amazing to win it, but the bigger picture was more important – the championship.
In terms of the race, it was the weirdest, hardest and most emotional Spa 24hrs race ever. It also had the least number of laps completed in its rich history, meaning less laps to attack. The race was up, down, up, down and crazy. It’s the first time in my 14 years of racing that I was afraid being in a race car. In the night, with the wind and rain, spray from the other cars it was like fog, I couldn’t see anything. There was just 5m visibility on the straights. Cars crashing left, right and centre and the Safety Car was constant, as well as there being numerous FCY sessions. There were also race restarts and red flags for 3 hours. I think I did 6 or 7 hours of stint driving in total and slept for the 3 hours during the red flag, suspended race session.
This year, it feels like the only race I’ve done here where I’ve followed every moment of the 24hrs of Spa and knew what was happening at all times. Usually, you are driving long stints and focus on this, and everything passes quite quickly, but this year I could follow the race, which was an amazing feeling.
I’m very happy for the team that we won, we won the championship for two years in a row, it’s been the most competitive championship yet”.
Mark Lemmer, Team Principal: “It is hard to come back and defend your title. This year was already a big challenge for us and we knew it would be really hard. The weather threw a lot at us, but we focused on the championship and to come away from Spa-Francorchamps with a podium as well was the icing on the cake”.