High-paced, grueling and attritious—the 2017 edition of the 24 Hours of Spa was one that caught many off-guard. Tougher than ever before, 63 cars went at it for 24 hours with many cracking under the pressure and just one coming out on top. For the first time ever, Christopher Haase was there at the 24-hour mark to take the gold.
Despite having gone on to win the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring twice, the Audi works driver never conquered the other crown jewel of GT3 racing: the 24 Hours of Spa. Ten years after blasting onto the GT racing scene, Haase finally adds the Ardennes classic to his palmarès.
“I’ve raced here already a couple of times, but never won it,” a worn-out and like champagne smelling Haase says. “I only went to the podium before, and now, today, I can check it off: I won the race together with my teammates Markus, Jules and Audi Sport Team Saintéloc.
“This race, I tell you, it was so physical and for sure the toughest 24-hour race that I have ever done, which puts the win even higher up on my ranking.
“The pace was high, the Merc was strong, the Bentley was strong, and some other guys who were a bit unlucky were strong as well. To go the distance and fight for the podium was really, really tough.
“At the same time, making no mistakes—that’s actually the key to win a race. To focus, make no mistakes and maintain the speed, at this level, it’s so incredibly difficult to do, especially with 63 cars on track.
“And Spa is so physical and fast, you always have to be so precise. One little mistake at Eau Rouge or Blanchimont and the race is over. It’s just the combination of all that.”
After running strong for the first third of the race, the number 25 Audi Sport Team Saintéloc Audi R8 LMS GT3 seemingly dropped out of contention shortly after midnight when a loose wheel forced the team to call the Audi back in, putting the car two laps down the order. Yet, the French team persisted.
“At nightfall, we were two laps down. We had a little issue with the tyre and had to pit again. It didn’t take long, but immediately we were two laps down.
“The key is to never stop fighting. We have such great boys in the background who came up with a strategy and told us what they were going to do and that our job was to push it.
“In the morning, we realised that there is a chance to fight for the top 5, an hour later for the podium, and suddenly we realised there’s a chance to fight for the victory. This was a motivation for the whole team and the drivers to push as hard as we can and stay out of trouble. This combination pushed us to the win.”
The key, next to the dedication of everyone within the team, Haase says, was the strategy that with mere hours to go brought the fight back to the leaders.
“To bring you in this position, you need the strategy. Immediately when the race starts, it begins. You need to be on it, use the Full Course Yellows and the Safety Car procedure at the right moment. Once you miss a lap under a Full Course Yellow, it already takes you off course for victory. So, strategy is most important.
“You need the speed, sure, and combined with some luck it became possible for us to come back onto the lead lap.”
For Saintéloc, the race marked the first time as a works-supported outfit. Having been with them for three years, Haase appreciates what the achievement means for the crew.
“It’s something special for them. They’ve been with Audi Sport Customer Racing for a long time. They’ve already taken good results and deserved this win.
“There was no question that we would not be able to win the race—it was just a matter of preparation, and the luck you’ll need. They did a fantastic job.”