It was a long and tiring Total 24 Hours of Spa, but it was well-worth it for Matias Henkola. With a 5th place finish in Pro-Am and 20th overall, the Finn’s debut in the Ardennes classic was one to look back at with pride.
This year’s edition of the 24 Hours of Spa proved to be more competitive than ever before. No less than 63 cars went at it and already in qualifying this caused the #35 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 crew headaches when trying to improve on the qualifying time, which was denied them twice by red flags. Eventually, Henkola and teammates Christian Krognes, Nico Menzel and Markus Palttala had to settle for 41st on the grid.
With 2015 race winner Palttala behind the wheel for the start of the twice-around-the-clock, the only way was up. Within the first hour, the BMW Motorsport Juniors-supported team was already in 32nd position.
The attritious rate at which the race moved into the night fell the way of the Walkenhorst Motorsport Pro-Am team, moving up even further to 21st before midnight. During the nighttime, however, the BMW M6 GT3 was on the receiving end of the ferocious mentality held by some of the fierce competitors. This resulted in delays for minor repairs and cleaning the car of gravel.
“The overall tempo of the race was really hot, fast and crazy,” Matias Henkola says. “I was expecting to go into an endurance race, but instead felt like it was a sprint race lasting for 24 hours.
“Before the night, I had a hard time adjusting to the tempo as what I was confronted with on track wasn’t what I had expected, even though I’d watched the races from the previous years from start to finish.
“My first impression was, ‘shit, I didn’t prepare for this’, and then came the euphoria: ‘This is the coolest and craziest thing I’ve ever done.’ It really is key to find the flow and rhythm of the track to succeed at this race.”
Eventually, Henkola settled in and started moving forward. When dawn arrived, the former rally driver found himself racing into the sunrise in 27th position. In the remaining hours, the debuting team rose steadily and without any issues through the 20s to take the chequered flag in 20th place.
“Everyone in the team was a first-timer, except for Markus Palttala.
“Overall, I was really impressed by everyone. We had a nearly clean race: the car worked well without any big issues, the set-up was easy to drive, the strategy was solid and the pitstops were reliable and fast.
“Compared to Silverstone some months ago, which was the first Blancpain GT race I did with Walkenhorst, the set-up had improved quite considerably and the whole team has really matured in a very short time. If they stay the course, good things will come.”
Back home after one of the most exciting race weekends of his life, one thing remains on Matias Henkola’s mind.
“The 24 Hours of Spa is the race. Until someone proves me otherwise, I will call this the hardest and most competitive race in the world. It was really awesome, I can’t wait to do it again!”
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