The 2019 Spa 24 hours will be remembered not just for the stifling heat of the practise days and the torrential rain and changeable conditions of the race but also for the team that came from nowhere to win GT3’s grandest prize. GPX Racing debuted in the opening round at Monza but didn’t make the race after a qualifying accident left them with a chassis too damaged to take part.
Since then the team’s efforts must have caught the attention of Porsche who graced the team with three factory drivers for the big race. Kévin Estre, Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz shared the driving, and starting from a respectable ninth place they were surely looking to mix it up with the leaders.
Kévin Estre started the race and drove a relentless first stint that pushed the Porsche team through the field and by his final stint racing to the flag the team were on top and comfortably cruising to victory.
PRE-QUALIFICATION REPORT | PRE-QUALIFYING INTERVIEW YELMER BUURMAN | SUPER POLE REPORT | SUPER POLE INTERVIEW MARO ENGEL | RACE REPORT: FIRST THREE HOURS | MID-RACE GALLERY | RACE REPORT: MIDNIGHT | RACE REPORT: MORNING | RACE REPORT: FINISH | RESULTS | GALLERY | INTERVIEW YELMER BUURMAN
Speaking to GT REPORT after the race, Estre described those last few hours and his emotions on taking the chequered flag.
“I feel really good, a bit tired but very good,” said the Frenchman. “It was a hard win in very difficult conditions and a tough race against a lot of very good drivers and very good teams and good cars.
“Competition was very close under every condition but I think we may have had the best package for that kind of race with a good car in the dry, damp and the wet. We were able to come back from a drive-through and be on pace and be a bit lucky maybe with the 5-minute pitstop but in the end we overtook some cars and took the victory.”
The last few hours of any 24-hour race are often some of the hardest but with the threat of ever-changing weather and safety cars closing the gap to the chasing pack the finale of the race was chaotic for those at the sharp end.
For Estre, taking the final stint would mean making some big calls on tyre choice with the final decision coming almost as the car was rolling down the pit lane.
“It was hard at first: Everybody was on wets, some guys were on slicks. We knew the slicks would have been maybe better but there was some rain coming, so one minute before we stopped we were still thinking of the tyres and in the end we took the slicks. Because we were all stopping on the same lap we couldn’t really know what the others were doing.
“Starting the second to last stint we had a very good warm-up on the tyre and I was also quite aggressive and I think it paid off because I could overtake on the first or second lap which is always very difficult here in Spa when the cars are so close in performance. But there in the first two laps you can make a difference.
“Then the Full Course Yellow and safety car in the last 30 minutes and blue flags not being respected, for myself, the last two hours were tough.”
The weather conditions seemed to be the main talking point around the 2019 Spa 24 Hours and the problems such as changeable weather can throw up makes everything more difficult.
“When you have a dry race it makes life easier: You don’t have to think about tyre choice, strategy is also easier but today it was very tough. It’s also very easy to make a mistake but I think we were very good in the damp and wet and it made us come back to the front.”
The red flag also had an affect with much debate as to whether it was out for too long, but for Estre is seemed about right.
“I don’t know if it was too long. I can understand why they wouldn’t want to restart, cars crash everywhere, and there’s another red flag.”
The Spa 24 Hours 2019 proved to be a good weekend for Porsche with the Rowe Racing car coming in second. For factory driver Estre, the resources Porsche put into the race paid a dividend.
“I think the number of cars helped us, we could share the data and the new car is definitely a very good car. It’s very constant on the tyre, very good through all the conditions. The atmosphere of being there with all the factory drivers meant it was cool to have fun with the others and share and try and be as fast as possible. It’s about beating the other manufactures but also to beat your team mates in the other cars.”
Miguel Bosch contributed to this article.