Welcome to the 24 Hours of Spa. A 63-car strong GT3 field takes the green flag at 16:30 local time for what is arguably the jewel in the crown of GT3 racing across the world.
Follow the race with regular updates and photos here at GT REPORT with our Live Blog, this year, conducted by Slade Perrins.
Hour 2 | 22 hours to go | 47 laps complete | 18:30 local time
As the Belgium flag dropped, the race to tomorrow began and the 63 car strong field thundered towards the first corner. René Rast nosed ahead on the run down to Eau Rouge and led the pack up through Raidillon for the first time in anger. But it wasn’t long before the pole-sitting R-Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vanatage fought back on the Kemmel Straight.
Maxime Martin in the Aston Martin tried to return favour with a higher top speed and later braking, hoping to re-take the lead around the outside at Les Combes , but Rast forced him onto the kerb and, for now, managed to retain the top spot.
After losing its pole-position, the number 1 Audi Sport Team WRT car dived into pit lane at the end of the first lap to serve its three-minute stop and hold penalty for an illegal performance modification which it benefitted from during SuperPole.
The laps quickly ticked by as the two leaders broke away slightly from the third and fourth placed cars of Kelvin van der Linde in the Land Motorsport Audi and Miguel Molina aboard the SMP Racing Ferrari.
Further back, a great duel erupted featuring Maxime Soulet in the number 8 Bentley and the number 99 Rowe Racing BMW of Alexander Sims. Soulet attempted a move on Sims after getting a good exit out of La Source, before pulling alongside on the run down to Eau Rouge, but ultimately chickened out.
Two laps later though, Soulet replicated his attempt and this time made it stick with a terrific pass on Sims through Eau Rouge to move himself up to ninth place.
Matt Griffin claimed the award for the first major drama of the race, with the number 51 Ferrari suffering a left rear puncture and having to return to the pits for service.
Molina eventually got by van der Linde for third as traffic started to become a factor in the flow of the race. Rast pulled the trigger early and brought the race-leading number 2 Audi onto pit lane at the conclusion of the first 55 minutes of the race to hand over to Nico Müller, with Martin following him into the pits a lap later.
Upon rejoining, Marvin Kirchhöfer, who took over the number 62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin from Martin, emerged in front of the Müller-driven Audi, which would inevitably become the lead once the entire field cycled through its first pit stops.
Both the SMP Racing and Ferrari and number 8 Bentley ran significantly longer in the opening stint than the rest of the field, making the most of the 65 minute maximum stint length. Davide Rigon and Soulet pitted their cars together on Lap 27.
Rigon slotted back into fifth place, while Soulet rejoined eighth, gaining a spot in the pit stop sequence with the number Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW losing out dramatically, dropping from fourth to ninth.
Grasser Racing were the biggest of the movers in the first stops, with Mirko Bortolotti finding himself third in the number 63 car behind the second place WRT Audi of Müller.
A crash for the number 89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG at Raidillon saw the need for the first Full Course Yellow intervention of the race just before the end of the second hour, as most of the field dived into the pits to perform another round of stops.
Race control has since put the race under a proper safety car procedure.
Hour 8 | 16 hours to go | 186 laps complete | 00:30 am local time
After a brief safety car period, racing got back underway with the Dominik Baumann-driven number 62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin leading the way up front ahead of Robin Frijns in the number 2 WRT Audi and the third-placed number 63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini of Christian Engelhart.
The decision to pit slightly earlier than the rest of the field before the FCY back-fired for Land Motorsport, who dropped down the order following the deployment of the safety car to 19th place.
SMP Racing struck trouble in the third hour when its number 72 Ferrari 488 GT3 was forced to limp back to the pits with a right rear puncture, pushing it outside the top 30.
Euan McKay came unstuck in the number 97 Oman Racing Aston Martin and collected the tyre barriers on the outside of Malmedy, calling for another FCY, which would ultimately change the complexion of the race.
As the leaders pitted, a handful of teams elected to take their ‘Joker’ pit stops under the caution, shaking up the order.
The biggest casualty ended up being the R-Motorsport Aston Martin, which came in leading the race, but lost a minute on its stop due to a kink in its fuel rig. It dropped the car to 21st position.
A frantic restart left front-right bodywork damage on the Grasser Lamborghini of Andrea Caldarelli, which appeared to hit the back of the number 58 McLaren at the Bus Stop chicane. Ben Barnicoat, at the wheel of the McLaren, pitted the car immediately, with Caldarelli coming in a couple of laps later.
The Grasser Racing Lamborghini’s difficulties were compounded by the steward’s decision to apply a 30 second penalty for causing the collision with the McLaren.
Out front though, it was the number 8 Bentley which had found itself in the lead in the hands of Vincent Abril with four hours complete. Emil Frey Racing sat second for a period with the number 114 Lexus RC F GT3, while Alex Buncombe’s number 23 Nissan was tucked in behind.
Bentley looked strong as the race transitioned into the night, with daylight slowly morphing into darkness around the Ardennes forests.
Land Motorsport came to the fore in the nighttime courtesy of a remarkable recovery through the field, with Sheldon van der Linde inheriting the lead from the 8 Bentley following the Audi’s off cycle pit stop earlier on.
Maxime Soulet in the Bentley continues to run strongly in second while Tom Blomqvist’s number 34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 is third.
The race has now seen four FCY periods, with the most recent two coming for Stuart Leonard losing a wheel and debris at Les Combes.
Just before the eighth hour of the race came to a close, the number 8 Bentley was pushed into the garage, the team working frantically on the right-front corner of the Continental GT3 as Soulet hopped out of the car.
Through the lens: Saturday.
Hour 14 | 10 hours to go | 288 laps complete | 07:00 local time
There is no doubt that the night hours of a 24 Hour race are as unpredictable and difficult as it gets, and for this year’s Spa 24 Hours, there was no exception. Under the cover of darkness, it would be fair to say, that all hell broke loose.
As we mentioned in our previous update, the number 8 Bentley which began to look dominant in the early hours of the evening, struck drama with a broken steering arm forcing the car into the garage.
Maxime Soulet made contact with an AM-class Ferrari and had to bring the car in for repairs, dropping Bentley Team M-Sport’s main contender out of the lead battle and five laps down.
Stephane Ortelli had an enormous crash in the ninth hour of the race at Eau Rouge in the number 114 Emil Frey Racing Lexus RC F GT3, a car that had been running smoothly in 17th position.
Ortelli went straight on into the tyre barriers, destroying the front end of the Lexus which then burst into flames, with the Monegasque driver clambering from his car under his own steam and being transported to the medical centre.
*enhanced shot* Bloody hell. That is destroyed. #Spa24h #BlancpainGT @BlancpainGT @24HoursofSpa @MartinHaven @CharlieBH_ @BenConsty pic.twitter.com/1NnippFuAz
— Alun Prosser (@LanzaroteCamel) July 28, 2018
The incident brought out a lengthy safety car period, while up front, Tom Blomqvist led the field back to green flag racing in the Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW ahead of Luca Stolz in the number 4 Black Falcon Mercedes.
At the same time, R-Motorsport brought its number 62 Aston Martin into the garage for an unscheduled brake change, but will have to repeat the process later in the race during the compulsory five-minute brake change stop which is to take place in a designated three-hour window.
Manthey-Racing’s number 911 entry lost a considerable amount of time with an alternator problem, as Dirk Werner rejoined the race in 41st.
With 13 Hours and 30 minutes remaining, another FCY was needed after the number 666 Lamborghini beached itself in the gravel at Malmedy. Not long after the restart, the FCY was thrown was again, but this time, for a far more serious incident, again involving the 666 Lamborghini.
Jürgen Krebs, who was at the wheel of the car, made contact with what appeared to be the Land Motorsport Audi at high speed at the bottom of Eau Rouge. Krebs then speared straight on into the tyre barriers at Raidillon, destroying the front end of his car.
Does anyone know if they’re alright?#Spa24h @circuitspa @24HoursofSpa @BlancpainGT pic.twitter.com/mqcAnxsjBS
— Fernando Rees (@Fernando_Rees) July 29, 2018
Race control deployed the safety car, before ultimately putting the race under a red flag for the serious nature of the incident. Reports suggest the Team Parker Racing Bentley of Andy Meyrick collected the stricken number 666 Lamborghini, also badly damaging that car.
Krebs and Meyrick have both been taken out of their cars and to the medical centre, according to a statement issued by the SRO Motorsports Group at 4am local time, with both conscious.
The race went back to green flag racing with just over 11 hours and 30 minutes to go, following the 90 minute lull in proceedings. Philipp Eng led the field away in the Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW, followed by Yelmer Buurman’s Black Falcon Mercedes in second, with Daniel Juncadella and Frederic Vervisch in third and fourth.
Another FCY was called as the race went into its 14th hour when Jules Szymkowiak, number 90 AKKA ASP Mercedes, was helped into the barriers at Les Combes by the number 2 WRT Audi.
Dawn has broken at Spa-Francorchamps as the sun now begins to rise and day light takes over from the darkness of the night.
Hour 20 | 4 hours to go | 415 laps complete | 12:30 local time
Barrier repairs — which were required at Les Combes following a heavy shunt for Jules Szymkowiak in the number 90 AKKA ASP Mercedes — went on for an hour during the morning leg of the race. Cars circulated under FCY until race control deployed the safety car to bunch the field up in anticipation of the restart.
Dominik Baumann had a drama on the restart in the number 62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin, a car that was well in contention up until the time. The Austrian driver came together with a lower-classed Lamborghini at Les Combes, leaving the right rear of the Aston and front left of the Lamborghini damaged on the respective entries.
Both returned to the pits for repairs, with the pole-sitting R-Motorsport machine — which for a considerable time led the race — dropping outside the top 30.
A minor fire in the pits for the number 22 Silver Cup Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 delayed that car’s run, while teams worked towards ticking off their mandatory five-minute technical stops in the allocated four-hour window.
Rowe Racing’s number 99 BMW of Alexander Sims surfaced to the top of the pile at the conclusion of the technical stops, with majority of the front running cars completing their longer stops earlier in the window.
Long-time leader Walkenhorst Motorsport was one of a number of teams to complete its technical stop at the last possible moment, as the race counted down to nine hours remaining. The decision dropped the car to sixth, ahead of the number 7 Bentley Continental GT3 of Jordan Pepper.
Just before the end of the 16th hour, an incident at the top of Raidillon for the number 82 Lamborghini called for another FCY period.
Sims led the field back to green again on the restart as Markus Winkelhock in the Audi Sport Team Sainteloc R8 followed, with Maro Engel third in the number 4 Black Falcon AMG.
Further behind, Philipp Eng was fighting back through the field in the delayed Walkenhorst BMW and made a move up the inside of Steven Kane in the number 7 Bentley at La Source to nab fourth.
A trio of cars managed to trip over each other while fighting for the same piece tarmac with six and half hours on the clock. The lower-classed number 111 Aust Motorsport Audi lost control on the exit of Stavelot and spun right in front of the KÜS Team75 Bernhard Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor who tapped the Audi moments earlier, which in turn, had Andy Soucek in the number 8 Bentley tucked under his rear-wing.
Trying to take avoiding action, the Bentley hit the right-rear of Vanthoor’s 7th placed Porsche and launched into the air, landing on the bonnet of the Audi, leaving all three cars with significant damage and having to limp back to the garage.
Eng continued his impressive recovery towards the front of the field in the Walkenhorst BMW, getting by Kelvin van der Linde for fourth at the Bus Stop chicane before the close of Hour 18.
Meanwhile, after being sent back out on track in the hands of Andy Soucek following its repairs, the number 8 Bentley sadly ground to a halt at the bottom of Eau Rouge minutes later and was subsequently pushed behind the barriers with a gearbox issue.
Bentley’s chances of victory vanished completely when the number 7 car, which had been running in the top five after a race-long fight through the field after starting from pit exit, slowed on track and was wheeled into the garage. Radiator damage thanks to debris and a right-rear disc problem would see that car plummet down the order.
With Hour 20 coming to an end, a six-car lead battle is beginning to form, with the number 99 Rowe Racing BMW of Sims leading.
Through the lens: Sunday.
Hour 24 | Chequered Flag | 511 laps completed | 16:30 local time
Heading into the final four hours, it was tense up front. A brief FCY and safety car intervention swayed the top four cars onto a similar strategy with three hours remaining.
Philipp Eng led the angry pack back to green in the number 34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 as the German marque ran one-two for a period with Nicky Catsburg second in the number 99 Rowe Racing M6.
Markus Winkelhock sat third in the number 25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc entry, while South African young gun Sheldon van der Linde circulated in fourth for Land Motorsport.
Black Falcon Racing’s number 4 Mercedes-AMG of Maro Engel lost time after pitting just before the FCY, leaving it fifth as the top positions stayed unchanged.
The tension in the pit lane began to rise even more following the penultimate round of pit stops with under two hours to go, as Catsburg handed over the Rowe BMW to co-driver Alexander Sims.
Winkelhock made way for Frédéric Vervisch in the Sainteloc Audi, as Kelvin took over from his brother Sheldon van der Linde in the Land car which slowly started to reel in Vervisch.
With one last round of pits stops on the cards, only two of the front running teams still had its shorter minimum time final ‘Joker’ pit stop to play — the Rowe BMW and the Sainteloc Audi.
Walkenhorst performed a cheeky move in the pits trying to trick the other front running cars into the lane with its sister AM-class M6. But there was no chance any of the rival teams would let the Walkenhorst crew pull the wool over their eyes.
Land were the first to blink and brought Kelvin in for his final stop with 60 minutes to go as the top three carried on, stretching their stints out to the maximum.
Vervisch appeared to slow on his in lap, coasting the Sainteloc Audi to the pits for Belgian’s final stop and losing time, as the Rowe BMW of Sims also pitted with 52 mins left on the clock.
Two-minutes later, Eng dived into the pits for the leading Walkenhorst BMW’s final stop, relinquishing the top spot to Luca Stolz in the number 4 Black Falcon Mercedes which was slightly off-kilter.
Stolz brought his AMG in with 45 minutes remaining, handing the lead back to Eng as the Mercedes rejoined back in fifth. Van der Linde inherited third in the Land Audi after Vervisch’s slow in lap, with the latter dropping to fourth.
Eng continued to control his margin out front, right up until the chequered flag, as the Austrian claimed an emotional victory for the number 34, family run, Walkenhorst BMW squad and co-drivers Tom Blomqvist and Christian Krognes.
Ten seconds was the gap at the line as the Rowe Racing BMW came home second, while Land Motorsport managed to hold onto third to complete the outright podium.
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