This was a vintage year for Porsche, which returned to the top step of the podium after almost a decade thanks to GPX Racing and finished with an incredible five cars among the overall top 10. It was also a year to remember when it came to the weather, from the scorching temperatures experienced during the pre-event build-up to the downpour that arrived for race morning.
As the dust settles on a highly competitive race, here are some of the key stories and stats to emerge from this year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa.
The weather became a major talking point during this year’s event. While the 24 Hours was hit by a number of heavy rain showers, the days preceding the race saw glorious sunshine and temperatures of almost 40c. Indeed, the sun and high temperatures resumed on the Monday after the race. Sometimes, it is easy to believe that Spa chooses the weather for its own amusement…
With 72 cars on the grid this year’s race broke the previous GT-era record of 66 starters, which was set in 2012. In terms of finishers, 51 cars were classified on Sunday afternoon, which equates to 72 percent of those that took the start. This is the second-best finishing rate of the GT era. Only last year’s race – where 76 percent were classified – saw a better percentage.
Porsche’s victory continues a run of dominance by German brands, which have now won the previous 10 runnings of the Total 24 Hours of Spa. Indeed, only one non-German marque has reached the podium during the last decade, with Bentley taking a runner-up finish in 2017. Audi leads the way with 11 top-three finishes, while BMW has eight. Porsche and Mercedes-AMG are level with five podiums a piece.
Victory for the fledgling GPX Racing team made it 11 different winners from the same number of Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup rounds, a run that stretches back to early in the 2017 season. However, the Porsche marque now has two wins in the same season, a feat that no brand was able to achieve last year. Should a Porsche triumph in the Barcelona season finale, it will be the first time in Endurance Cup history that a car has won three races during one season.
There was a feeling before the event that Porsche meant business this year, with six Pro class entries and a wealth of factory talent among its driver line-ups. The investment paid off, with five of its 911 GT3 R crews finishing among the overall top 10. That is the most for any brand since 2004 – when Porsche itself had six top-10 cars.
Kevin Estre took his third Endurance Cup win by triumphing at Spa. The French driver’s previous victory came at the Nürburgring in 2015. Both Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen were first-time winners on Sunday afternoon, though Lietz had previously finished as runner-up at the 24 Hours in 2010 and 2013.
ROWE Racing continued its superb form at the 24 Hours with a third podium finish in four years. Frederic Makowiecki, Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy drove the one-off #998 Porsche to a runner-up finish on Sunday, which follows the same result last year and overall victory in 2016. Indeed, ROWE had three cars in the top 10 this year, with its full-season #98 and #99 entrants finishing fifth and seventh respectively.
Audi’s run of podium success at the Total 24 Hours of Spa is over, as this year’s race marked the first time since 2010 that the Ingolstadt marque was not represented among overall top three. It was not far off: the brand’s best finisher was the #25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc car, which took fourth for the second season in a row with Markus Winkelhock, Christopher Haase and Frederic Vervisch at the wheel. Vervisch was also the best-placed Belgian at his home event.
Honda’s sixth-place overall finish from 33rd on the grid was one of the most impressive results of the race. Fielding just one Pro class NSX GT3 Evo, the Japanese marque was down on firepower compared to its rivals. Nevertheless, the #30 crew ran a clean race to emerge as a top 10 contender on Sunday morning and made further progresses as the event reached its final stages. This made Honda the best of the non-German marques – and suggested there could be more to come at the 24 Hours.
The Silver Cup winners were the best finisher outside the Pro class, with the #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini taking 15th overall. It marks the second successive Silver class win for the Italian brand, while Barwell also showed its quality in the Ardennes by adding to the Am Cup triumph it secured in 2018. The young crew of Sandy Mitchell, James Pull and Jordan Witt all took their first win at the event, with 19-year-old Pull doing so at the first attempt.
Despite narrowly missing out on the Silver Cup win, AKKA ASP secured the teams’ title at Spa. Leading at six and 12 hours was enough to end any doubts, while an eventual second-place finish ensures a commanding 57-point advantage ahead of the season finale. AKKA ASP drivers Nico Bastian, Felipe Fraga and Timur Boguslavisky will secure the title as a trio by starting the season-ending race in Barcelona together.
The biggest points haul at this year’s race was achieved by Pro-Am-winning squad Oman Racing with TF Sport. The #97 Aston Martin started from the pit lane, but in a phenomenal showing it managed to lead at six and 12 hours on the way to victory. That meant a total of 49 points across the race, with the crew only missing out on the bonus point for pole position.
Oman Racing with TF Sport’s showing was made all the more impressive by the fact that it ran with a substitute chassis following an accident during free practice. The squad was fortunate to have its British GT machine at the track following the previous weekend’s race at Spa and quickly prepared this for the 24 Hours. It ran faultlessly and will now revert to British GT spec for this weekend’s contest at Brands Hatch.
Rinaldi Racing’s Am Cup victory ensured Ferrari its 10th class win since the Blancpain GT Series began in 2011. There was less success for the Italian marque’s Pro entrants, with AF Corse, SMP Racing and HubAuto Corsa’s machines failing to finish this year’s race, though the former led at six and 12 hours and now stands on the brink of the Endurance Cup title.
Rinaldi edged out Barwell Motorsports to take the Am Cup win, though the British squad has nevertheless clinched the Am Cup teams’ title with a round to spare. Two of its drivers – Leo Machitski and Adrian Amstutz – have also successfully defended their drivers’ crown, though this will not be official until they start the race on the same crew at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
The fastest qualifying lap of the weekend was set by Maro Engel, who recorded a 2m18.588s to top Friday evening’s Super Pole session. Mattia Drudi was the quickest Silver Cup runner with a 2m19.007s, while Pro-Am pace-setter Robert Renauer posted a 2m20.084s. The best time in the Am Cup class came from Patrick Kujala (2m19.757s), while the best by a bronze-graded driver was Alexander Mattschull with a 2m22.034s.
Two of the fastest drivers in qualifying did not get a chance to compete in the Super Pole session as their crew’s average times missed the top-20 cut. Nevertheless, with more than 200 drivers completing laps it is worth recognising the speed of Kelvin van der Linde (#66 Attempto Audi), who was fifth quickest, and ninth-fastest Mirko Bortolotti (#63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini).
The fastest lap of the race was set by local favourite Laurens Vanthoor. The Belgian ace took advantage of a dry circuit to set a 2m20.146s in his #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard Porsche.
With Spa complete, attention now shifts to the Endurance Cup championship battles. The #72 SMP Racing squad is in a strong position to take the drivers’ crown at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, holding a 22-point advantage over the #4 Black Falcon crew with 26 on offer at the finale.
As such, an eighth-place finish in Spain will ensure that Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina and Mikhail Aleshin take the title – even if the Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG wins from pole. The #563 Orange1 FFF Racing crew is also in the hunt, but must win from pole with the SMP Ferrari finishing no higher than ninth. The teams’ title will be a closer contest: SMP leads FFF by 10 points, with Black Falcon a further 10 back.
With Silver Cup and Am Cup honours effectively settled, the main class battle at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will be in Pro-Am. Following their Spa win, the #97 Oman with TF crew of Ahmad Al Harthy, Salih Yoluc and Charlie Eastwood will travel to Spain with a 16-point lead over Remon Vos and Tom Onslow-Close (#74 Ram Racing Mercedes-AMG). It is a useful lead, but there is still potential for an upset. The teams’ battle is also closer, with AF Corse adding another potential challenger heading to the finale.
Before this, however, Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe will conclude with back-to-back race weekends at the Nürburgring (30 August–1 September) and Hungaroring (6–8 September). These events will see the sprint-format championship decided – while also setting up the overall title decider at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Until then, August will give everyone involved with this year’s record-breaking Total 24 Hours of Spa the opportunity to enjoy a hard-earned rest.
Source. SRO Motorsports Group