The #29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS led the Total 24 Hours of Spa at one-quarter distance, with the young crew of Kelvin van der Linde, Sheldon van der Linde and Jeffrey Schmidt showing impressive maturity as night fell on the Belgian circuit.
The #29 car was one of several to hold the lead of the race during the opening stages. The #2 Audi Sport Team WRT machine paced much of the first hour after beating the pole-sitting #62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin into Eau Rouge. Their positions were then reversed after the first round of pit stops, with the R-Motorsport crew turning their machine around quicker than the WRT squad.
The complexion of the race changed over the next 90 minutes as a full-course yellow – which then developed into a safety car – brought a number of new competitors into the frame, including the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport machine.
The #62 Aston Martin then slipped down the order due to a lengthy pit stop, while the #8 Bentley moved into the lead and remained there after another full-course yellow.
There was almost immediate drama when the race went green as the #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini made heavy contact with the #58 Garage 59 McLaren, causing significant damage to both cars. The pair were forced to pit for lengthy repairs, while the #63 was also hit with a 30-second stop-go penalty.
The leading Bentley remained out front through yet another full-course yellow after the #17 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT car shed a wheel and retired, with Andy Soucek at the front for the start of the sixth hour.
The Bentley soon stopped for a fifth time, but the latest full-course yellow did not work in its favour.
Debris brought about the track neutralisation and allowed a handful of cars to stop while their rivals were running at slow speed. As such, the #29 Montaplast by Land Audi – which had run second at five hours – moved into the lead with Kelvin van der Linde at the wheel. The #98 ROWE Racing BMW held second, ahead of the #8 Bentley.
That was the state of play when the race reached one-quarter distance, with Van der Linde running some 25 seconds clear of Ricky Collard in the chasing BMW.
The #42 Strakka Racing Mercedes led the Pro-Am class by a sizeable margin, having also stopped during the most recent full-course yellow. David Fumanelli was at the wheel after six hours, running eighth overall and some way clear of the next-best in class, the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari. RAM Racing had led the early running with their Mercedes, but slipped back due to a radiator problem.
The battle for Silver Cup honours was closer at one-quarter distance, with the #12 Ombra Racing Lamborghini leading the #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini. The #54 Emil Frey Jaguar – pole-sitter and long-time class leader in Silver Cup – sat third.
The Am Cup battle was among the most competitive in the field, with several cars leading during the opening six hours. The #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini held the top spot, ahead of the #9 Target Racing Lamborghini and the #488 Rinaldi Ferrari. Groupe National, meanwhile, was led comfortably by the #67 GDL Racing Lamborghini Super Trofeo car.
Drivers will now tackle the treacherous night hours, a period that is sure to test the young Montaplast by Land crew as they chase victory at the 70th edition 24 Hours of Spa.
Source. SRO Motorsports Group/ Photo. GruppeC / Tim Upietz