Welcome to the 24 Hours of Spa. A 65-car strong GT3 field takes the green flag at 16:30 local time for what is arguably the crown of GT3 racing.
Follow the race with regular updates and photos here at GT REPORT. Updates by Miguel Bosch (MB) and Richard Westhead (RW), photos by JP Wagner, Daniele Paglino and Akl Yazbeck.
Hour 3 / 21 hours to go / 63 laps / 19:35 local time
The 24 Hours of Spa got underway at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps without remorse for the AMGs. After wrapping up the Super Pole session occupying the first three rows, the tuner from Affalterbach had all its times pulled after illegal engine mapping was found by scruteneering. Stricken by a five-minute stop and go penalty, HTP and AKKA are slowly recovering, helped by an early Full Course Yellow for the spun-out Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Marco Seefried that allowed several AMGs to sit out their penalty as the field was slowed down.
At the continuation of the race, leader René Rast in the number 28 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 was still warming up his tyres as the green flag was waved. Mirko Bortolotti in the number 16 Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 didn’t hesitate and went by Rast in the run down to Eau Rouge, followed by the number 50 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi who went by Rast as well.
At the one and a half hour mark a heavy crash brought out the safety car. Kévin Estre, coming out of the pits in the Attempto Racing Porsche 911 GT3R, touched the AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 of Motoaki Ishikawa, as the cars came crashing onto Kemmel Straight. Both drivers escaped merely bruised.
After two and a half hours of racing the safety car left the track. The number 6 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 with Markus Winkelock is in the lead. Fellow Audi warriors Sainteloc is second with Mike Parisy behind the wheel, and Jonathan Hirschi in the Emil Frey Racing Jaguar G3 in third.
As we write the rain has started to come down, so things are bound to get mixed up in the coming laps. MB
Hour 6 / 18 hours to go / 131 laps / 22:34 local time
The rain came but it wasn’t heavy and wouldn’t cause much drama so didn’t impact the race significantly.
Several incidents punctuated the fourth, fifth and sixth hours as night fell.
Midway through the fifth hour the number 30 Team Parker Bentley went off the track by itself at Les Combes and hit the wall bringing out a Full Course Yellow to retrieve the big British car buried in the barriers. Misfortune was to strike the other Parker Bentley, the number 24 stopped briefly out on circuit with later transpired as gearbox problems but managed to get going again.
In the sixth hour a Full Course Yellow and subsequently the safety car was called upon when the number 15 Team Italia BMW crashed at Pouhon leaving oil on the track.
On the restart the number 114 Jaguar and the number 28 WRT Audi clashed with the Jaguar stranded on circuit temporarily but both cars made it back into the pits, the Audi significantly damaged at the rear, the car dropping down the order as repairs were made.
After six hours of racing the number 99 Rowe Racing BMW of Alexander Sims leads the way with the Phoenix Audi of Christopher Mies and the number 1 WRT Audi of Will Stevens chasing on the lead lap. RW
Hour 10 / 14 hours to go / 221 laps / 2:41 local time
The darkness of the night continued in the Ardennes except for the bright lights and loud music of the festival going on near Eau Rouge…
The last four hours have been relatively quiet except for a 50 minute safety car period for the number 24 Bentley of Team Parker Racing who crashed heavily at the end of the long Kemmel Straight, necessitating a long wait whilst repairs to the barriers were made. Thankfully the driver Ian Loggie is alright according to his team mate Andy Meyrick, but the number 24 is out of the race after it survived earlier dramas.
And the number 99 Rowe BMW continues on into the night in the lead in the hands of Phillip Eng who took over from local hero Maxime Martine. Earlier we had seen Alexander Sims, the young Englishman, stepping out of the car to the applause of those gathered in the Rowe Racing box after a fine stint. The leading number 8 Bentley in the hands of Maxime Soulet was under investigation for contact with the number 75 ISR Audi which saw the Audi spin off the track but no penalty given. The top two have continued to trade the lead whilst the other pits. Past winner Phoenix Racing hold onto the last step of the podium with their Audi. RW
Hour 13 / 11 hours to go / 293 laps / 5:55 local time
As the darkness of night gives way to the slowly gathering light of dawn, the teams breathe a sigh of relief that they have made it through the night, but there are still eleven hours to go and no one can afford to breathe too deeply.
The last three hours have seen the lead being swapped back and forth between Audi, Bentley and BMW as the respective teams cycle through their pit stops.
It was a wild ride for the number 49 Kaspersky Ferrari when it hit oil at the end of the Kemmel Straight and spun multiple times but luckily avoided hitting anything, continuing on with its race in short order, it didn’t seem to make a difference as the car still leads the Am class. They weren’t the only ones to spin with the number 8 Bentley spinning also at La Source.
Any threat from McLaren has faded away with their lead car, the number 59 650S, falling ten laps down after sustaining damage due to contact out on track. Even with a stellar line-up such as Rob Bell, Kiwi ace Shane Van Gisbergen and young French talent Côme Ledogar, one cannot overcome such a deficit.
In Pro-Am the number 74 Audi of Henry Hassid leads the class in an impressive eleventh overall.
With the light of day imminent the Bentley number 8 leads from the number 99 Rowe BMW and the Phoenix Audi. Frank Stippler and Alexander Sims chase Andy Soucek for the lead, there isn’t much between the three teams now and the next eleven hours will be most intriguing. RW
Hour 16 / 8 hours to go / 365 laps / 8:59 local time
At around 6:30 night was officially ended with the command by the Race Director to end night signalling. Up the front the three car battle for the lead continued unabated and like the previous hours, the passes were mainly made during the pitstop cycles not on the track itself. The best of the AMG, the number 57 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG, was summoned to pitlane to serve a penalty for cutting one of the chicanes. They weren’t the only car penalized with the Race Director handing out several penalties for disrespecting track limits, amongst them the number 8 Bentley which was engaged in the fight for the lead.
The number 55 Ferrari of AT Racing crashed at Stavelot in the sixteenth hour bringing out a Full Course Yellow whilst the car was retrieved.
In Am Cup the Kessel Racing Ferrari number 888 holds a slim lead over the number 51 Ferrari. One wonders how delighted Liam Talbot and co would be with a win considering how happy they were to be second in class previously.
Rowe Racing continues to lead by a very narrow margin with the number 99 but Bentley Boy Maxime Soulet and Audi ace Markus Winkelhock are pushing very hard, particularly Winkelhock who revels in these conditions, Austrian driver Phillip Eng going off the track at the bus stop chicane in the BMW momentarily as he outbraked himself.
With rain falling as I type this and heavier showers still forecast for the last hour or so of the race, there is still much undecided about this race and Spa being Spa who knows what will happen in the final hours of this marathon. RW
Hour 20 / 4 hours to go / 444 laps / 12:36 local time
Rivals HTP and Black Falcon, both AMG works teams, have been going hard at each other. After a somewhat controversial finale in the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, the German teams didn’t back down as they were fighting for track position running down to Eau Rouge. Like on the final lap at the Nürburgring, both cars didn’t back off, resulting in a collision at high speed. The contact resulted in HTP’s Jazeman Jaafar sliding backwards into the wall, escaping with only a bended rear bumper. Yelmer Buurman in the Black Falcon AMG continued on without stopping.
Shortly before noon the light rain made way for a downpour, but chaos did not ensue. Drama, on the other hand, did, as Christopher Mies was seen jumping out of his Phoenix Audi trying to escape a sea of flames. Moments earlier a blown tyre had destroyed oil lines in the body work, setting the car on fire and removing Phoenix Racing from the hunt for the win as well as the race.
This left the fight for the lead to Bentley and Rowe, who had to struggle through the pouring rain. Having done a planned brake change, Rowe yielded the lead to Bentley before getting it back through another pit stop by the M-Sport-run Bentley.
Phoenix’s retirement promoted the AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Renger van der Zande, Tristan Vautier and Felix Rosenqvist to third place. A remarkable feat, as the French number 88 car was one of the many AMG GT3s hit by a five-minute stop and go penalty at the start of the race. MB
Hour 23 / 1 hour to go / 504 laps / 15:14 local time
After the downpour in the morning the track started to dry up. Although some teams expected the rain to return, that did not happen, which caught out the third placed AKKA ASP AMG of Renger van der Zande, Tristan Vautier and Felix Rosenqvist.
This left the fight for the win to be solely between Rowe and Bentley, as had been the case since Phoenix retired. It’s still the same story: The lead is exchanged through the pit stops.
In the Am class the fight for victory looked to be coming down to strategy, but that all changed when the then-leading number 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 was hit from behind with a tyre puncture as a result. As it happened too late to still steer into the pit road, Rino Mastronardi had to make it all the way around driving on three tyres. This gave the number 888 Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 GT3 of Liam Talbot, Marco Zanuttini, Vadim Glitin and Nicola Cadei the lead in class.
As the sun is coming through the clouds in the final hours, HTP Motorsport and WRT are vying for third place. Running mere seconds apart, AMG works driver Maximilian Götz was pushing hard to pass Audi works driver Laurens Vanthoor before the Audi came in and René Rast took over. MB
Hour 24 / 0 hours to go / 531 laps / 18:51 local time
The sun was shining for a moment and then the rain came back, heavier than before. Cars came crashing and spinning all over the track, but Rowe BMW pilot Alexander Sims was unfazed and brought it home to take the win together with Belgian favourite Maxime Martin and Austria’s Philipp Eng.
For Bentley there was no more chance after receiving a penalty for an infringement under a Full Course Yellow, dropping back to a disappointing fourth place.
Most remarkable was AKKA ASP’s return to the front. Having lost their position earlier in the day due to a strategic mistake, Felix Rosenqvist had his sights set on the podium and wouldn’t let go even in the pouring rain, bringing himself, Renger van der Zande, Tristan Vautier and the French team an amazing second place after all the grief AMG had to endure after its cars were found to breach SRO’s rules.
It was that last half hour that the 2016 24 Hours of Spa will be remembered for the most. With cars sliding off all over the track, the top finishers kept their heads cool. Among those not so fortunate to make it out of the rain with four wheels was Black Falcon driver Andreas Simonsen. The Swede was one of many to spin at the Busstop, but was also unlucky enough to be crashed into by another water-skiing car, escaping from the fierce crash with relatively minor injuries. MB