ROWE Racing has given BMW its first major endurance race victory for the new M6 GT3 in a hard-fought battle with Bentley in a rain-affected Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Alexander Sims took the No. 99 BMW to a 1 minute and 55-second win over the No. 88 AMG-Team AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Felix Rosenqvist, following a shakeup in the final hour due to a sudden downpour and subsequent Full Course Yellow for a multi-car accident.
Both of the works-supported AKKA ASP and No. 86 AMG-Team HTP Motorsport Mercedes of Maxi Gotz, as well as the No. 28 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi R8 LMS of Laurens Vanthoor got ahead of the No. 8 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 after a long final stop for wet tires.
The Bentley, which solidly ran in second prior to the deluge, was held for the minimum pit stop time of 2 minutes and 15 seconds, while the race-leading No. 99 BMW, as well as the Mercedes, were released immediately after taking tires only.
It dropped Andy Soucek to fourth at the checkered flag, which came as a further blow to the British manufacturer, following four costly penalties over the course of the race, coupled with a late-race puncture that took Soucek, Maxime Soulet and Wolfgang Reip out of contention.
The No. 86 HTP Mercedes fell from third to fifth at the end, after Gotz was forced to serve a drive-through penalty for an unsafe pit release with less than 10 minutes remaining.
It gave Vanthoor a podium finish in the Audi he shared with Rene Rast and Nico Mueller, following an impressive recovery drive from a puncture in the sixth hour that forced the car into the garage for repairs.
Rast lost three laps as a result but the factory backed WRT squad utilized the time as as its mandatory five-minute technical pit stop, which all teams had undertake in the race.
Sims, meanwhile, shared the winning BMW with Phillip Eng and Maxime Martin, following a near-flawless race for the German squad, which picks up its first 24-hour victory.
It also marked back-to-back wins for the BMW at Spa, following Marc VDS Racing’s triumph with the Z4 GT3 last year, in the car’s last outing in the Belgian endurance classic.
The AKKA ASP entry of Rosenqvist, Tristan Vautier and Renger van der Zande came home second, after being one of six Mercedes to serve five-minute stop-and-hold penalties for a technical infringement that stripped the German manufacturer of its 1-6 qualifying sweep.
All of the Mercedes were forced to serve the penalties in the first 38 minutes of the race and didn’t factor into the result until the second half.
The No. 8 Bentley enjoyed a hard-fought battle with the No. 99 ROWE BMW, exchanging the lead on pit stops, until Soucek was forced to pit with a right-rear puncture with 90 minutes to go.
The Spaniard had cut a nearly 40-second deficit to the BMW in half prior to the unscheduled pit stop, which put it out of sequence.
A subsequent drive-through penalty for a FCY infringement was the final nail in the coffin for the Bentley, which lost more than four minutes in total due to penalties in the race.
The No. 6 Audi Sport Team Phoenix Audi — another contender for the win — retired in dramatic fashion following a fire that was triggered from a puncture with less than five hours to go, while the sister No. 7 Bentley was delayed with power steering issues in the 16th hour.
ROWE’s No. 98 BMW, meanwhile, was forced out with gearbox failure with two hours remaining, after also running inside the top-five.
It was a race to forget for the No. 58 Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3, which entered the weekend as Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup championship leaders, with an overnight accident relegating Shane van Gisbergen, Rob Bell and Come Ledogaer to a 31st place overall finish.
The two other McLarens did not feature in the race either, due to various issues.
Pro-Am class honors went to the No. 76 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Pilet, Maxime Jousse, Raymond Narac and Thierry Cornac, finishing 10th overall.
The No. 888 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3, meanwhile, picked up the Am Cup class win with Marco Zanuttini, Vadmin Gilitin, Liam Talbot and Nicola Cadei, in 17th.
RESULTS: Total 24 Hours of Spa