Tag Archives: spa 24 hours

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

Audi at Spa 24hrs

Looking forward to the Spa 24hrs

5 things to watch for at the Spa 24 Hours

The Spa 24 Hours is in many ways a marquee event in world Motorsport these days, with tons of factory interest, entries and a world-class venue to race on. This year, 65 cars are entered for Blancpain’s ‘blue riband’ event, with 29 in the full pro class at the front. Here’s five interesting storylines to follow from the runners and riders who will feature at the head of the field:

1. Garage 59’s three-car assault
McLaren GT customer squad Garage 59 has emerged as the team to beat so far this season in the Blancpain Endurance Cup, with two wins out of three races. The team’s leading No.58 650S GT3 of Rob Bell, Shane van Gisbergen and Come Ledogar has been both fast and consistent all season long and looks to continue its title challenge at Spa after victories at both Monza and the Paul Ricard 1000km.

In the second No.59 car is the trio of McLaren GT Driver Academy boys, Straun Moore, Alex Fontana and Andrew Watson, but the No.60 is the one to watch out of the other two. The No. 60 is a one-off entry which has 2016 Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours winner Pipo Derani, experienced Brit Duncan Tappy and ex-F1 driver Bruno Senna aboard. While they won’t be worried about picking up points as much as the #58 will, they’ll be just as motivated to win the race outright.

Spa 24hrs

The Spa 24 Hours hasn’t been a kind event to McLaren over the years, especially during its days with teams running the MP4 12C GT3, but that looks set to change. The 650S GT3 won the Bathurst 12 Hour earlier this year with Garage 59 and the winning car proved to be practically bullet proof in the process.

2. Audi’s attack
After the sheer disappointment of this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours, Audi is out for redemption at Spa, with eight cars in the Overall (Pro) class; the most of any brand in the top category. Of the octet, three are backed directly by the factory, with two run by Team WRT and one by Phoenix Racing.

WRT’s lineup is stellar – as usual – with Nürburgring and Spa 24 winner Laurens Vanthoor, Nico Muller, Rene Rast and ex-F1 driver Will Stevens fresh from his first Le Mans to name a few. Pohenix meanwhile has Audi veteran Frank Stippler aboard, one of the safest pair of hands in the business.

Audi at Spa 24hrs

Last year the R8 LMS was in contention all the way to the end, but had to settle for second behind Marc VDS Racing’s BMW Z4 in its first run at the race.

3. DTM takeover?
This year’s race sees DTM drivers from Audi, Mercedes and BMW taking part. The biggest name is 2005 DTM champ Gary Paffet, who is making his GT debut at the race driving with fellow Mercedes DTM driver Max Gotz in the No.86 HTP Mercedes. Daniel Juncadella and is also on the bill in an AMG GT3.

From the BMW camp, GT stalwart Maxime Martin will be driving in ROWE Racing’s No.99 BMW M6 GT3, and Audi will field Italian driver Eduardo Mortara in Stippler’s usual ISR seat in the No.75 car.  Certainly some big names to follow in headlining cars.

4. Linkin Park link up
World-famous rap rock artists Linkin Park will be present at the Spa 24 Hours, not just as fans, but also with their name on a car. The No.00 Black Falcon Mercedes AMG will sport an eye-catching silver and red live ring with Linkin Park branding. The band itself are huge Mercedes AMG fans, and will present the car to the public on race week.

Linkin Park livery

It’s not going to be just a rolling billboard either, in fact it could well be the headlining Mercedes in the field come Sunday afternoon. Driving it will be the fierce combination of this year’s N24 hero Maro Engel, ageless former Spa winner and all-round Mercedes legend Bernd Schneider and ex-Marc VDS pilot Yelmer Buurman.

5. Two Jags
The plucky privateer Emil Frey team will most certainly be one to watch. For years it has developed its own Jaguar GT3 car from an unreliable garage-sitter that was often off the pace, to a solid and on the pace car which has become an evert-present Blancpain fan-favourite. Usually, the Swiss outfit brings just one to Blancpain Endurance Cup rounds, but for this year’s Spa 24 it’s going all out to prove the car’s worth on the biggest stage.

Spa 24hrs

The team comes with a very intriguing lineup of 2015 Spa winner Markus Palttala, Jonathan Hirschi and former Red Bull F1 drvier Christian Klien making his Spa 24 debut. The trio should be quick, and capable of making noise in Qualifying as well as during the race if things fall their way.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photographs by Dailysportscar

24 Hours of Spa

Come to see the 24 Hours of Spa

There’s never been a better time to attend the 24 Hours of Spa

There was a time when Spa Francorchamps’ annual 24-hour race was a touring car contest, relevant only within Belgium’s borders, but those days are very much over. Since 2001, it’s become a pure GT race, and in many ways much better for it. The 24 Hours of Spa is a race that’s become famous for its gritty and spectacular racing. If you love witnessing feats of motorsport endurance first hand, there’s few better places to go than the Ardennes Forest in July.

These days, a capacity grid of around 60 cars take on the Spa circuit through day and night for the ultimate prize in Belgian motorsport. Like the Nürburgring 24 Hours, the 24 Hours of Spa has benefitted greatly from the addition to SRO-regulated cars, with the three classes in the race now made up entirely of GT3 cars from the Blancpain GT Series. With no significant difference in pace between the fastest and slowest car on the grid, the drivers at the front have to work extra hard to fight through the hordes of traffic.

Spa 24 Hours

As a result, the cars that cross the line on Sunday afternoon after 24 hours of racing always look incredibly beat up because the competition up front is so fierce. In recent years, the race for the overall lead has been decided within the final few hours, with the adverse conditions at the circuit often taking their toll on even the most sophisticated examples of modern GT machinery in the closing stages.

Plenty of factory-backed teams are due to be on the bill for this year’s race, showcasing the latest and greatest cars that SRO-sanctioned racing has to offer. The 2016 edition of the race has the mouth-watering prospect of having McLaren, Bentley, Audi, Mercedes, Porsche, Nissan, BMW, Ferrari and Aston Martin-backed squads in attendance.

When you’re there, spectating up-close at Spa for the 24 has a unique charm. Unlike the Le Mans and the Nürburgring 24 hours, you can walk the entire way round the 4.3-mile circuit as a fan, visiting both the inside and the outside at various points with relative ease.

Spa 24 Hours

Many of those in attendance spend the first half of the race doing a complete lap. They start on the start/finish straight grandstand and end up at La Source before taking a rest during the early hours of Sunday morning and coming back as dawn breaks to do the same again but in reverse, seeing the cars cross the line at the end of the race. Food options away from the main paddock are limited though, so packing your own food is advisable if you plan on spending much of the race out in the forests.

The night hours of the race are particularly special. We all know Spa is a picturesque circuit in the day, but seeing over 50 cars it the pitch black, flying up Eau Rouge, with flames spitting out the exhausts and brake discs glowing is incredible. It’s the Spa we all know from watching Formula One and the WEC on TV, but on an another level.

Standing atop the hill on the outside of the no-name corner heading down to Pouhon is also extraordinary. On a clear night, you can see cars passing through areas as far the Bus Stop from certain vantage points.

24 Hours of Spa

With Travel Destinations you have the choice of camping at a private site towards Stavelot, or staying at a hotel in Malmedy. It’s quick and easy to access the track by calling a cab, or taking a short car ride throughout the race and its build up, because it has far fewer fans than a place like Le Mans.

For everyone standing trackside, it has a far more relaxed feel than the other marquee endurance races, but that doesn’t in any way detract from the experience.

The Spa 24 Hours capture’s everything that’s appealing about watching an established race at a legendary circuit like Le Mans or the Nürburgring, but without huge crowds, sometimes limited spectator access and necessity to take a whole week off work to see the event.

If you’ve not been to Spa for the 24 Hours, as an endurance racing fan it simply must be done.

It’s a motorsport event that deserves your attention.

Follow this link for more details of how you can join us at the Spa 24 Hours this July!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photos by Dailysportscar

Spa 24 Hours 2015 Preview

Spa 24 Hours 2015 Preview

The Spa 24 hours is one of the biggest GT races in the world; If proof were needed, and it isn’t, of the popularity of the GT3 formula, then the 66 car entry would certainly be admissible in court! Better still, If there has been a change since 2014, it’s been an improvement in the quality and depth of the professional teams that will feature in this year’s events.

spa-24-start
Before an analysis of the entry though, it’s worth revisiting one major talking point from last years race; safety.
Put gently, the 2014 spa 24 hours was one of the scariest races that this writer has ever witnessed. A string of major accidents saw huge damage, more than one driver hospitalised, And on reflection very good fortune that we aren’t looking back on worse news still.
A solid response was required from the race organisers and that’s what we got!
Adoption of the Sean Edwards foundation programme was a sensible and highly appropriate move, recognising the challenges inherent in a packed grid of cars with broadly similar performance but with drivers of vastly different skill and experience levels.
Moving onto the entry proper, these might all be GT3 cars but there’s no shortage of variety. 11 different marques, and 14 different cars are represented amongst the 66 cars & three class grid. No fewer than 28 of those cars populate a packed Pro Cup.
audi-spa-24
Audi have already taken a major 24 hours racing honour with the new for 2015 Audi R8 LMS after a dominant run at the Nurburgring 24 hours in May. Their plans though in preparation for Spa suffered a blow with an uncharacteristically off-colour run at Paul Ricard. Despite that though there is little doubt that the quartet of new Audis feature highly on many peoples list of race favourites. The crack WRT and Phoenix efforts are studded with Audi factory talent with the #1 WRT car in particular, featuring the talents of Messrs panther, Rast and Winkelhock, a difficult lineup to ignore. Phoenix meanwhile field a trio of Le Mans 24 Hours winning drivers in their No.6 Audi, Lotterer, Fassler and Rockefeller another very classy looking squad.
The Audi though it is not the only new car this year with Lamborghini campaigning their brand-new Huracan GT3, a car which features an identical powertrain to the Audi but with a very different aerodynamic solution. The new Lamborghini is as yet unproven over 24 hours but it’s been fast all year so far and there’s little to suggest it will be anything other than a major contender.
lambo-spa-24
McLaren too have a new toy for 2015 with the spectacular new 650 S GT3, three of which will contest the pro class. Look out in particular for the pair of von Ryan Racing entered cars which feature a galaxy of McLaren factory talent – the No. 58 car in particular, fielding Bell, Estre and van Gisbergen has all the signs of being a real contender.
Bentley were the new boys last year but suffered early problems that cost them dearly. They’re back in 2015 though with no fewer than four cars in the Pro Cup, a pair piece for M-Sport and HTP with the lead M-Sport car looking likely to be in the overall mix if all goes to plan.
nissan-spa-24
Nissan’s GT-R has had a comprehensive upgrade for this year and it shows! There are two Godzillas in the pro class, one apiece for GT Academy Team RJN and MRS GT. The No. 23 RJN car won last time out in a very convincing display at Paul Ricard, there’s little to suggest that Nissans won’t again be on the pace in Belgium.
BMW is represented by four of the sonorous Z4 GT3s from three separate teams. The No. 9 ROAL Motorsport car sees Paralympic hero ex-Formula One and Champcar star Alex Zanardi Contest his first 24 hour race, BMW having made major changes to the Z4 to accommodate his needs alongside there is a teammates Bruno Spengler and Timo Glock. The all Brazilian crewed No.77 car should be quick but is likely to play second or third fiddle to the pair of Team VDS cars. Maxim Martin and Augusto Farfus in the No.45 add another to all list of most likely to succeed.
bmw-spa-24
Mercedes-Benz are represented in the pro class by Black Falcon and Rowe Racing, both with a pair of well crewed SLS AMG GT3s
Finally Ferrari, who has 16 cars on the overall entry but only one in the Pro Cup. The all green No.333 Rinaldi Racing car though has proved able to mix it with the leaders throughout the season so far.
The Pro-Am class features 24 cars with almost as many stars on the roster as the Pro Cup!
Ones to watch here include the third Nissan, the No.22 GT Academy Team RJN car with a trio of GT Academy winners joined by Nissan LMP1driver Olivier Pla. Mathias Beche is another LMP1 man, he joins the TDS Racing BMW squad. Look out too for the No. 32 Leonard Motorsport AMR Aston Martin which features factory driver Stefan Mucke, and rising GT star Tom Onslow Cole on the roster.
There are a trio of British entered BMW’s from team Russia by Barwell, Ecurie Ecosse and Triple 8 Racing, all of which could be in the mix too. Amongst the Ferraris look out for a current world champions Gimmi Bruni (No. 47) and Toni Vilander (No. 52).
Look out to the sole Jaguar in the race, the Swiss Emil Frey Racing outfit have found pace this year with the pretty blue XKR. A charity effort fielding a BMW is worth the watch too with Spa legends Eric van de Poele, Marc Duez, Pascal Witmeur and Jean-Michel Martin named on the entry.
Finally the Am Cup features 14 cars, half of which are Ferraris, and, the only two Porsches in the race! These cars aren’t likely to feature in the higher echelons of the finishing order but experience tells us that some of them might well feature in the action that determines who will lift the trophy!
Here’s to a fast, thrilling and safe Spa 24 Hours.
Written by Graham Goodwin
Photography by Dailysportscar