Team Need For Speed's #76 BMW Z4 Coupé of Edward Sandstrom, Tommy Milner, Augusto Farfus and Claudia Hurtgen continued to lead through the darkness, keeping a consistent three lap gap to their nearest rival. The car has been leaned right back to keep everything well off the limit, and the drivers were told to do just enough to maintain the gap to the chasing Mercedes, Ferrari and Porsche.
It's at night that Dubai Autodrome really shines: the lights come on (even in the unfinished buildings) and the cars drive round against a sci-fi background. Night driving requires maximum concentration: braking points disappear, faster cars appear behind you before you know it, and the sound of screeching tyres as another car spun off was a common occurrence. Hence the fine cloud of sand hanging in the air above turns five and six, refracting the oncoming headlights.
I went out with Will Roegge and DC Chavez for a couple of hours of noise and light: the dark gave a heightened sense of speed to even the slowest cars, and with relatively few retirements the nine classes of cars were constantly fighting through other people's internecine battles.
Another interesting thing at night is seeing how cars' liveries change: especially when luminous panels and reflective strips are used, like on the Saudi Falcons Porsche. Much better at night… However, I'm still refusing to look at the Team Jordans cars…
Of course, the #76 car is a double rainbow to shoot: a great livery and leading!
When the night was at its darkest point, the wireframe reflectors really buzzed under the camera flashes.
Around midnight an explosion of fireworks erupted over the final corner. It must have been crazy for the drivers, having to drive through a virtual airstrike right over the track!
Early casualties weren't giving up: the #8 Mercedes Benz AMG SLS had crashed in the third hour – it had the Black Falcon team taken two hours to repair and replace the front end. They rejoined in a lowly 72nd place, but were scything back through the slower cars:, gaining half a dozen places each hour. By dawn they would be up to 35th.
The #43 Land Porsche had led early on but was another car to hit trouble. They were also back out and trying to make up places.
The Liqui Moly BMW Z4 had been rapidly repaired and was working its way into the top 20. You could get nice and close to the track at turn 14 and really see the energy being used for heavy braking.
Rotors glowed red on most cars; on the SLSs the entire front wheel-arch was lit up from the temperature of both the brakes and exhaust manifold. It didn't look healthy, but all three Mercs were the same but seemed none the worse for it, even though the residual heat was still visible as the cars exited the corners and headed off down the straights.
The smokey diesel 1-series BMWs were still trucking round: but even they didn't exactly look slow at night. One massive advantage for the diesels is their fuel efficiency: the leading VW Golf diesel was up to a creditable 33rd place by dawn thanks to its reliability and economy.
#76's sister car had slipped down to 10th during the late evening after some electrical problems, but was methodically recovering positons.
At the end of the pit-lane, the refuelling station went from calm to a storm depending on the hour: dog-tired mechanics sat dozing in deck-chairs, waiting for their cars to come in. Cars crawled in at minimum speed, their teams descended on them, getting the fuel in as fast as the flow and tank size would allow, before literally pushing the cars out to get them up to speed and out as quickly as possible.
It wasn't just the mechanics who were dog-tired. Come 3am, the crack Speedhunters team was cracking…
A saviour appeared in the shape of Melinda, bearing gifts from the Holy Land. Hmm! Donuts!
Now *I* was refuelled, I felt just about alive enough to go out again, and headed out to turns five and six for some tripod shots. We'd been daring each other to see if we could get in and up the unfinished tower block on the outside of turn one: it would make for some amazing, semi-aerial shots! Not being Jack Bauer enough for the mission, *dammit*, the nearest I managed was a TV position, which at least gave some elevation and brought the various snaking bits of track simultaneously into view.
Of course, kicking back firing off 20-second-plus exposures is a sure-fire way to ensure something happens straight in front of you – which of course it did. The Lotus 2-11 sailed around the outside of the turn six run-off in front of me, trailing fire and heading for the fire marshals. The 20-second exposure I tried to turn on the incoming car didn't quite make the grade… So, I climbed down and checked out the now soggy Lotus. Scratch the 2-11.
After that I headed back to the main grandstand to see what I could see. Eye-wateringly bright lights was the answer. Compared to the pitch-black back-end of the track, the main straight is like daylight. As the cars power out of the final turn they're confronted with dazzling floodlights for half a mile before they dive down into the relative dark of the first turn.
How drivers are able to check pit-boards in the daytime I don't know – at night it must be next to impossible, especially when you're constantly overtaking or being overtaken.
But out front #76 continued to pound round… Dawn was approaching: but that meant there was still another *seven hours* to go. Bring. Coffee. Please.