After his last-lap victory at the Nürburgring in May, Maro Engel is one of three drivers in this weekend’s Total 24 Hours of Spa looking to achieve the unique 24-hour double in the world’s two biggest GT endurance races in the same year.
Engel, Bernd Schneider and Adam Christodoulou, who teamed with Manuel Metzger for the win at the ‘Ring, are back with Black Falcon, although split up, with the two Germans in the AMG-backed No. 00 Mercedes-AMG GT3 with Yelmer Buurman and Christodoulou in a separate entry.
For Engel, the reigning FIA GT World Cup Champion, the 1-2-3-4 sweep for Mercedes-AMG at the Nürburgring still resonates strongly but the 30-year-old is primed for the next challenge.
“The Nürburgring 24 win is still very present in our memories,” Engel told Sportscar365. “I’m still very happy with that but the focus is now on the 24 Hours of Spa.
“Of course the aim is to go for the win. There’s very strong competition so we know we have to bring our best game and have our best possible race to try and win it.”
It’s been a strong start for the Mercedes-AMG GT3 the GT racing world, which Engel attributes to the German manufacturer’s extensive testing and development program that he played a key part in last year.
Added is the fact that the car is an evolution from the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3, equipped with the same 6.2-liter V8 powerplant, rather than an all-new car, like other manufacturers have opted for.
“We’ve definitely hit the ground running and it’s been a good, strong year with the new AMG GT3,” Engel said.
“It’s just a testament to the good and hard work that all of us at AMG have put into this new car throughout last year, throughout the development period and also this year, preparing it.
“For it to already be this successful in its first year is great. Obviously we now need to work hard to make sure we stay successful.”
One change, though, has been the increased support from AMG, which has delegated additional technical resources and factory drivers to selected cars fielded by Black Falcon, HTP Motorport and AKKA ASP this year.
The factory-supported program, running under the AMG “Performance” moniker, debuted at the Nürburgring and is again present this weekend, with four cars across the three teams.
“Certainly, the challenge is a little bit different here, being part of the Blancpain GT Series, which all three teams are competing in and are familiar with and the spec tire and unique regulations makes a difference too,” Engel said.
Engel, who competed in Black Falcon’s Pro-Am class No. 56 entry in the opening three Blancpain GT Endurance Cup rounds, has moved to the team’s new third Mercedes-AMG to go for outright honors this weekend.
Both Engel and Schneider are entered as a pairing for the three-round Intercontinental GT Challenge, which debuted at the Bathurst 12 Hour and concludes at the Sepang 12 Hours in December.
“I’ve mainly been doing endurance races with Bernd and Yelmer and it’s great to share a car with these two guys,” Engel said.
“We should be very competitive with our driver lineup, which has a good mix of experience and speed. Bernd, by a long way, has the most experience. Last year at Spa, all three of us were all very quick.
“From there, the idea started that it would be great to have the three of us in one car and go for overall honors. It’s great that AMG with Black Falcon has put this together.”
As was the case at the Nürburgring, Mercedes-AMG has dominated the proceedings so far at Spa, having swept the top six positions in qualifying and head into this afternoon’s start as clear favorites.
For Engel, who will roll off third on the grid, the focus remains the same, no matter if Mercedes-AMG are arguably considered the favorites.
“It’s similar to any other 24-hour race,” he said. “You have to get into the rhythm and find the rhythm and find the quickest way to complete every single stint. That’s what it’s about.
“There’s no point in worrying about the last stint when you’re in your first stint.”
Engel, Schneider and Buurman’s Mercedes has gained some extra attention this weekend, as it carries a livery designed by the American rock band Linkin Park.
Members of the band are here this weekend, as part of a tie-in with AMG.
“The guys from Linkin Park are amazing,” Engel said. “I had the chance to meet them in Shanghai during the C63 Coupe launch. We obviously talked about Spa.
“They’re really enthusiastic about the brand, about AMG, but also about this race.
“Everyone loves the car. It brings two worlds together and there’s been a lot of positive feedback from Linkin Park music fans, just as there’s been huge positive feedback from racing fans.
“I’m looking forward to feeling that support and hopefully it can carry us to a good result.”