It was twelve unbelievable hours for Zen Low, Mitch Gilbert and Matthew Swanepoel as they battled fire, heat, humidity and race stopping rain at the Sepang 12-Hours before finally bringing Fydis Aylezo’s Lamborghini Huracan ST home sixth in class last week.
The week started out extremely good, all practice sessions went well and the team was always at the top of the timesheets. The car performed and handled great, Mitch was super quick, Zen consistently on pace and Matthew caught up to speed as the practice progressed.
Even the crew was on form with pit-stop practices going well and by Qualifying, everyone was in great spirits. The team was at the top of the timesheets and Mitch qualified for the top-15 shootout. He not only maintained the GTC fastest lap but he also went faster than a couple of the GT3 cars!
On Saturday, Mitch started the race for the team, kept the opening sequence clean and was on pace, and even gave the GT3 Bentley a bit of a hard time for a few corners.
Then a loss of grip in the rear caused concern resulting in Mitch being brought in for fuel and tyre change.
“We were leading for quite a while and then the tyre started to lose a lot of grip, I think it was just a small problem with the tyre but we dropped off way more than we should have. I think even if we kept going like that, we would have been okay with the pace.
“Then unfortunately we had a fire in the pit-stop, which did a lot of damage to the car. We missed about 45 minutes running and just dropped too far behind, we were never going to catch up without a huge amount of laps, so that was a bit of a disappointment” ended Mitch.
From there, there was nothing that the team could do. By the time Zen took over the Huracan, the team was 23 laps behind the new GTC class leader, he then passed over to Matthew for a double stint which was done at a consistent pace throughout.
Right after Zen took over from Matt and left the pit, the skies opened up, a short time later the race was red flagged, for about 45 minutes. It would be the first of two red flag sessions, cutting the race down by almost 3 hours, not including the hour behind the Safety Car.
Mitch continued, “the weather, I’ve never seen rain like this ever in my life. I know it rains a lot but then it stops, I’ve never seen it go so long and so many times for so long. But that’s why we do endurance racing and we are going to come back and do it and next year, it should be better.”
From there, the team knew that there was no way to catch up to the front runners and the goal turned to bringing the car home and South African youngster Matthew brought Fydis Aylezo’s Huracan across the finish line, 6th in class.
“It was still really wet and I have never driven a GT car in the rain before so driving at night and in the rain, put those two challenges together were quite demanding, it required a lot of focus and I just managed to chip away at it and ended up quite quick at the end of the stint. I managed to bring the car home, which at the end of the day
was the goal, so I am happy.
“I think we achieved our main goal which was to finish the race but unfortunately things didn’t go our way. I think we can take a lot of positives from the whole week, we can learn a lot from it and carry it forward” said Matthew with a sad smile.
Even seasoned GT driver like Zen was amazed at how the race turned out. “Every race is tough but this was an extremely tough race. The changing weather brought on changing track conditions, temperature changes, humidity levels, it was changing so frequently that it was almost impossible to setup a perfect car. It then became the
responsibility of the driver to make changes in their driving style to suit the situation, to adapt to every condition quickly.
“I was extremely lucky that I was paired with two fantastic drivers who were able to adapt to the various conditions and situations almost immediately. Helped that they were both really fast and consistently strong drivers too.
“In the end, it is what it is. This race showed us that being quick and very prepared sometimes is just not enough to win races, we need a whole lot of luck too. This is why winning races is so difficult, but when you do get on that podium, the feeling is just incredible, there are no words to describe it. It’s a high that all drivers and teams want
to feel” ended Zen.
GT first-timer, Matthew had to absorb the most over the course of the week. Not only did he have his first GT racing experience, it was an endurance race with night driving and add that to the extreme heat, tiring humidity, torrential rain and pouring rain at night with visibility being at best about 40% when caught behind the spray of a car, it
was quite a challenge for the 20 year old.
“It’s quite an amazing experience firstly to finish the 12 hours. It’s a massive team effort and I don’t think it’s just the drivers that make the 12 hour race happen, it’s the entire team and all the components of the team coming together and working together. It’s a massive team effort to finish a 12 hour race.
“It was an incredible experience for me to be able to drive a GT car and a Lamborghini that was absolutely incredible to drive, it was an absolute privilege. I’m super grateful to the team for allowing me and giving me the opportunity to drive for them” he ended.
For Mitch, the race came at a timely moment in his race career, one that can help him boost his plans for 2016. “My GT race experience were 18-months apart, quite a big gap, but it was good experience for me. It’s been a while since I had so much pace so it was fun weekend.
“My first weekend driving with Aylezo, it’s a good experience. The team has given me a bit of a lifeline in my career when I needed it so it was good but it was a shame for them because they deserved more than finishing sixth. Sepang is the first place I ever drove a car and that was nearly 10 years ago now so here is quite a special place for me. Plus my dad was here, my whole family was here, they don’t come watch me race that often so it’s always nice to have them”.
Zen spoke on behalf of the team when he thanked the crew, the sponsors, the organisers and their friends for the wonderful experience during the Sepang 12-Hours.
“It was an experience indeed. Thank you to everyone involved for the great weekend. My teammates were superb and very easy to work with, the engineers from Lamborghini were such great knowledgeable guys who helped us so much, our race engineer Simone and crew are as usual on top form and our sponsors and friends who took the time to come give us support. We are all grateful.”