For the fourth time, after earlier success in 2011, 2012 and 2014, an Audi was the first car across the line in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the world’s biggest GT3 race and the undisputed season highlight of the Blancpain GT Series. After 546 laps of Spa-Francorchamps, German driver Christopher Haase drove the No. 25 Audi Sport Team Saintéloc Audi R8 LMS across the finish line to secure victory for himself and teammates Markus Winkelhock and Jules Gounon.
With second place for the No. 8 car, Bentley Team M-Sport made up for its misfortune in last year’s race at Spa. The No. 90 Akka ASP Mercedes rounded out the top three with the second consecutive podium finish at Spa for the French team. Mercedes-AMG took Pro-Am class honours with a strong performance by the No. 16 Black Falcon team while the No. 888 Kessel Racing Ferrari led almost throughout to score a commanding Am class win. The Belgian Speedlover team won the national class with its No. 991 Porsche.
With 63 cars taking the start and no fewer than 36 of them competing for overall honours, there was no doubt that this year’s running of the Total 24 Hours of Spa had one of the strongest entries ever in the history of the Belgian endurance racing classic. Qualifying had already made it clear that a fierce battle could be expected among the teams representing the world’s most prestigious sports car brands, and the race duly delivered.
Once the field was released after one formation lap of the 7.004 kilometres long circuit, it was ex-Formula 1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella who made the best use of the pole position and took the lead with the No. 55 Kaspersky Motorsport Ferrari, ahead of compatriot Mirko Bortolotti in the No. 63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini and Kevin Estre in the No. 117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard Porsche.
While the Ferrari and the Lamborghini shone at the front of the field throughout the first hours of the race, the second hour saw the first of several full-course yellows and a subsequent safety car intervention due to a severe crash by Thai driver Pasin Lathouras, who lost control of his No. 50 AF Corse Ferrari at the top of the Raidillon. Luckily, the driver walked away unscathed.
Several teams used the neutralization to come in for pit stops with the different pit stop strategies applied by the teams leading to frequent position changes throughout the field. Meanwhile, it was also clear that the Race Control was watching drivers’ antics closely as there were penalties galore, particularly for track limit infringements.
As the first points were awarded after six hours, the No. 55 Kaspersky Motorsport Ferrari was leading from the No. 63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini and the No. 84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport Mercedes and no fewer than 16 cars were still on the lead lap after the first quarter of the race. Soon after the six-hour mark, Swedish driver Jimmy Eriksson crashed the No. 84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport car at Raidillon.
During the night, the rain shower that so many had expected finally arrived, spicing up the action even more while also making it more challenging for the drivers, as if the Spa-Francorchamps circuit wasn’t challenging enough in itself. Most drivers opted for rain tires, but some gambled and stayed out with slicks. There were incidents, too, including a collision that put two Mercedes cars out at once, the No. 00 Good Smile Racing car and the No. 18 Black Falcon Mercedes. Earlier on, the No. 88 AKKA ASP Mercedes had already retired after a crash.
Halfway through the race, points were attributed again and this time, it was the No. 63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini who claimed the full score ahead of the No. 85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes and the No. 55 Kaspersky Motorsport Ferrari. In the 14th hour, the No. 77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini and the No. 11 Kessel Racing Ferrari collided at Stavelot corner, after which the Lamborghini caught fire. Its driver, Adrian Amstutz, was taken to a hospital in Liège where he was diagnosed with second-degree burns and a broken rib. The Ferrari driver, Matteo Cressoni, was transferred to hospital in Verviers for a check-up. There was well-deserved praise for the track marshals and rescue teams for their quick intervention.
A little bit later, the Kaspersky Motorsport team that had led the race for many hours saw its hopes of a possible victory evaporate as Marco Cioci came off track at the Raidillon with damaged steering, the result of contact with the No. 90 Akka ASP Mercedes at La Source. About two hours later, the other Italian GT car that shone for a long time, the No. 63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini, retired when Christian Engelhart crashed out at Les Combes with brake issues.
This effectively turned the battle for the lead into an almost entirely German affair with the Porsche, several Audis, the No. 98 ROWE Racing BMW and a number of Mercedes-AMG cars in contention, while the No. 8 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley defended British honours. Suspension issues then put to an end ROWE Racing’s ambitions of a repeat win after their 2016 success.
In the afternoon, the Saintéloc Audi emerged as the main candidate for success and as the last car from the group of the front-runners, the No. 117 KUS Team75 Bernhard Porsche, completed his final pit stop on lap 527, it was left up to German driver Haase, who had pitted six laps earlier, to bring the Audi across the finish line, which he duly did after 546 laps, scoring Saintéloc’s first 24-hour race win as an Audi Sport team. The No. 8 Bentley came second ahead of the No. 90 Akka ASP Mercedes. The No. 117 KUS Team75 Bernhard Porsche was classified fourth, making Laurens Vanthoor the best-placed Belgian driver in the overall classification.
Pro-Am honors for Black Falcon
The No. 97 Oman Racing Team with TF Sport Aston Martin led the Pro-Am class for the opening hours of the race, but a spirited drive with consistently fast lap times resulted into good progress for the No. 16 Black Falcon Mercedes that then moved up into the lead of the class in the evening and held on to its class lead throughout the race. Its drivers Oliver Morley, Miguel Toril, Marvin Kirchhöfer and Maximilian Götz finished twelfth overall, one lap ahead of class-runners-up Ahmad Al Harthy, Salih Yoluc, Jonny Adam and Euan Hankey with the Aston Martin. For Adam and Al Harty, the points scored at Spa were already enough to seal an early Blancpain GT Series Pro-Am drivers’ title and to rack up the title win for the Oman Racing Team with TF Sport as well. Third place in class went to the No. 961 Spirit of Race Ferrari with Alex Demerdjian, Nicolas Minassian, Davide Rizzo and Toni Vilander.
Am-Cup: Kessel Racing Ferrari throughout
A faultless performance by Swiss team Kessel Racing and its drivers Marco Zanuttini, Jacques Duyver, David Perel and Niki Cadei in the No. 888 Ferrari 488 GT3 was rewarded with a commanding class win, the team’s second Am class victory in a row in the Total 24 Hours of Spa. The team led in class almost from lights to flag and won with a margin of four laps from the No. 488 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari of Pierre Ehret, Rino Mastronardi, Patrick van Glabeke and Gabriele Lancieri. German team Walkenhorst Motorsport took the final podium slot with its No. 36 BMW driven by David Schiwietz, Stef Vancampenhoudt, Henry Walkenhorst and Ralf Oeverhaus.
Ferrari wins Coupe du Roi in its anniversary year
Fitting for the year in which the legendary Italian sports car manufacturer is celebrating its 70th anniversary, Ferrari won the prestigious Coupe du Roi for the best performance by a manufacturer in the total of the three classes.
National class honors for Speedlover Porsche
Only two Porsche cars were entered in the national class and once the No. 56 RMS Porsche had retired, it was only a matter for the drivers of the No. 991 Speedlover car to bring the Porsche home to collect the class honors. They did this in a masterful way and thus, Pierre Yves Paque, Grégory Paisse, Thierry de Latre du Bosqueau and Louis-Philippe Soenen were able to celebrate in front of their home crowd.