It was clear before the chequered flag had even fallen that the 2021 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa would live long in the memory.
The final hour alone was worthy of the hype and expectation that surrounds such a big event. Alessandro Pier Guidi’s charge to victory was spellbinding, his final pass for the lead awe-inspiring, and helped the Iron Lynx team to end a 17-year wait to put Ferrari back on top.
This is to say nothing of the previous 23 hours. The race featured all the drama, excitement, disappointment and intrigue that we associate with Spa. It was already memorable before the heavens opened and soaked the circuit with an hour remaining; what happened next turned it into a classic. This is the final word on a vintage event in the Ardennes.
As well as winning the biggest race of the year, Iron Lynx has taken a major step towards securing the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup title. The #51 Ferrari scored maximum overall points at 6, 12 and 24 hours, the first time this has been achieved since the system was introduced in 2013.
Though the drivers inevitably take the plaudits, the Iron Lynx crew in the pits deserve a large share of the credit for Sunday’s win. The Italian squad’s stops were metronomically consistent, often gaining their car vital seconds on the #32 Audi.
Among the #51 driver line-up, Pier Guidi stood out. His night stints were exemplary, while his determination and bravery in the final hour made the decisive difference. A long-serving member of the Ferrari programme, this victory was a fitting reward.
The win had been a long time coming: Pier Guidi last stood on the overall podium at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa in 2008, finishing as runner-up at the wheel of a Maserati MC12. In between, he took a Pro-Am win with AF Corse in 2015.
Côme Ledogar, whose best TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa finish prior to this year’s edition was 22nd, was overcome with emotion as Pier Guidi took the chequered flag. Nicklas Nielsen was making only his second start following a fifth-place finish at the wheel of the #51 Ferrari last year.
While understandably despondent after seeing victory in his home event slip away, Dries Vanthoor emerged from the race with his reputation enhanced. He was able to make significant gains on the #51 Ferrari in the early afternoon and deserves immense credit for his hard but fair driving during the final battle for victory.
On reflection, this was a very strong year for Audi Sport. All four factory-supported R8 LMS GT3 crews finished among the overall top-10 thanks to Team WRT (second and fourth), Saintéloc Racing (sixth) and Attempto Racing (ninth). This was an impressive comeback after the Audi runners struggled for ultimate pace during practice and qualifying.
Running a single Pro entry on a one-off basis is never easy, making Aston Martin’s showing this year even more impressive. Its cause was aided by the experience of Garage 59 and a trio of works drivers. Nicki Thiim was especially rapid, setting the fastest lap of the race (2m18.654s) on Sunday morning.
The result gave Aston its first overall podium since 2008, the same race in which Pier Guidi last stood on the Spa rostrum. However, on that occasion, the #10 Gigawave Motorsport entry was seven laps down on the winning Maserati.
After back-to-back wins, Porsche’s best overall result at this year’s edition was fifth for the #47 KCMG entry. The 911 GT3-R crews had been expected to come into contention as the race developed, but their challenge failed to materialise.
McLaren scored its best-ever result at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa thanks to a seventh-place finish from JOTA. After qualifying an excellent sixth, the #38 machine was able to run at the front throughout. It lost a lap following a penalty on Sunday morning, but the crew of Bell/Barnicoat/Wilkinson never looked in danger of falling outside the top-10
It is quite possible that the fastest entry this year was the #63 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini. Its challenge was blunted by two pit speeding penalties, a puncture and late technical problems, though despite this it somehow finished eighth overall. With a clean run, the #63 Lamborghini could have fought Ferrari and Audi for the overall win.
Mercedes-AMG endured a tough 2021 edition. There was no doubting its speed as the #88 Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA ASP car secured overall pole, but the French squad’s challenge was halted by a broken damper, while the #4 Mercedes-AMG Team HRT entry never quite broke into the lead pack. Ultimately, the brand’s best finisher was the #89 AKKA ASP crew of Auer/Boguslavskiy/Fraga in 10th overall.
It had all looked so promising on Friday evening when Raffaele Marciello gave the brand its third successive Super Pole. This matches Audi’s run in 2014-2016, while Marciello became the first driver to take successive poles since Fabrizio Gollin in 2003/2004.
The BMW M6 GT3 departed the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa in disappointing fashion as both factory-backed Walkenhorst Motorsport cars retired before sunrise. They were fast during practice, qualifying and the race, but were sidelined by a combination of technical issues and damage.
This was a year of records for the Silver Cup. Its 17-car field was the biggest yet, not only at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa but in Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS. Madpanda Motorsport established a new benchmark by finishing 11th with its Mercedes-AMG, the best overall result for a Silver crew since the class was introduced in 2018. There were also four Silver cars in Super Pole, compared with just one in both 2019 and 2020, with Ricardo Feller (#14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini) a fine fourth overall.
In what must be a first in motorsport history, let alone Spa, Ezequiel Perez Companc took to the podium wearing a giant panda head. He said afterwards: “I had fun all week! This is the main aim of Madpanda: we are a ‘pandemic team’ and we try to bring joy to people who are having a hard time.”
Toksport WRT made it a Mercedes-AMG one-two thanks to a consistent performance. The German squad emerged as a podium contender on Sunday morning and leapt ahead of Garage 59 when the British squad was delayed in the pits.
This was a tough year for pre-race favourites in the Silver Cup. Defending winner HRT was out after 71 laps with a technical problem on its #5 Mercedes-AMG, while the #57 Winward Racing entry followed a few hours later. After starting from pole, the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini was classified 12th.
After a relatively lean spell, AF Corse reasserted its dominance in Pro-Am. The Italian squad won four years in a row between 2012 and 2015 but had not returned to the top step until Sunday afternoon. It did so in style, taking a commanding one-two finish.
The result demonstrates the value of experience at Spa. The winning #53 car featured Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin, who clinched Pro-Am honours for AF Corse in 2013; the sister #52 included Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini, who triumphed for the squad in 2012 and 2014.
Of course, a little youthful enthusiasm helps too. The fastest lap by a Pro-Am car belonged to Alessio Rovera, who made his TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa debut in the #52 AF Corse machine. Drafted in as a late replacement, the Italian acquitted himself very well and posted a 2m18.953s, less than three tenths shy of Nicki Thiim’s overall fastest time.
The success enjoyed by AF Corse, coupled with Iron Lynx’s overall win, helped Ferrari to take this year’s Coupe du Roi. The trophy is awarded to the manufacturer that scores the best results across all four classes.
Barwell Motorsport missed out on a fourth class win in as many years, though its #77 Lamborghini was firmly in the hunt and ultimately finished third in Pro-Am. This ensured that two of its drivers, Leo Machitski and Sandy Mitchell, scored a fourth successive podium in the Ardennes.
Hägeli by T2 Racing won the all-Porsche battle for Am Cup victory, a breakthrough result for the young Swiss squad in its first run at the 24 Hours. Among its line-up, the experienced Marc Basseng took his first win at Spa since triumphing in the FIA Group 2 class in 2009.
Four drivers became multiple winners under the current class structure on Sunday afternoon: Cameron and Griffin added a second Pro-Am triumph having previously won with AF Corse in 2013; Patrick Kujala’s victory in the Silver Cup followed Am Cup honours in 2018; and Manuel Lauck earned a second Am win after triumphing in 2019.
A largely dry race and long spells of green flag running after the opening-hour accident saw a total of 556 laps (3,894.22km) completed this year, the most since 2012. As such, Pirelli tyres covered a combined 168,133 kilometres between the full field of TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa competitors.
The Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS campaign will continue with back-to-back events at Brands Hatch (Sprint Cup, 28-29 August) and the Nürburgring (Endurance Cup, 3-5 September). Until then, August will provide an opportunity to recharge. As the summer break begins, SRO Motorsports Group wishes to express its gratitude to everyone who contributed to this year’s TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa. From the fans who returned to the circuit to the teams and drivers who put on a spectacular show and the marshals who helped to keep them safe, each individual helped to make 2021 an unforgettable edition of the world’s most competitive GT race.
Source. SRO Motorsports Group