Even after 23 hours of racing, the final finishing position for Alex and the Preptech team’s Renaultsport Clio was still up for grabs in the 2016 Dubai 24 Hours.
With less than an hour of the race remaining, the Preptech team made their final driver change and sixteen-year-old Alex Sedgwick from Southam jumped into the car to drive the last part of the race. Alex had one simple aim to try to chase down the two cars in his class, which were in front of him, and beat them both to the chequered flag.
The 2016 Dubai 24 Hour race, which is part of the FIA International Endurance series started at 2pm on Friday 15th under the hot Dubai sun. Being new to endurance racing, a completely new experience was ahead of Alex and, on the way, he would be tested both physically and mentally. Since first getting into the car during pre-race practice on Wednesday, Alex had demonstrated not just his natural speed but also a maturity way beyond his sixteen years of age. Regularly setting the fastest and very consistent lap times, he was chosen by the team to start the race and to bring the car home at the end of the race as well.
A total of 98 cars lined up on the grid of the 5.399 km long Dubai Autodrome in front of the local fans, TV cameras and online fans watching around the world. The start was an amazing spectacle with some of the world’s fastest GT3 sports cars from Mercedes, Audi, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Nissan, Porsche alongside familiar cars from Aston Martin, Lotus, Seat, Renaultsport, Mini, BMW, Honda, Peugeot etc.... and all racing together in one race which would last for 24 hours.
Alex’s teammate, Cody Hill, had qualified the Preptech team in 5th place in their A2 class and 88th overall, out qualifying some much more powerful cars from other classes.
Starting the race alongside the faster cars would be a challenge for any racing driver, but Alex demonstrated he is a match for even the most experienced professional drivers as the field of cars jostled for positions.
Alex stayed in the car for two hours before handing over to his teammate Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke to do the next two-hour stint. As the race reached the four-hour point, another challenge would present itself as the circuit fell into darkness, which would last for the next 12 hours.
Having never raced in the dark before, this was a new challenge for Alex and as he left the pits after another driver change, he had a two-hour stint in front of him to learn. Within just two laps Alex was matching, and beating, the times of the other more experienced drivers. As the clock struck midnight, his two-hour stint was over and it was back to the garage to grab some sleep before he would be back in the car in six hours time.
Just before 6am, Alex jumped back into the car with around eight hours of the race remaining and he brought the car out of the darkness as the Arabian sun came up over the Dubai Autodrome.
As Alex handed the car over to his teammate at a routine driver change, things started to turn. At the next driver change, the engine did not restart and the team had to replace a faulty electronic control unit. This dropped the team dropped down to 12th in class and 70th overall.
Then at the penultimate driver change, the battery and alternator had to be changed as again, the engine would not restart. This dropped the team back down to 10th overall in the class and 40 seconds behind the next car.
With just over 30 minutes left, Alex jumped back in to the car to take it to the end of the race. With no time to waste, Alex attacked straight away and put in lap times much quicker than the cars in front and lap-by-lap the gap reduced. With just six laps to go, Alex had passed the 8th place car and was just over 15 seconds behind the 7th place car. The next two laps saw Alex close the gap and, as the cars crossed the line with two laps to go, Alex was right behind the 7th place car as they raced down the start and finish straight. Not wanting to take any unnecessary risks, Alex waited his time and pulled off a perfect overtaking manoeuvre in the twisty complex section. Now as the cars raced down the start and finish straight, it was Alex who had to defend the position. This he did and was also able to pull away from the chasing car. As the cars started their final lap, he had built up a gap of four seconds, which he held to the chequered flag.
“Taking part in the Dubai 24 Hours and finishing my first 24 Hour race has been something I will never forget. It is like no race I had done before; it is both physically and mentally demanding. You have to drive at your maximum for up to two hours, deal with many different issues on the track, and keep repeating this during 24 hours,” commented Alex.
The Dubai 24 Hour is one of the world’s top 24-hour races and stands alongside races such as Le Mans and the Daytona 24 Hour races, but it is unique in the length of time the race is run in darkness.
Starting an FIA international 24 hour race and then taking the car to the chequered flag is an achievement many professional drivers can only dream of. For Alex, being just 16 years of age and the youngest driver on the grid, it is an amazing achievement.
“Sitting on the starting grid with the other 98 cars was something I will remember forever. The sound of all the cars as we all started the race was amazing. The race was very challenging, as you have to race hard but also deal with the different speeds of all the other cars. Racing at night was different. The reduced visibility is yet another obstacle to overcome but also fun. My final stint with 30 minutes to go was like the racing I am used to, and I gave it everything I could to catch the other to cars so I could pay back the rest of the team for all their hard work. Crossing the line 7th in class and 55th overall was as good as a win. We did in a way win, as we beat all the challenges presented to us and finished our first FIA Dubai 24 hour race.” Reflected Alex.