GT4 Teams’ title contender Buggyra ZM Racing may have lost its championship lead at the Hankook 12H ESTORIL, but two category podiums means the team is still well in title contention heading into the season-closing Hankook 24H BARCELONA.
Words – James Gent
Images – Nico Mombaerts
Erstwhile GT4 Teams’ championship leader Buggyra ZM Racing ended a “pretty long and brutal” Hankook 12H ESTORIL weekend with its fourth and fifth class podiums in a maiden 24H SERIES powered by Hankook season, leaving the team just two points adrift in this year’s GT4 Teams’ championship fight.
The Emirati-entered, Czech-based outfit finished 1st on the road in GT4 during Friday’s 6H Qualifying Race in Estoril, though a post-race penalty on Friday night meant the #416 Mercedes-AMG GT4 slipped back to 2nd in-class in the official results. During the Hankook 12H ESTORIL itself on Saturday, Buggyra, which came into the weekend as GT4 Teams’ standings leader, then overcame a broken wheel hub and a small fuel fire to pick up another consecutive 2nd in-class.
Though the team has now slipped behind Atlas BX Motorsport in the title race, Buggyra ZM Racing is still only two points adrift – and thus still well in title contention – heading into the 24H SERIES’ European season finale in Barcelona.
“It was a pretty long and brutal day, there was a lot of action, and we lost a wheel at one point,” Aliyyah Koloc explained. “And then, in the last 12 minutes [on Saturday], the car stopped and apparently there was a fire. So, we weren’t able to see the chequered flag, and after 12 hours of racing, it’s really disappointing. But it’s a good experience for us, ahead of the [Hankook] 24H BARCELONA.
“Going into that race, we will be two points behind in the points standings, so it will be a really tough race. It’s really close with the other competitor, and we will fight until the end.”
Aliyyah Koloc, Adam Lacko and David Vršecky got Buggyra’s weekend off to a strong start by securing GT4-class pole position by more than nine-tenths of a second. This, despite Aliyyah having never competed at the Circuito do Estoril, and David and Adam having only done so in trucks.
Though beaten away at the rolling start for Friday’s 6H Qualifying Race, the #416 Mercedes-AMG GT4 shadowed its South Korean title rival across the first hour, and was still only 20 seconds behind after the second. Rapid pit work, plus an impressive double stint from Koloc, meant Buggyra moved into the lead during the fifth hour, Lacko and Vršecky thereafter holding off Atlas BX’s charging Taekeun Yang and Steven Cho to initially seal 6H Qualifying Race victory by just 1.9 seconds. However, a bizarre incident with MP Racing on the run to the chequered flag saw the Emirati-entered team handed a 30-second penalty post-race, dropping the #416 Mercedes back to 2nd.
“It was very strange to have a qualifying race that lasted six hours, but it was a good warm-up for the [Hankook] 12H ESTORIL,” Koloc said post-race. “We fought hard with the other Mercedes, so it was really close, and, in the end, David drove really well and was one second ahead of the other car. Unfortunately we got a 30-second penalty.
“I didn’t agree with the penalty. I see what [race control] mean but 30-seconds for that was nothing. And we think there was a false start from another competitor, so there was a lot of inconsistency in the decisions. But the battle on the final lap was very entertaining, very exciting and very hard to watch. It’s just a shame what happened after.”
The GT4 Teams’ title rivals were similarly latched together during the opening stages of the following day’s Hankook 12H ESTORIL, with the lead swapping back and forth repeatedly between the two Mercedes during the opening six hours (after the first five, Buggyra held the lead by just 26 seconds). Ill fortune eventually struck Buggyra ZM Racing on the cusp of the seventh hour however when the front left wheel hub failed, Lacko nevertheless getting the #416 Mercedes back to the pits with only limited damage. After a 19-minute pit stop to replace the hub, Buggyra still got back out on-track 2nd in-class ahead of the luckless PCR Sport.
Unfortunately, poor luck would strike Buggyra once again inside the closing 15 minutes when Lacko, fresh from a late-race splash-and-dash, was ordered to box when team spotters saw flames emanating from the Mercedes’ loose fuel filler cap. Prioritizing safety, the #416 Mercedes-AMG GT4 was parked with just nine minutes left on the clock, although the team was still classified 2nd in-class.
Though not quite the weekend it had hoped for, a double podium means Buggyra ZM Racing is still just two points behind Atlas BX Motorsport heading into its first 24-hour race in Barcelona on 15-16-17 September, with Aliyyah Koloc, Adam Lacko and David Vršecky similarly only two points behind in the GT4 Drivers’ standings. Moreover, Buggyra is just two points off the overall lead in the GT European Trophy standings heading into the Hankook 24H BARCELONA season finale.