Since the Total 24 Hours of Spa became a GT contest at the beginning of this century, organisers SRO Motorsports Group have reserved a place for Belgian teams and drivers wishing to compete in what is effectively the country’s most popular race. Enter ‘Groupe National’.
During the touring car era of the Spa endurance classic there was no lack of Belgian participation. In fact, by the end of the nineties, non-Belgian competitors were few and far between. One of the reasons the organisers of the Spa 24 Hours decided to switch to GT rules in 2001 was to return the event to its former international glory. There would always be room for national drivers wishing to compete, however.
During the early GT years they were catered for by ‘Category 2’ and ‘Category 3’. The former consisted of cars from the national GT championships of France, Great Britain, Spain and of course Belgium, while the latter featured single-make Cup and Trophy contenders. Category 2 was made up mainly of the ubiquitous Porsches, but also of a monstrous Marcos LM600 with Chevrolet V8 power, a 2-litre 4-cylinder Renault Spider, and the first Belgian car to take part in the race for 63 years: the Gillet Vertigo.
First conceived as a road car by Belgian hillclimb champion Tony Gillet, featuring a carbon-monocoque chassis and carbon-kevlar bodywork, the Vertigo competed in some BPR and French championship races. For the 2001 edition of the Spa 24 Hours it used an Alfa Romeo 3-litre V6 engine, but unfortunately had to retire early on. In 2001, Category 2 was won by the Belgian PSI Motorsport Porsche, while a Land Motorsport Porsche with Belgians Corthals and Sterckx among the drivers took top honours in Category 3.
The names of the classes evolved during the FIA GT years, but the basic idea remained the same: giving local drivers and teams the opportunity to compete against the best GT drivers in the world. This allowed fans the chance to see some extraordinary machines, such as a TVR Cerbera Speed 6 and a BMW Z3 M Coupé GT (both in 2002), the mysterious Stealth B6 – which never made it through scrutineering – a Morgan Aero 8, a couple of Mosler MT900 Rs, and even a Seat Toledo from the Spanish GT championship (all in 2003).
These exotic machines proved to be competitive in some cases, with the G&A Racing Mosler of Belgian quartet Smets-Kenis-De Keersmaecker-Mattheus taking G2 (the former Category 2) honours in 2007. Two years later – the final year GT1 cars competed in the Spa 24 Hours – the Category/Group 2/3 rules came to an end. Another fans’ favourite – the Matech GT Racing Ford GT of Maxime Martin – took the final ever win in G3.
From 2010 onwards the category was given the ‘GT National’ label, still reserved for cars that competed in domestic GT championships. Among them were two Schnitzer-entered BMW M3 E92s, factory supported cars with which the Bavarian brand wanted to claim its 22nd overall victory in the Belgian Ardennes. Werner, Müller and Adorf came close to doing so, but a steering arm failure with 40 minutes to go meant it would finish third overall while comfortably winning GT National.
During the first three years that the Total 24 Hours of Spa was run according to the Blancpain Endurance Series GT3 rulebook (2011-2013), national competitors were able to compete in the Cup category for single-make Cup machinery (the former G3 rules). The Porsche 911 Cup proved to be the weapon of choice, claiming all three wins. After a brief hiatus Groupe National was reintroduced to the Spa endurance classic in 2016, much to the joy of the drivers wishing to compete in the Belgian twice-around-the-clock race at the wheel of a Cup car. The most recent ‘National’ winner was the Porsche of Belgian squad Speedlover. Not only did the car have four Belgian drivers at the wheel, it also had one of the country’s most famous exports racing with them: the livery consisted entirely of Smurfs!
Source. SRO Motorsports Group