Devon Modell added yet another significant podium to his quickly expanding endurance racing repertoire by helping take the Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 GT3 to a podium finish in the 67th edition of the highly-demanding Total 24 Hours of Spa (24-26 July).
Entering his fourth 24 hour endurance race of the season, Modell was buoyed by the series’ recent official test day and felt that a strong points finish was on the cards.
He and his Ecurie Ecosse teammates, Oliver Bryant, Alasdair McCaig and Alexander Sims, positioned themselves 20th overall and sixth in class during the Super Pole qualifying shoot-out on Friday (24 July), unable to set a competitive lap time due to a left-rear brake binding issue.
However, the Scottish outfit was purely focused on chasing car setup instead of lap times to ensure it was prepared for every eventuality and this proved to be a wise strategy, as torrential rain struck Belgium’s Ardennes forest as the twice-around-the-clock race commenced on Saturday afternoon.
The treacherous conditions meant it wasn’t long before Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps claimed its first victim. Drivers struggled to negotiate the 4.35mile racetrack and the Safety Car was a common sight, but Ecurie Ecosse made the most of its rivals’ mistakes and misfortune to leap up the leaderboard to 12th overall and third in class.
A gap in the weather saw a dry line begin to form and the ever-improving track conditions prompted many of the top teams to fit slick tyres, only for the rain to return with a vengeance.
Opting to stay on grooved rubber, the pendulum swung back in favour of Ecurie Ecosse, which took over the Pro-Am lead as darkness descended and Spa took on a completely different look and feel.
It’s during the night and in wet conditions when the most talented drivers excel and demonstrate their true worth, and Modell once again showed a great turn of speed behind the wheel of the Barwell Motorsport-run BMW Z4 GT3, continually putting in fast and consistent lap times to maintain position inside the top ten overall throughout the hours of darkness.
As daylight returned and with the end in sight, a podium finish looked to have slipped from Modell’s grasp in a cruel twist of fate that saw the other Barwell Motorsport-run Team Russia BMW move ahead, only for the sister car to pit and hand the initiative back to Ecurie Ecosse in the final half hour.
The tension was high during the final throes of the race and 24-year old Modell from Maidstone sat on the edge of his seat waiting for the car to cross the line.
After 527 laps of intense racing and 23 pit stops, the Black Bull-sponsored BMW greeted the chequered flag as the top non-factory team in seventh position overall and third in class to finally show that the Ecurie Ecosse team has the speed and knowledge to compete the very sharp end of the field.
“From our point of view, it was the best race we could have run and it was brilliant to be stood on the podium in one of the world’s biggest GT races,” said Modell. “We spent no time in the box, there was no contact, pit stops were flawless and, despite it being a race of attrition, there was not even a single mark on the car. The Ecurie Ecosse BMW ran faultlessly, which is a testament to the amount of hard work the team put in all weekend, and it felt good to stick it on the podium at the first time of asking. The race is only second to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in terms of stature, so it’s great to have played a helping hand and show that we can fight at the sharp end.
“I’m glad I didn’t take the start, as it looked treacherous out there. Alexander (Sims) did a great job during the opening stint and we made the right call to stay out on the Pirelli wet weather tyres when others opted for the slicks. We kept looking at weather data and calls from friends outside of the circuit, who said rain was five minutes away. A 24-hour race is about playing it as safe as possible. It was still greasy out there, so the tyres were still able to hold on even when it dried slightly. I then got in at the five-hour mark and it was still very busy out on track and it was a case of staying out of trouble and lapping cleanly. A lot of people were going quick as though it was a sprint race, but we always knew not to take any risks.”