ROWE Racing’s Nick Tandy, Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber mastered changeable conditions to deliver Porsche’s second consecutive victory in the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Tandy brought a wounded No. 98 Porsche 911 GT3 R to the checkered flag 4.687 seconds clear of Patric Niederhauser who finished second along with his Audi Sport Team Attempto co-drivers Frederic Vervisch and Mattia Drudi.
It came after late-race gearbox trouble for the Porsche, which was leaking oil on the final two laps.
The 72nd edition of the Belgian endurance classic was a lively and unpredictable affair that included a constantly-evolving sequence of leaders and various early front-runners dropping out of contention with issues.
The event boiled down to a pair of safety car periods in the final two hours that decided the order heading into the final stint.
A Full Course Yellow period late in the 23rd hour, after Franck Perera’s Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo became stranded at Blanchimont, resulted in ROWE getting its Porsche ahead of the leading No. 66 Attempto Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo.
The eight front-running cars were then able to make their final stops right on the 65-minute driver stint limit as the FCY transformed into a safety car intervention.
When the safety car retreated, Tandy had a two-second lead over Niederhauser while Matteo Cairoli was third in the Dinamic Motorsport Porsche ahead of Ferrari’s Alessandro Pier Guidi.
A second safety car came out a few minutes later for a spun-out BMW which reset the gaps, but Tandy kept Niederhauser at bay to ensure Porsche’s defense of its 2019 Spa triumph achieved by GPX Racing.
In the battle for third, Pier Guidi made a move around the outside of Cairoli at the first part of the Fagnes right-left, only for the Italian to switch places again when Cairoli executed a stellar pass at Eau Rouge to clinch a podium for Dinamic.
Cairoli shared the No. 54 Porsche with Sven Mueller and Christian Engelhart.
Fellow Porsche driver Mathieu Jaminet also got past Pier Guidi in the final stint to take fourth in the No. 12 GPX car that also featured Matt Campbell and Patrick Pilet.
Pier Guidi, James Calado and Nicklas Nielsen settled for fifth after a hard-fought race in their No. 51 Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020 that led the field at halfway.
Audi Sport Team Sainteloc’s Markus Winkelhock, Dorian Boccolacci and Christopher Haase finished sixth, beating the Haupt Racing Team Mercedes-AMG crew of Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Vincent Abril.
Frikadelli Racing Team’s Porsche of Frederic Makowiecki, Dennis Olsen and late stand-in Joerg Bergmeister took eighth as the final car on the lead lap.
The Honda Racing NSX GT3 Evo and the best of the K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3s rounded out the top ten.
Drama For a Number of Race Contenders
This year’s edition of the race, which took place without spectators for the first time in the event’s history, had a wide range of potential winners throughout its duration.
The pole-sitting AKKA-ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo of Raffaele Marciello, Felipe Fraga and Timur Boguslavskiy – who didn’t drive – dominated the opening stages and led at six hours, before a brake issue just before halfway forced its retirement
This drama played into the hands of the No. 63 Orange 1 FFF Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo, which had traded the lead with the Mercedes-AMG several times.
However, an accident for Dennis Lind at Raidillon with seven and a half hours to go ended Lamborghini’s hopes of a maiden Spa 24 win.
Defending winners Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz also had a tough event with their KCMG Porsche finishing five laps down due to mechanical issue repairs.
BMW had a weekend to forget as both of the Pro-class Walkenhorst Motorsport M6 GT3s retired following incidents.
The No. 34 never bounced back from contact Nicky Catsburg with the No. 33 Silver Cup-class Audi at the start of hour four, while the No. 35 crashed out with Martin Tomczyk at the wheel.
Audi Sport Team WRT looked competitive in the first quarter of the race but Kelvin van der Linde pulled the No. 31 car to one side just six hours in with a drivetrain issue.
At the front, the winning Porsche started from the tenth row of the grid and wasn’t in the frame during the opening six hours.
However, a smart call from the ROWE crew to bring Bamber in for a short fuel stop under a seventh-hour safety car vaulted the No. 98 entry into the lead.
Bamber then lost a spot to Marciello on-track, but the Porsche remained at the sharp end and kept out of trouble to become one of the prime contenders for victory, particularly as its pace increased in the wet conditions that characterized Sunday’s daytime running.
Mercedes-AMG, Lamborghini, Bentley Take Class Honors
Silver Cup class honors went to Haupt Racing’s Team’s No. 5 Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Sergey Afanasiev, Gabriele Piana, Michele Beretta and team owner Hubert Haupt.
This car ran second for much of the race but moved into the lead on Sunday morning when Barwell Motorsport’s No. 78 Lamborghini retired with damage after Alex MacDowall clipped a rotated car that he was trying to avoid going over the Raidillon crest.
Barwell still managed to pick up the Pro-Am victory with its Lamborghini driven by Sandy Mitchell, Leo Machitski and father-and-son duo Rob and Ricky Collard.
Am Cup only had one finisher which was the No. 108 CMR Bentley Continental GT3 of Romano Ricci, Stephane Lemeret, Stephane Tribaudini and Clement Mateu.
RESULTS: Total 24H Spa