race win at spa as championship challenge comes alive

The ‘red zebra’ was back in action with Sam de Haan and teammate Charlie Fagg as the pair took on the endurance event of the International GT Open championship at Spa-Francorchamps. A strong weekend for the Optimum Motorsport-run McLaren 720S GT3 saw a front row start converted into a debut victory for the pairing, moving them into the overall lead of the championship.

The pair had delivered an impressive performance to score a podium finish last time out, and momentum was with them as they looked to keep their championship challenge on track. The opening practice sessions showed good pace, pushing for a spot at the sharp end of the timesheets. This carried over to qualifying, as Charlie took on the first session and looked to be fighting for the front row before a red flag interruption. Despite the delay, he delivered a strong lap when it counted, setting up Sam for the second session, with lap times being combined for the grid. Sam then followed suit as he worked to improve his sector times around the iconic 7.004km circuit, saving his best for last, combining to secure P2 and a front row start.

Sam took the opening stint, and was immediately in the thick of the action, but made it cleanly through the busy opening lap. Over the next few laps, he stayed in touch with the leaders, and after dropping a position, Sam recovered this and was running P2 as the first pitstop window opened. The busy pitlane saw Charlie emerge into a shuffled order as the pitstop strategies played out. A Safety Car intervention shortly after meant a delay to proceedings and another reordering of the lead pack, but Charlie had steadily climbed back up the order as the race got back under underway.

Quick laps by Charlie and efficient pitwork, saw Sam rejoin the action after the second stop, leading the race. His pace continued to impress as he quickly settled back into his rhythm, and he battled hard throughout the stint to maintain the position at the front of the field. This strong run to the final scheduled stop handed the #5 McLaren back to Charlie firmly in the hunt to challenge for the race win, and he ran in P2 as he came back out on track on new tyres. From here, he consistently closed down the gap, and was soon on the back of the leader as they made their way through slower, lapped traffic.

Having cut the lead over several laps, an apparent technical issue as Charlie looked to make a move along the Kemmel Straight saw the Optimum-entered car regain the race lead with 25 minutes remaining. He then set about building a gap to the chasing field, and looked to bring the car home, before a late charge would mean a final defence for position. Despite struggling with significant rear tyre degradation, Charlie held his nerve and the racing line, defending well and crossed the line to take the win by just 0.067s.

Commenting after his maiden win of the year, Sam explained: 

“The whole team deserves this one. We have worked hard on the setup to get the most of the car since the last round, and it is a great result to take the win after all the efforts. Charlie drove a great race, and I feel like my pace was strong in each session. It was definitely close at the end, but everyone did a top job, and we take strong points from the weekend to put us in a great place for the championship. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do next time out.”

The result moves Sam and Charlie up the order, now leading the championship by five points heading to round 3. The next race event travels to the Hungaroring, over the weekend 17-18 June.


international gt open – 30 APRIL 2023

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