Sami Moutran spoke of their epic adventure which led to the stunning victory during the weekend of 9-10 January at Dubai Autodrome.
You have a long history with Dubai 24 Hours – tell us about it.
Sami Moutran: This was our sixth Dubai 24 hours, in a row! What a journey it has been, three podiums in six races isn’t bad, a second and third and finally this elusive victory. I have to say, we as a team have a very close affinity with the circuit, it’s our home track. In essence it is where we all learned to be racers, and getting that victory, no matter what the future holds will always be special. It is a challenging race, the 13 hours of darkness, the speed difference with other cars, the ranging experience levels of drivers. I believe many people have said it is one of the most challenging 24 hour races in the world, and to finally conquer it was a true feat.
What has been the biggest disappointment you can recall in previous editions of the race?
SM: Last year, the 2014 race had to be the toughest emotionally and physically for the team. We had a few years of struggles and challenges, but last year we were leading very comfortably up until about the 19 hour mark. It took the second place team just over an hour to catch up, after we pulled out. The fall-out of that was tough. As drivers we had really given every ounce of what we had, and to come up short really beat us up.
What made the difference this year?
SM: I am not sure we can point at one thing. After every event we go to great lengths to ensure we action everything we as a team have learnt, and not just about the car. The drivers work on improving their skills, fitness and focus. The support crew work on how they can add more efficiency and value to the team and on improving the car, their pit-stops, the speed and perfection at which everything gets done. We know that anyone who has any role to play on the team has a critical role, so we ensure that everyone improves and learns, it’s not just about the car. This year, the team was ready, the stars were aligned. All the years of learning and preparation fell into place, everyone did their job to perfection. No-one would accept anything but a win, from the moment we arrived at the track. And we like to believe that Lady Luck had a small smirk on her face just for us.
Give us a timeline of how your team tackled the tenth edition of the race….
SM: It started on 12 January 12th 2014, at about 11 am. We had our post event team meeting to discuss what we learnt and how we can improve. But a little closer to this event, all drivers had a good amount of seat time on the Wednesday before this year’s race. Considering we are not professionals, apart from Phil, it takes a while to get our collective eyes back in. The car had some glitches on Wednesday, which were easily sorted (or so we thought). Thursday we had minimal running. We know the circuit and wanted to avoid the inevitable shunt that comes with letting 95 race cars loose on a track just after New Year’s Eve. Qualifying went to plan, Phil had a clear track and gave us a comfortable pole in class. In the race the first few hours were smooth running, holding our lead in class and staying out of trouble. It took about five hours before the small concern of the gearbox started to creep in, a few gear shifts were not as smooth as usual, but our crew decided to push through. Throughout the night we stuck to the plan, stay out of trouble, stay on track and keep pushing, a few niggles, some fuel and electronic issues, (we had to pit for fuel twice as often as anyone in class, and more than we had planned for) but nothing terminal. The last six hours proved to be dramatic! The small gearbox concern turned into a serious issue and it became clear that the car was just hanging on. Ramzi and Phil, who drove the last two stints, were absolutely nursing the car home, driving around the gearbox issues and ensuring we did not lose too much time to our rivals.
Who are the key people responsible for this success?
SM: In one word: Everyone! Memac Ogilvy Duel Racing is a team affair. The fact that we had two well-known and respected professional teams sharing our pit box, who both complimented us on our professionalism and team spirit says it all. This team is made up of so many people, and we ensure that everyone has a voice and an input into our improvement. As drivers, we know that every single element of running the team is done to perfection, and that is a huge aspect of ensuring we as drivers get our job done properly. While it is impossible to single any team member out (there are about 20), we do have to single out our father Eddie, he owns the team, and his support has been invaluable in driving us to this point.
During your last pit-stop the SEAT was reluctant to leave the pits… give us an account of that moment and also the feelings when there was a chance that could be the end of the race for you…
SM: The ‘small’ gearbox concern had progressively turned into a big issue. Ramzi brought the car in after a masterful two hour stint – managing to stay quickest in class while cutting back to only 5 gear changes per lap. Phil then jumped in, and suddenly nothing… he couldn’t get it out of neutral. There was just under two hours left on the clock, and the car just sat there! Personally, I was in shock. Flashbacks of 2014, all the effort and the energy spent, all that anguish came flooding back. By that point in the race, everyone is exhausted, physically and mentally. I must admit, it nearly broke me. The crew, those amazing guys that had been working non-stop for about 30 hours by that point, didn’t flinch. Hood up, clear communication, problem spotted, problem fixed. Drop it! Go! In three minutes we went from utter despair to true belief. It was at that moment that I knew nothing and no-one would stop us from winning on that day.
How important was it to win the tenth edition of this race?
I watched the first one in 2007 from the side-lines, and now we have participated in six Dubai 24 Hours races in a row. The event has developed immensely thanks to the Dubai Autodrome and Creventic over the years, and now it is truly on the world map. The fact that we have won the highest profile one by far is a huge achievement and one we are very proud of.
How big is victory on home soil?
SM: We are a racing family, and the Dubai Autodrome is a huge part of our family lives. This was our first ever 24 hour race victory, and I don’t think one person on the team would have wanted to win anywhere else in the world. We are so proud to be based in the UAE, and so proud of the fact that the Dubai 24 Hours has become such a high profile and respected event around the world and our home track, the plays an amazing host to that. Simply put, it means the world to us. We dreamed of this when we watched the first edition and then we started pushing for it six years ago. Now to finally win it, at home – literally at home, was the most amazing feeling! It is one I know this team will carry with it always.
And what is the plan for the 11th edition of the Dubai 24 Hours?
SM: See you in 2016. More learning, more improvements, more hunger to win. Our new goal now is to defend this win at all costs.