Mercedes triumphed over Porsche in a thrilling Spa 24 Hours to notch up its first victory in the Belgian enduro since 1964.
The HTP Motorsport Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG driven by touring car legend Bernd Schneider and race rookies Maximilian Buhk and Maximilian Gotz won by one lap from the Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R shared by factory drivers Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet.
The two leaders battled hard through Sunday morning at the prestigious round of the Blancpain Endurance Series. The Mercedes had a slight edge on pace, but quicker pit stops kept the Porsche in the hunt.
The 911 fell out of contention in the 21st hour when Pilet was given a drive-through penalty for overtaking before the start line at the end of a safety car period. The Porsche subsequently lapsed onto five cylinders, which gave its drivers no chance of mounting a fightback.
Schneider said: “I didn’t expect to do a 24-hour qualifying session. We were pushing all night and only in the last couple of hours were we able to be a bit more gentle on the car.”
The result means that 49-year-old Schneider, who has now won all the big GT3 class enduros this year, joins an elite band of drivers to have triumphed at Spa in both its touring car and sports car incarnations by adding to his 1989 triumph with an Eggenberger-run Ford Sierra RS500.
Audi, the winner of the event for the past two years, could only finish a distant third with the best of the local WRT squad’s quartet of R8 LMS ultras. Frank Stippler, Andre Lotterer and Christopher Mies finished six laps down on the winner on a day when its V10-engined contender could not match the pace of the front-runners.
Audi inherited the final podium position in the penultimate hour when the Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 Italia driven by Blancpain Endurance Series points leaders Davide Rigon, Cesar Ramos and Daniele Zampieri caught fire after losing water pressure and retired.
BMW also lost a shot at the podium when the solo Z4 run by three-time Spa winner Vita4One Racing retired with engine failure in the closing stages.
BMW had been in the mix with two of the trio of Z4s run by the Belgian Marc VDS squad. The #4 car driven by Nicky Catsburg, Markus Palttala and Henri Moser retired from the lead after an bolt retaining the alternator sheered, stranding the car out on the circuit.
The #3 car, shared by Maxime Martin, Yelmer Buurman and Bas Leinders, was battling for the lead when its cockpit fire extinguisher exploded and damaged the wiring loom.
The Pro-Am class was won the AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia in which Toni Vilander and Alex Mortimer joined team regulars Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron. They triumphed over the best of the SMP Racing Ferraris shared by Mika Salo, Maurizio Mediani, Kirill Ladygin and Victor Shaitar.