Countdown to 24: Spa

Only a few hours remain to the start of the 2016 24 Hours of Spa. The past couple of days have been building towards this, with pole position having dominantly been won by AMG as HTP Motorsport’s Clemens Schmid put the team’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 on pole position after team mate Maximilian Götz’s record-breaking lap got disqualified.

After a very promising season so far, McLaren looked set to be this weekend’s top contenders. As the McLaren 650S GT3 was put on provisional pole during Thursday’s qualifying sessions, all eyes were on Shane Van Gisbergen as the New-Zealander of Dutch heritage went out for his two-lap dash. In the waining moments of the Super Pole session, however, the British car lost power as it rolled to a stand-still at Stavelot.

Coming over the finish line in a time of 2:17.651 was Maximilian Götz to lead a complete AMG triple front row before his fastest lap was pulled for ignoring the yellow flag for the crawling McLaren. Leaving only his first lap to be counted in the session, the AMG works driver has to settle for fifth place on the grid.

“The car was just great,” a regardless upbeat Götz said afterwards. “I had a good out lap and I thought, ‘okay, this is going to be a good one’.

“I did it in the second lap, but it was under yellow. It was a bit of a stupid thing. In my opinion, the car was rolling so maybe they should have waved the white instead of the yellow flag. I was the only guy who got the yellow.

“The regulations say that if you do a green sector under yellow, the whole time will be cancelled. But this was my only chance to do it and I think it was a safe situation: The car was on the right, I overtook on the left.

“It’s a shame, but overall we showed that the car is running well, also already in qualifying yesterday. I think the [2:]17.7 lap time is very good here, I think it’s a GT record in Spa.”

After a year of racing with Bentley, HTP made the switch back to AMG and with the program came the return of Götz to bring back the team-driver combination that won the 2013 24 Hours of Spa.

“These are exactly same mechanics as in 2013 on my car, so it’s really the same group,” Götz says. “It’s just fantastic, so to give them a very quick lap time, it shows the trust [in them].

“I’ve met the guys for the first time again on Monday. I’ve been doing DTM for two years now, but to come back to such a family is just great and to give something back, it makes me proud.

Inheriting first place on the grid are Götz’s teammates Clemens Schmid, Indy Dontje and Luciano Bacheta. A time of 2:18.025 left Schmid with pole position after Götz was moved to back.

Having been on pace for much of the season, the HTP trio has had their fair share of bad luck in races. Bacheta hopes Spa might be the turning point.

“We have had some bad luck,” Bacheta says. “Especially the last race [in Paul Ricard] we had a failure and we had contact with another car in Monza, but in Silverstone we finished fifth, and even then you can say there was some bad luck.

“I hope [we’ll be more lucky now], because Indy, Clemens and myself, we all do very good in our stints, drive very cleanly and we’re very consistent. So I hope that performance does pay off in the race, as you never know what can happen.”

Less happy with the way things have been going is Philipp Eng. The driver of the Rowe Racing BMW M6 GT3 is far from content with the performance of the car.

“I think there is quite a big gap to the front to our other German friends,” the Austrian says. “But Alex [Sims] had an okay lap. He said there was a little bit more in it, but it was not like we’ll be going one and a half second quicker, we are missing quite a lot.

“But as you every time say, it’s a long race, anything can happen, although it would’ve for sure been nicer if we had started further up the order. It’s safer than if you start from twentieth or from the middle of the craziness. In that context it would’ve been nicer if we started further up front.

“Now we just have the manage the tyres and make sure we have no contact, no penalties, all that kind of stuff. It’s always easy to say, especially in this race, where the level is so high. As a driver you need to push 100-percent every lap. There is no room for mistakes, there is no room for penalties. You just need to do a good job, keep it on track and don’t spend much time in the pit lane, I think that’s what it’s all about.”

Asked what role the Balance of Performance plays in the BMWs running this far behind the leaders, Eng is reluctant to outright place blame there, but does suggest the AMGs enjoy too much of an advantage.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know. It’s not to me to judge about the BoP.

“If you see who is in front and how many cars are in front, make your own [judgement]. But it’s like I said, it’s not up to me to judge about any decisions regarding the BoP.”

After McLaren’s failure in qualifying, it’s AMG who’s dominating the front rows on the grid. Götz, however, realizes that when the race gets underway, all bets are off.

“It’s such a long race, anything can happen,” the HTP driver says. “But as a driver you need a tool to potentially have a good race. I think we have a good drivers line-up: Gary [Paffett] is fast, Thomas Jäger is an experienced guy, and we have a good crew, so why not.

“[Winning the race is] the target, it’s the goal for us. We have a good car, we’re starting P5 and I will win this race.”

Update 13:18: After having found illegal engine mapping in the electronics of the Mercedes-AMG GT3s that made it into the Super Pole, the Stewards decided to remove all of the Super Pole lap times of the HTP, Black Falcon, AKKA cars involved in the session. In addition to the penalty for the technical infringement, a  penalty for ‘non-sporting behaviour’ has been awarded as well, resulting in a five-minute stop and go penalty to be served in the race.

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Miguel is the founder and editor-in-chief of GT REPORT. He’s more interested in the human side of the sport and the heroics of racing. Also the founder of automotive PR and photography agency GTXM.media. When it doesn’t clash with racing you’ll find Miguel cheering football club Vitesse on.

Miguel Bosch

Miguel is the founder and editor-in-chief of GT REPORT. He’s more interested in the human side of the sport and the heroics of racing. Also the founder of automotive PR and photography agency GTXM.media. When it doesn’t clash with racing you’ll find Miguel cheering football club Vitesse on.