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Spa 24 Hours

70th anniversary for Spa 24 Hours

This weekend is set to see a landmark for GT racing, with the 70th running of the 24 Hours of Spa. A grid of over 60 GT3 cars, from 13 marques, with plucky privateer teams, factory-backed efforts aplenty, and a Pro class that has the potential to provide those trackside and at home with a thrilling Spa 24 Hours.

Our man in the stands looks forward to four of the things he is most looking forward to seeing during the 2018 Spa 24 Hours.

Endurance Cup title battles
The Blancpain GT Series and Intercontinental GT Challenge has created a plethora of title races across the board, with so many trophies available for teams to gun for now. But, at its core, the Spa 24 Hours is a round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup, and for the majority of European GT3 teams, winning the Endurance Cup titles for Drivers and Teams is the crown jewel they most want.

As it stands, at the head of the field in the teams title is Emil Frey, and it has been a remarkable story so far for the Swiss team and its new Lexus programme. After years of running its Jaguar GT3s (which it is still running this year, but in the Silver Cup), it is now racing with a pair of Lexus RCF GT3s, which already have proven to bring far more to the table than just variety. Emil Frey won last time out at Paul Ricard, and will look to continue that form heading into this weekend’s race. That won’t be easy though, as with it being so tight at the top, it is often a lottery at Spa. Strength in numbers can be a deciding factor between a manufacturer winning or struggling to get a car inside the top twenty. It is close though, as ex-FIA WEC team Strakka Racing (Mercedes) and Team Parker Racing (Bentley) are within 10 points.

Spa 24 Hours
In the Drivers standings meanwhile, it’s WRT’s trio of Alex Riberas, Chris Mies and Dries Vanthoor leading the way, by just two points over Emil Frey’s trio of Marco Seefried, Albert Costa and Christian Klien. The WRT crew’s win at Monza has proven to be the deciding factor here, but with three sets of points on offer during the 24 (at hours 6, 12 and 24), it’s an incredibly important event for the teams, and strategy will be at play to ensure that cars are high up the order at various points during the race to score points. And, if it all falls into place, the conclusion of the Spa 24 will not only provide fans with an incredible finish, but will also see a set of title races that will go down to the wire at the season finale in Barcelona.

The stacked Pro field
The race’s organizing body, SRO, has intentionally capped this year’s Pro class in the Spa 24 Hours, to ensure that the private teams are able to make up the majority of the field. But that is unlikely to detract from the race for overall honours, as instead, it’s forced the factory teams and high-end privateer efforts to concentrate on fewer cars, and stack them with talent. This year’s 30-car entry in Pro for the Spa 24 Hours is stunning, an all-star cast, with no real weak links. And with efforts from Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lexus, McLaren, Mercedes, Nissan and Porsche, there’s no real favourite either.

Spa 24 Hours
There’s plenty of new machinery in amongst the class too.  Bentley brings its new Continental GT3 to Spa for the first time, a car which looks and sounds stunning. Whether or not it is ready for a big win this early in its life though, remains to be seen. As mentioned above, Lexus too, brings spice to the party, with the RCF GT3, which may not be a brand-new car (in fact, it’s been in development for years and raced with customers in 2017), it is new to Blancpain and despite being ahead in the points standings, Emil Frey is still a dark horse here with real potential. The final new beast, is from Nissan, it’s 2018-spec GT-R GT3 a fundamentally different car to the previous model, with the engine placed lower and further back in the chassis, and radically different aero at each corner of the car. The results haven’t shown yet, but with RJN running the new car, and Balance of Performance a factor, there is no reason a signature result can’t be achieved here. Add in existing cars from the other brands, and you’ve got an unmissable battle at the head of the field.

Honda’s return
Outside of the Pro class, the entry which will likely receive the most attention at the Spa 24 Hours is the Castrol Honda Racing NSX GT3. 18 years on from its last Spa 24 Hours appearance, Honda is back with this effort at Spa, which will be run by JAS Motorsport. This weekend’s race is both the NSX GT3’s Blancpain GT and European 24-hour race debut, as part of a push from the brand’s customer programme.

The car will compete in the Pro-Am class, with Bertrand Baguette and Esteban Guerrieri, ex-F1 driver Riccardo Patrese and Loic Depailler. This will be a very interesting entry to follow, and surely a fan favourite with its Castrol-livery. And the NSX GT3 has a real chance to have a clean run to the finish, as badged as an Acura in the USA, it’s had some notable results already with Michael Shank Racing. But, in this environment, and with a relatively inexperienced driver crew, whether or not it will be a contender in its first appearance, remains to be seen…

Spa 24 Hours
Star drivers
This year’s Spa 24 Hours field, as well as featuring a vast selection of machinery, is one of the most incredible list of GT drivers ever assembled. And in among those are some real stars, that aren’t necessarily known for GT3 racing. As mentioned before, Riccardo Patrese is part of the entry, an F1 race-winner. Another F1 race-winner meanwhile, is Rubens Barichello, a man who had a similar career to Patrese, just decades later. Barichello will race with Strakka Racing, for the team’s second attempt at trying to win at Spa, and after competing at Le Mans last year, he is clearly inspired to carve out a small post-F1 career in sportscars.

Spa 24 Hours
Outside of that, Attempto Racing will race with DTM ace Jamie Green, back for his second Spa 24 Hours, again competing in an Audi, to match his touring car commitments. Former Le Mans winners and LMP1 stars Marcel Fassler, Marc Lieb and Timo Bernhard will also be present, racing for WRT, Manthey Racing and Team75 Bernhard respectively, so it’s safe to say they all have a real chance at an overall podium or win.

And finally, slightly out of left field, Top Gear presenter Chris Harris is also back again, this time with Garage 59 in the Am class driving a 650S GT3. Thus far it’s been a hugely successful season for Harris, who with his teammates leads the class standings after winning two races this year. It is safe to say he’ll be more motivated than ever at this years Spa 24 Hours.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Nurburgring 24

Nurburgring 24 Hours 2017 Preview

This time of year the major events in the motorsport calendar come thick and fast. Having just had a great time with hundreds of Travel Destinations customers at the Spa Classic this last weekend, we are swiftly moving on to the Nurburgring 24 Hours this weekend. Once again we are looking after lots of our customers at the circuit for this amazing event. Our man in the stands has taken a look at what our guests can expect to see this weekend.

It is that exciting time of year again, where over 150 cars take on the Nürburgring Nordschleife for 24 hours in an attempt to conquer the world’s toughest circuit through night and day, sun and, most likely at some point, rain! The classification of cars taking part can appear complicated and the garages are certainly crowded, but this all adds to the spectacle.

The SP9 class for GT3 cars; which will almost certainly produce the winner, features no less than 34 of Europe’s best GT teams this time around, spanning seven automotive brands. The marques with the most this year are BMW and Mercedes with ten and seven apiece respectively.

Nurburgring 24BMW will be looking to extend its record of 19 N24 overall wins with the M6 GT3 returning for its second crack at the ‘Ring with Schnitzer, Falken, ROWE, Schubert and Walkenhorst. The driver lineups are stellar across the ROWE, Schnitzer and Schubert entries in particular, with a good mix of N24 veterans and rookies providing the backbone for its effort. It’s been a tough start to the year for the M6 racing on the Nordschliefe though, with its best finish 10th in VLN 2. That won’t necessarily translate to race-week at the Nurburgring though, with Balance of Performance always a factor all the way up until the flag drops on Saturday. The car, while still in its infancy, notably won the Spa 24 Hours last year too, after a disappointing run at last year’s Nurburgring 24. Look out for the Falken team, which is racing with BMW for the first time in its 17-year history at the Nurburgring 24 – and Schnitzer, which took the win back in 2010 for BMW (its last victory) and is back racing in GTs after a handful of seasons in DTM.

Nurburgring 24Mercedes meanwhile, is looking for another dominant run to the finish at the Nurburgring 24 much like in 2016, when its AMG GT3s finished 1-2-3-4 in their first attempt at the race. Globally the AMG GT3 is one of, if not the strongest car in the GT3 ranks, with great speed and reliability, both which are of the utmost importance for the Nurburgring 24. HTP, Black Falcon and Haribo Racing are all back with Mercedes cars, and with another stellar set of drivers are looking to score the Stuttgart-based brand’s third overall victory.

Don’t count out Audi or Porsche though. The other two German marques head to the Nurburgring 24 with the best run of form. Nurburgring 24 stalwarts Manthey Racing bring arguably the strongest lineup to the race, with reining World Endurance Champion and Le Mans winner Romain Dumas and fellow Porsche factory drivers Fred Makowiecki, Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz driving its No. 911 Porsche 911 GT3 R which won VLN 1 and 2. Local favourites Frikadelli Racing and Falken Motorsport make up the remaining teams racing with Porsche in SP9.

Nurburgring 24At Audi, perennial Blancpain frontrunner and 2015 Nurburging 24 winner WRT will bring two R8 LMS GT3s, as will Land Motorsport, which won Germany’s premier GT series (ADAC GT Masters) in 2016 as well as multiple VLN races. Phoenix Racing, which won Audi’s first N24 back in 2012 returns with a single GT3 entry for the Four Rings too, though without factory backing this time. It did win the N24 Qualification Race earlier this month though, and has a formidable quartet of Dennis Busch, Nicolaj Moller Madsen, and Audi stalwarts Mike Rockenfeller and Frank Stippler.

The other three brands are lower in the car count, but will be just as interesting to follow.

Bentley are looking to score a landmark result as the Continental GT3’s lifecycle begins to reach its end. They will race with three Abt entries packed with factory drivers and regional specialists. This year Abt has opted to switch up its tyre partner and race with Yokohama, which could well prove an advantage in certain conditions. It must be noted that Bentley has had a positive start to the season, with second and fourth place finishes in VLN 1 and 2. Everyone back at programme HQ in Crewe will be hoping it can challenge with the frontrunners until the end.

Single Ferrari and Lamborghini entries bring the total to 34 in SP9, with Konrad racing a Huracan GT3 and Blancpain regular Rinaldi Racing operating a Wochenspiegel Team Monshau 488 GT3 for the car’s Nurburging 24 debut.

Nurburgring 24Outside the main interest, there is, of course, plenty of other oddball entries to keep an eye on during the race as well. Two Glickenhaus SCG003Cs will race in SPX against a pair of brand new Audi R8 GT4s run by the aforementioned Phoenix Racing crew. Aston Martin will also compete. Whilst not in SP9 as in recent seasons, the Aston Martin Lagonda team will run two SP8 class Vantages – a  V8 with factory drivers Darren Turner and Nicki Thiim – and a V12.

Nurburgring 24 HoursThe Kissling Opel Manta, with its own cult following is, as ever, on the list, racing a pair of Opel Calibras in SP3 and a pair of Toyota Gazoo Racing Carollas; one of which will be driven by four Thai drivers!

Predicting a winner is always impossible when it comes to the Nurburgring 24, partly because there’s usually 30 cars capable of crossing the line first, and also because the circuit and local climate throws up so many variables. It is strength in numbers though, which is why the German factories come armed with a fleet of their latest kit each year! That’s what makes the Nurburgring 24 a special event. It is pure automotive bliss, supported by the most influential car brands in Europe.

The Nurburgring 24 Hours is a rolling motor show and a week-long festival for the locals, who refuse to let the event become stale, and continue to party in the Eiffel Forest like its 1979.

The Nurburging 24 Hours 2017 is a sell out event for Travel Destinations. However, you can pre-register now for the 2018 Nurburgring 24 Hours by calling 0844 873 0203. You just have to be there!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar.com

 

Lamborghini at Spa 24 Hours

More from the Spa 24

Five things we learnt from the 2016 24 Hours of Spa

Following the Spa 24 Hours last weekend, our man in the stands, Stephen Kilbey, takes a look at 5 main points that arose from the race.

The BMW M6 has come into its own
Few people would have predicted a BMW M6 would come out on top, after a lengthy battle with Bentley for the win at the Spa 24 Hours this year. After the Nürburgring 24 Hours (the M6’s big 24-hour debut) didn’t go to plan with various incidents and mechanical failures prevented it from splitting up the Mercedes armada, hopes were not high. But Spa was different. With Mercedes’ uber-quick AMG GT3s on the back foot before the race even started, Audi having yet another very un-Audi race, McLaren proving to lack strength in numbers, Bentley suffering bad luck and serving penalties and Lamborghini not having a real challenge it suddenly became ROWE Racing’s to lose; and this time they didn’t.

BMW at Spa 24 hours
For any new car to come in and win a 24-hour race in its first year is impressive, and that’s definitely a worthy adjective to describe ROWE’s performance top to bottom. Alex Sims, Philip Eng and Maxime Martin all drove flawlessly and in the end had the luck, bold strategy calls and speed to win the race and deliver the team its first big win. After so many attempts at winning both Spa and the N24, ROWE Racing wont be forgetting this year’s Spa 24 Hours in a hurry. Neither will BMW, as the M6 looks like it’s a good all-round package that will remain a challenger on big stages for years to come.

Driving standards have improved
After the debacle of two years ago, when the Spa 24 Hours of 2014 was marred by a series of huge incidents following multiple safety car periods, it was good to see that such an enormous 65-car field produced a clean race. In recent years, the amateur/gentlemen drivers have really upped their game in the spirit of competition and its safe to say that it’s been at the benefit of GT3 racing across the board. Whilst there were naturally a couple of big shunts (one particularly scary one on pit-exit which saw Kevin Estre’s Attempto Porsche thrown into the Armco after contact with a Ferrari running at full speed) the racing overall was hard and fair, with most of the field leaving the event feeling encouraged by the performances of their peers.

Spa 24 Hours
As much as enormous grids are used as a yard-stick for the success of a series/event these days, safety is just as important. It’s good to see that the SRO’s Blancpain GT Series continues to attract quantity and quality.

Mercedes has some post-Spa PR work to do
This year’s race will most certainly always be remembered for the post-qualifying exclusion of the Mercedes runners in the Top-20 Shootout. What should have been a 1-2-3-4-5-6 formation on the grid for the Stuttgart-based brand turned into a PR nightmare after an illegal engine map was found on all the cars, giving them a pace advantage. All the six cars featured several values in one of the three homologated maps in the car (Qualifying/ Race and Safety Car) that did not comply with the quoted values. As a result, they lost their qualifying times and received a five-minute stop and hold penalty at the start of the race too, effectively putting all the Mercedes contenders out of the running before the lights went green. It is an  incredible achievement that the leading AKKA ASP Mercedes came home second, overcoming an enormous disadvantage.

Mercedes at Spa 24
It’s one thing to dominate due to sloppy Balance of Performance (BoP) adjustments, but when the manufacturer does more than just ‘play the game’ it is another entirely. Mercedes declined to comment on the reason for the issues, but failed to put in an appeal because they ‘ran out of time’. If it genuinely didn’t have any part in changing the engine maps on purpose, then so be it, but a lot of people will look at the 1-2-3-4 at the Nürburgring 24 Hours earlier in the year and now become suspicious of the result.

Bentley blew its big chance
The Bentley Continental GT3 has won plenty of races in its lifespan, but has thus far failed to win a marquee race. This year, with ex-Audi engineer Leena Gade at the helm, the British M-Sport crew had a very good chance of winning, pushing the ROWE team to its limits as the race wore on. A mixture of bad luck under full course yellow conditions, penalties and a late puncture cost the Bentley squad dearly. It was agonizing for the team after having the lead with just over two hours remaining in the race.

Bentley at Spa
In years past Bentley hasn’t featured in the running for the win of either the Spa 24 Hours or the Nürburgring 24 Hours, and it felt like that it may of missed out on its big chance last weekend to get a signature victory under its belt before the next chassis comes in to take its place in the coming years.

Maxime Martin got his big win
It has been a long time coming, but Maxime Martin finally has a career-defining win. The Belgian GT star, who will always be remembered for his astonishing performance towards the end of the 2013 Nürburgring 24 Hours, where he hunted down the leading Mercedes through adverse weather in the closing stages, only to finish second, now has a big 24-hour race win. After coming so close at both Spa and the ‘Ring in recent years, the 30-year-old Belgian couldn’t contain his emotions after winning the ‘big one’ on his home soil. And it is no surprise because every Belgian GT driver wants to win the Spa 24.

Podium at Spa 24hrs
It was a very deserving victory. Martin still has many years left in his career to add to his resumé as a BMW factory driver be it in GT3, DTM or wherever he ends up in the future. Few people have any doubts about his talent, and he now has a trophy to show for his efforts.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar