With less than a week remaining before the world’s most competitive GT race gets underway, there is an important question to consider: who is the favourite for overall victory at this year’s TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa.
The conversation must begin with Porsche. The Stuttgart marque has clinched the past two editions, while the GPX Martini Racing squad that won in 2019 currently leads the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup standings following victory last time out at Circuit Paul Ricard. Running in collaboration with ART Grand Prix, the line-up of 2020 winner Earl Bamber alongside Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet is a match for anyone.
Dinamic Motorsport should also be a factor with its #54 crew of Christian Engelhart, Matteo Cairoli and Klaus Bachler. Third overall in 2020, the Italian squad is rarely a hot favourite but frequently hits the front when it counts most. In the sister #56, Mikkel O. Pedersen and Andrea Rizzoli will benefit from the vast experience of two-time race winner Romain Dumas, who made his debut at the 2002 event.
KCMG returns for a second year with Porsche machinery, retaining the established #18 crew of Josh Burdon, Edoardo Liberati and Alex Imperatori. There’s excitement about the sister #47 car, which sees local favourites Maxime Martin and Laurens Vanthoor sharing for the first time. Add in the understated brilliance of Nick Tandy and this looks to be one of the very best picks.
Rutronik Racing may be preparing for its maiden appearance, but many see the German squad’s #21 entry as a strong contender. Their crew features 2019 winners Kevin Estre and Richard Lietz alongside Sven Müller, who was third last year with Dinamic Motorsport.
Porsche’s Pro contingent should have consisted of eight cars, but the Nürburgring-based Frikadelli Racing squad has been forced to withdraw following the severe flooding in its local area. Everyone involved with the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa wishes the team well and hopes to see them back on-track as soon as possible. One of its crews will race with a new outfit as Schnabl Engineering steps in to run the impressive trio of Fred Makowiecki, Dennis Olsen and Michael Christensen.
In terms of Porsche’s rivals, the most obvious place to start is Audi. The Ingolstadt marque is the most successful brand of the GT3 era and came within a few seconds of taking its fifth overall win last year.
The #32 Audi Sport Team WRT machine features the combined talents of Dries Vanthoor, Charles Weerts and Kelvin van der Linde. With an average age of 23 this is one of the youngest crews in the field, but there is no question that they are among the leading contenders.
The sister #37 is a one-off entry, but it should be just as potent. Robin Frijns and Nico Müller are regulars at Spa and both long overdue a win, while crew-mate Dennis Lind represents a promising addition to the Audi stable.
The #25 Audi Sport Team Saintéloc entry is always a strong bet. Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock have shared each year since their win in 2017 and are joined by 2020 runner-up Patric Niederhauser. Saintéloc Racing will deploy an additional Pro car for full-season driver Finlay Hutchison, who has experienced crew-mates in Jamie Green and Adrien Tambay.
Attempto Racing ran as an Audi Sport squad for the first time in 2020 and was the brand’s top performer. Mattia Drudi is the only remaining member of its trio, with the vastly experienced Christopher Mies and rising star Dennis Marschall joining for what should be another strong effort.
It is now eight years since the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG clinched overall victory in the Ardennes. The German marque has come close several times since, but another victory has proven elusive. Could 2021 be its year?
When AKKA ASP named its 2021 driver line-up, team boss Jerome Policand made it clear that his objective was to clinch overall victory at Spa. To do so, he assembled an all-star crew of Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Dani Juncadella, which is perhaps the strongest driver line-up in this impressive field. The French squad will deploy a second Pro effort for frequent crew-mates Felipe Fraga and Timur Boguslavskiy, who are joined by Lucas Auer in the #89 car.
The #4 Mercedes-AMG Team HRT is another regular front-runner and few would be surprised to see the trio of Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Vincent Abril make the breakthrough. Engel earned Super Pole in 2019, while all three drivers have previously secured overall podiums at the event. HubAuto will add a fourth AMG GT3 for the all-star trio of Maxi Buhk, Maxi Götz and Yelmer Buurman, whose #50 machine celebrates the German brand’s breakthrough 1971 class victory in the Ardennes.
Lamborghini has won a host of major endurance races and titles, yet the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa trophy is yet to travel to Sant’Agata Bolognese. The #63 Orange1 FFF Racing entry represents its best shot yet, combining the speed, composure and experience of Mirko Bortolotti, Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli. On pole at Monza and at Circuit Paul Ricard, the Italians should be among the leading pack.
Emil Frey Racing will add an additional pair of cars to the field. The Swiss squad has been a regular winner in the Sprint Cup but is yet to take a breakthrough Endurance result with Lamborghini machinery; without doubt, the perfect place to do so would be Spa.
Its #163 entry combines a trio of factory stars in Albert Costa, Franck Perera and Giacomo Altoè, making this a real contender. Across the garage, the 2021 race will be a baptism by fire for the #114 crew of Jack Aitken, Arthur Rougier and Konsta Lappalainen, all of whom are set to contest their first major 24-hour race.
Walkenhorst Motorsport made its name by taking a surprise win at the 2018 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa. Today, it is a leading partner team for BMW Motorsport. It seems appropriate, therefore, that the German squad will run the M6 GT3 in its final Spa assault. Its pair of Pro cars showed well at Monza and Circuit Paul Ricard, while BMW has a useful habit of rising to the top once track activity begins in the Ardennes.
There’s plenty of talent behind the wheel, too: Marco Wittmann, Sheldon van der Linde and David Pittard share the #34 entry, while the #35 features Timo Glock, Martin Tomczyk and Thomas Neubauer. Having won its final race with the Z4 in 2015 and its first with the M6 the following year, there would be no surprised faces if BMW earned its 25th overall triumph in 2021.
While Ferrari has been the leading brand when it comes to class wins over the past decade, an overall victory has eluded the Italian marque since 2004. This year, newcomer Iron Lynx will carry the Prancing Horse into battle for the first time, but there’s plenty of experience at the Italian squad; indeed, 2012 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa winner Andrea Piccini is the man calling the shots from the pit wall.
It should also be remembered that Ferrari machinery ran well last year, leading more laps than any other brand, so there is real hope of ending the marque’s 17-year wait for an overall win. The #51 crew of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Côme Ledogar and Nicklas Nielsen looks to be ready to lead the charge, while the #71 line-up could also be a contender, combining Spa veteran Davide Rigon with talented first-timers Antonio Fuoco and Callum Ilott.
McLaren has only one shot at glory, but British squad JOTA knows how to hit the target. Though a new addition to the full-season Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS grid, the team is vastly experienced and will benefit from the all-factory line-up of Rob Bell, Ben Barnicoat and Ollie Wilkinson. The first objective will be to better the previous best result for a McLaren – ninth in 2012 – and push further forwards should the race play out in their favour.
Aston Martin will also be represented by a single Pro entry, though this is a true one-off effort that will only run at Spa. Established partner squad Garage 59 will run the #95 machine, while leading works drivers Nicki Thiim, Marco Sorensen and Ross Gunn will share the wheel. There’s no doubt about the fact that having one bullet in the chamber makes an Aston victory less likely than some of its rivals. But despite being a one-off effort this crew has vast experience of Spa. Should they emerge on top come Sunday afternoon, few will be surprised.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that any of the Pro crews could climb the podium at the conclusion of the race. As to who will take victory, it remains impossible to call. To find out, fans can follow all of the action via a host of online options. As usual, the event’s live coverage will consist of free-to-view, non-geo-blocked streams featuring both French and English commentary options. These will be available through the usual variety of platforms, including the event’s official website and Facebook page and on the GT World YouTube channels.
24 Hours of Spa glory up for grabs in ultra-competitive class battles
The battle for overall victory generates the most attention, but multi-class racing is a crucial aspect of the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa.
While 25 cars will run in the Pro category, a further 33 will compete across the Silver Cup, Pro-Am and Am Cup classes. In each case, the competition can become fierce. Indeed, after such a gruelling contest, the podium champagne tastes just as sweet no matter what category you have raced in.
With the main event now just a few days away, here are the teams and drivers looking to become class winners in 2021.
Silver Cup reaches new heights for marquee race
A 17-car field will tackle the Silver Cup this year, the biggest since the class was introduced in 2018. Lamborghini squad Emil Frey Racing heads into the event as favourite with its #14 crew of Feller/Fontana/Ineichen following a superb start to 2021. At the season-opening trip to Monza they became the first Silver line-up to score an overall Endurance Cup podium and their blend of speed and experience should place them at sharp end again.
Lamborghini can rely on two more squads as it shoots for a third Silver Cup win in four years. Grasser Racing returns with its full-season crew of Schmid/Zimmermann/Galbiati, who are joined by Alberto Di Folco for the big event. VS Racing is a new addition to the field and will rely on the quartet of Van Berlo/Moulin/Nemoto/Rump as it makes its Ardennes debut.
With six cars running for class honours, no brand can lay claim to as many Silver Cup entries as Mercedes-AMG. Last year’s winner HRT should be in contention once again, with the returning Hubert Haupt and Gabriele Piana joined by experienced long-distance racers Patrick Assenheimer and Indy Dontje.
AKKA ASP is also a serious challenger with its #87 crew of Gachet/Tereschenko/Drouet, which won last time out at Circuit Paul Ricard and is reinforced by Petru Umbrarescu. Winward Racing has shown front-running speed with Ward/Grenier/Ellis at the wheel of its #57 entry, while there is vast endurance expertise among the #90 Madpanda Motorsport quartet of Perez Companc/Sanchez/Kujala/Breukers.
The impressive Mercedes-AMG contingent is completed by efforts from Toksport WRT (Tunjo/Petit/Dienst/Besler) and SPS Automotive Performance (Mettler/Love/Born/Arnold), both of which can play a part at the front of the pack. Clearly, Mercedes-AMG has the numerical advantage in this fight.
Audi looks strong too, with its Silver Cup representation coming from the same three squads that will lead the brand’s Pro effort. Team WRT’s two-cars squad features a mixture of young talents and experienced drivers, with Pull/Goethe/Colapinto sharing the #30 machine and Tomita/Bird/Eriksen in the #31 Audi.
The #27 Saintéloc Racing entry sees the team’s regular Sprint Cup drivers Aurélien Panis and Alexandre Cougnaud joined by newcomers Lucas Légeret and Louis Prette, the latter making his TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa debut. The same will be true of Fabien Lavergne, who joins Alex Aka and Max Hofer in the #99 Attempto Racing machine.
Garage 59 has its full-season crew of Kjaergaard/MacDowall/Hasse Clot in the #159 Aston Martin, while its regular Sprint Cup pilot Tuomas Tujula joins for the marquee race. CMR is set to fly the Bentley flag with its #107 Continental and will combine young racers Pierre-Alexandre Jean, Stuart White and Ulysse de Pauw with the experienced Nelson Panciatici.
Rinaldi Racing has already secured Pro-Am and Am honours in the Ardennes and will seek to add a Silver triumph with the crew of Hites/Crestani/Perel, the latter of whom could become the first driver to win three different GT3 classes. Finally, Team Allied-Racing will field the #222 Porsche for Apothéloz/Kern/ Santamato/Buus. The latter only celebrated his 18th birthday in June and will make his TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa debut after clinching last year’s GT4 European Series Pro-Am title with Allied-Racing.
Pro-Am class back to fiercely competitive best
The Pro-Am class looks set to be highly competitive this year, with a field of 14 cars representing the biggest entry since 2017. Ferrari leads the way with four of its 488 GT3 models, which should be no surprise given the Italian marque’s record of six victories during the past decade.
Leading customer squad AF Corse will deploy two cars, both featuring past winners: the #52 sees longstanding crew-mates Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini joined by Lorenzo Bontempelli and Ferrari factory ace James Calado, while it’s a similar story in the #53 as Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin add Rino Mastronardi and Maranello ace Miguel Molina.
Kessel Racing returns to the event and will hope to rediscover the form that earned the Swiss squad back-to-back Am Cup wins in 2016/2017. This year, its full-season trio of Kohmann/Zollo/Roda is reinforced by David Fumanelli. Sky Tempesta Racing also sticks with its proven line-up of Hui/Froggatt/Cheever, while Ferrari ace Matteo Cressoni joins for the journey into the Ardennes.
While the Ferrari contingent is impressive, Lamborghini squad Barwell Motorsport is arguably favourite to take victory having won three different classes in as many years. Leo Machitski and Sandy Mitchell have each earned two of those and link up with the full-season pairing of Ramos/Chaves for the main event. A further Lamborghini comes from Orange1 FFF Racing, which pairs established crew-mates Hamaguchi/Keen with Stefano Costantini and local expert Bertrand Baguette.
Third in Pro-Am last season and subsequently class champion in the Endurance Cup, Garage 59 should also be a serious contender. The full-season pairing of West/Goodwin will go for glory once again and are strengthened by Marvin Kirchhöfer and works driver Charlie Eastwood. Inception Racing has looked fast with its McLaren and can count on the guidance of local expert Bas Leinders, while on the driving front the established duo of Iribe/Millroy are joined by former Bentley ace Jordan Pepper and American first-timer Kevin Madsen.
As one of two Belgian squads competing in the country’s premier endurance race, Boutsen Ginion places significant importance on its performance at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa. Carrying a striking livery inspired by the legendary Michel Vaillant comic book series, the full-season crew of Ojjeh/Liebhauser/Klingmann will be joined by newcomer Yann Zimmer.
A trio of Mercedes-AMG entries will further bolster the class. Last year, Rob and Ricky Collard became the race’s first father-son winners by taking Pro-Am honours for Barwell Motorsport. This time they will look to repeat the achievement at RAM Racing, where they partner Sam de Haan and Fabian Schiller.
Best known as a member of various AKKA ASP programmes, Jim Pla swaps team but sticks with the German brand to join the established GetSpeed line-up of Grotz/Scholze/Bastian. SPS Automotive Performance retains its 2020 crew, with the full-season duo of Pierburg/Baumann joined by American racers Colin Braun and George Kurtz.
A pair of one-off Porsche entries complete the Pro-Am field. Herberth Motorsport and its drivers are all experienced competitors, with twins Alfred and Robert Renauer joined by Antares Au and Daniel Allemann. EBM Giga Racing is set for its first start, though co-founder Earl Bamber knows a thing or two about mastering Spa-Francorchamps. His brother and fellow team boss Will Bamber shares driving duties with Adrian Henry D’ Silva, Reid Harker and Carlos Rivas.
Porsche squads go head-to-head for Am Cup glory
A pair of Porsche squads will battle for Am Cup glory at this year’s TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa. Huber Motorsport will field its #23 machine for Nicolas Leutwiler Jacob Schell, Nico Menzel and Ivan Jacoma, with only the latter having previous experience of the event. The rival Hägeli by T2 Racing squad can draw upon the knowledge of 2019 class winner Manuel Lauck, while crew-mate Marc Basseng has also turned plenty of laps at Spa. Dennis Busch and Pieder Decurtins complete the #166 car’s line-up.
As always, the battle for class honours will form part of the event’s extensive live online coverage. Available with either French or English commentary, free-to-view options will be available through the usual variety of platforms, including the official website and Facebook page and on the GT World YouTube channels. With each class sure to provide its fair share of heartbreak and glory, this year’s TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa promises to be another gripping contest from start to finish.
Source. SRO Motorsports Group