The No.34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 scored victory at the 70th edition Total 24 Hours of Spa thanks to a superb team effort from the German squad and its driver trio of Philipp Eng, Tom Blomqvist and Christian Krognes.
It was a remarkable achievement for the Walkenhorst outfit, which was fielding the No.34 BMW M6 GT3 as a one-off effort for the 70th edition 24 Hours and making its first appearance in the Pro class at Spa.
Its driver lineup had never previously contested a 24-hour race together and, while the squad has no shortage of experience as a full-time Blancpain GT Series entrant in the Am Cup category, its ability to beat the best GT racing teams in the world was nothing short of phenomenal.
While this was a memorable first for the team, for BMW the victory represented a record-extending 24th triumph at the Belgian endurance classic and a third in four years. Eng now has two wins at the Total 24 Hours of Spa to his name, having also triumphed in a BMW at the 2016 edition.
The No.34 crew was among the front-runners throughout the race, moving into the lead by the nine-hour mark and remaining there into the early hours of Sunday morning. This proved their ability to manage the most challenging hours of an endurance contest, with the car navigating several full-course yellow periods during the 24 Hours.
Indeed, the Walkenhorst car was at the head of the pack when the race was red flagged for the only time following a sizable accident involving the No.31 Team Parker Racing Bentley of Andy Meyrick and Jürgen Krebs in the No.666 Attempto Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3. Both men were extracted and transferred to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
In a statement, SRO Motorsports Group announced that both drivers suffered fractures and, due to the high-speed nature of the accident, are currently being kept under observation.
The Walkenhorst car was shuffled back on pit strategy when the race hit three-quarters distance, but patient driving and a shrewd pit strategy eventually returned the No.34 BMW to the front of the pack.
Their chief rival from the 18th hour onward was another BMW M6 GT3, the No.99 fielded by the ROWE Racing squad, which had made gradual progress from 11th on the grid.
The No.99 BMW leapt up the order and into the lead during the morning hours, but the Walkenhorst machine remained within striking distance. Crucially, the No.34 crew were able to reach the end of the race by making one fewer pit stop than the other BMW, which placed them back at the head of the order for the final quarter of the race.
They managed this high-pressure situation perfectly, edging away from the ROWE car over the final two hours to eventually claim victory by 10.4 seconds. The No.99 BMW followed them home to secure a one-two finish for the Bavarian marque on a circuit it has enjoyed so much success on throughout the years.
The final place on the overall podium went to the No.29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, whose young crew of Kelvin van der Linde, Sheldon van der Linde and Jeffrey Schmidt delivered a performance that belied their years.
The Land car led at the six-hour mark and was a factor in the race from start to finish. The No.29 Audi made more stops than any other top-20 crew, but the drivers – two of whom are silver-graded – delivered a mistake-free 24 Hours to secure their place on the rostrum.
Audi Sport Team Sainteloc narrowly missed out on backing up their win at last year’s race with another podium after running out of fuel during the final hour, costing the No.25 R8 LMS significant time as it retuned to the pits. The No.4 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon car of Maro Engel, Yelmer Buurman and Luca Stolz completed the top five.
The No.333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 clinched the Pro-Am category and secured an excellent overall finish thanks to an accomplished comeback drive from Alexander Mattschull, Rinat Salikhov, David Perel and Daniel Keilwitz.
The crew made impressive progress during the 24 Hours, having qualified 11th out of 12 Pro-Am runners and 53rd overall. The Ferrari 488 GT3 moved into the lead during the final quarter of the race, then edged away to win their category by a lap.
They beat the No.42 Strakka Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, which had led Pro-Am for much of the middle phase of the race but slipped to second during the closing hours.
Third place belonged to the No.175 SunEnergy1 Team HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 machine, which took 20th spot overall. Indeed, all three of these Pro-Am cars finished among the top-20, with the winning Rinaldi-Ferrari an excellent 15th in the overall standings.
In the Silver Cup, the No.12 Ombra Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 was dominant at the head of the class for much of the race but had to fend off intense late pressure to secure victory.
The pole-sitting No.54 Emil Frey Racing G3 Jaguar paced the early stages, but by the sixth hour the Ombra car had advanced to the head of the field, with the No.78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 its closest rival.
This situation remained unchanged until the checkered flag fell some 18 hours later, but that tells only half of the story. With just 20 minutes to run the No.12 Lamborghini came under huge pressure from the Barwell car, which almost forced its way past at La Source.
But Ombra pilot Alex Frassinetti held firm to secure class honors for the car he shares with Romain Monti, Andrea Rizzoli and Kang Ling. The Barwell-Lamborghini was next across the line, ahead of the No.6 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG, which completed the podium after an excellent comeback drive from the very back of the grid.
While the Barwell squad could not quite secure Silver honors, they nevertheless took home a set of Total 24 Hours of Spa winners’ trophies thanks to their No.77 Lamborghini Huracan GT3’s dominant Am Cup performance.
The Barwell machine assumed control at one-quarter distance and held its lead for the remainder of the race, spending more time at the head of its class than any other car in this year’s 24 Hours.
The crew of Leo Machitski, Richard Abra, Adrian Amstutz and Patrick Kujala finished five laps clear of their nearest Am Cup rival, the No.9 Target Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3, to seal the victory.
This was an especially sweet win for Amstutz, who was involved in a fiery accident during last year’s 24 Hours and required the bravery of track marshal Leen Coremans to save his life. 12 month later, he is a Total 24 Hours of Spa winner.
The Coupe du Roi, which rewards the manufacturer with the best results across Pro, Pro-Am and Am Cup at six, 12 and 24 hours, was won by Mercedes-AMG. The German marque was consistent across the categories and took home the award from a thrilling 70th edition of the Belgian endurance classic.