***Last weekend’s Total 24 Hours of Spa go down in the history books as one of the most competitive GT endurance races ever, with four different manufacturers in the top-four and six cars on the lead lap. No fewer than 14 different cars led overall, with 35 of the 63 starters classified in the attrition-filled race.
***A number of drivers and manufacturers, including Audi, which claimed its fourth 24H Spa win, praised SRO Motorsports Group’s Balance of Performance, which played a key role in the race’s competitive nature. “This was hard work for all the teams because no-one dominated this race. What we saw this weekend was perfect advertising for GT3 racing,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Chris Reinke.
***Track limits were one of the major issues. However, Kevin Estre explained that it wasn’t always a straightforward task for the leading pack to find a way through lapped traffic. “The blue flags were definitely not respected enough and for me this was pretty much a disaster,” he told Sportscar365. “Sometimes you were stuck for three laps behind back markers and you can’t overtake. When you’re following, you get a bit frustrated and want to overtake, but you lose some front downforce and go wide in Blanchimont and get a track limit penalty because the guy didn’t let you by.”
***The race was marred by numerous drive-through penalties for exceeding track limits, with nearly 50 occurrences over the course of the race. Race Control also handed out multiple penalties for avoidable contact, exceeding stint length drive time and other infringements.
***Following his second place finish with the No. 8 Bentley Continental GT3, Vincent Abril is the new overall leader in the Blancpain GT Series standings. The Frenchman has a three-point margin on Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart, whose No. 63 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 crashed out on Sunday morning with an ABS failure. Click here for the latest points standings.
***Jonny Adam and Ahmad Al Harthy have already secured the Endurance Pro-Am Cup drivers’ title and team’s title for Oman Racing Team with TF Sport by finishing second in class at Spa. The duo now has a 46-point gap to Barwell’s Adrian Amstutz, Martin Kodric and Patrick Kujala, who retired in morning hours following a heavy crash and subsequent fire that sent Amstutz to the hospital with a broken rib and second-degree burns.
***Both Land Motorsport and Saintéloc Racing have now won on its 24-hour race factory debuts with Audi. Factory pool driver Markus Winkelhock was part of the winning lineups in both events, while Spa winner Jules Gounon came up less than three-tenths of a second short of winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, with Land.
***With team’s highest-placed entry finishing fifth, it marked the first time Belgian Audi Club Team WRT failed to finish on the podium since the beginning of the GT3 era in 2011.
***Ferrari won the ‘Coupe du Roi’ for the best performance by a manufacturer in the total of the three classes, coming on the Italian manufacturer’s 70th anniversary. Audi won the trophy the last three years.
***Wolfgang Reip came close to racing at Spa, but his planned program fell through at the last moment. The Belgian was still present in the paddock and served as a driver advisor in race control. Reip finished second with the No. 8 Bentley last year.
***After victories in 2015 and 2016, BMW failed to achieve a third straight win at Spa. Mechanical issues with both the ROWE Racing-entered cars, which were both in promising positions, ended hopes of another top result. Defending race winners Maxime Martin, Philipp Eng and Alexander Sims lost ground early on with a broken wheel fastener and retired 90 minutes before the end with another issue, with the No. 98 BMW M6 GT3 of Bruno Spengler, Tom Blomqvist and Nick Catsburg was part of the leading group when the car suffered a damper failure with 4 hours and 30 minutes to go, but managed to still finish 10th.
***Emil Frey Racing team boss Lorenz Frey explained the story behind the black flag for the No. 14 Jaguar G3 due to an incident during an early race safety car period. “Stéphane Ortelli did not receive the message from the team to follow the field into the pit lane, several people were communicating at the same time,” he said. Despite the black flag, the stewards let the No. 14 Jaguar continue after a couple of minutes, but later retired.
***The race pushed several drivers to their limit. After spending 14 hours behind the wheel of the third-place finishing No. 90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3, Raffaele Marciello was only able to make a brief appearance on the podium and skipped the post-race press conference due to dehydration. Bentley’s Maxime Soulet also needed time to recover after a final push to catch the leaders in the last hour.
John Dagys contributed to this notebook