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Intercontinental GT Challenge

Ferrari Takes Lead as 24H Spa Reaches Halfway

AF Corse leads 24H Spa after 12 hours as pole-sitting Mercedes hits trouble…

Photo: Patrick Hecq/SRO

The factory AF Corse Ferrari squad led the Total 24 Hours of Spa at halfway after moving ahead of Orange 1 FFF Racing Team’s off-strategy Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo.

2017 FIA World Endurance GT champion Alessandro Pier Guidi held a 13-second lead over reigning GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup champion Andrea Caldarelli once the most recent pit stops had shaken out just before 12 hours.

Pier Guidi, James Calado and Nicklas Nielsen asserted themselves as regulars in the top five and kept a strong pace at the sharp end of the field to emerge as a key contender.

Their car spent the build-up to halfway trading time in the lead of the race with the FFF Lamborghini driven by Caldarelli, Dennis Lind and Marco Mapelli, who have formed one of the most competitive trios since the start.

FFF was pitting around half an hour off-sequence compared with the Ferrari and others, but when AF Corse emerged from its stop late in the 11th hour Pier Guidi had more than 10 seconds in hand, having been half a second back on previous occasions.

The two cars even fought on-track for the lead late in the 11th hour when Pier Guidi attempted to go around Mapelli at Bus Stop, only for the Ferrari driver to back off after being forced out wide.

By leading on 12 hours Calado, Pier Guidi and Nielsen came away with the highest number of GTWC Europe Endurance Cup points on offer for this stage of the race.

A major development occurred in the 12th hour when the pole-sitting No. 88 AKKA-ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo, which had been a high-flyer throughout the opening half, dropped out of contention with an apparent brake issue.

Felipe Fraga lost just over 20 seconds through a slow pit stop in the previous hour which resulted in his team’s car slipping to fifth behind FFF, AF Corse and the Porsche 911 GT3 Rs of ROWE Racing and Dinamic Motorsport.

Fraga quickly made up a place on Dinamic’s Christian Engelhart and was chasing third when his AMG experienced a failure on its front-left that resulted in a wheel detaching.

The Brazilian managed to limp the car back to the pits but it was placed in its garage.

Fraga and Raffaele Marciello completed all of AKKA-ASP’s stints in the first half with GTWC Europe points leader Timur Boguslavskiy not yet turning a lap.

Another front-running car to hit trouble was the No. 47 KCMG Porsche of defending winners Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz, which lost several minutes to a repair stop for front suspension damage.

Earl Bamber was third at the halfway mark having recently taken over the No. 98 ROWE Racing Porsche from a double-stinting Laurens Vanthoor.

The ROWE squad elevated its car into the lead by pitting during a Full Course Yellow period around halfway which enabled it to complete a short fuel stop during a well-timed safety car a handful of minutes later.

This seventh-hour strategy move brought Bamber out in the lead, although Marciello quickly overtook the New Zealander after the restart from the safety car which was caused by an accident for the JP Motorsport Pro-Am Mercedes-AMG.

The Porsche still remained in touch with the lead and Bamber was 36 seconds behind Pier Guidi at halfway.

53 seconds off the front of the field in fourth was Haupt Racing Team which took over as the leading Mercedes-AMG entrant following AKKA-ASP’s drama. The No. 4 HRT car is being driven by Luca Stolz, Maro Engel and Vincent Abril.

Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour winners Maxime Soulet, Jordan Pepper and Jules Gounon have managed a competitive run so far in their Bentley Continental GT3, which started on the 12th row of the grid but progressed into the top five during the first 12 hours.

Soulet was a minute and 12 seconds off the lead, and 19 seconds behind Stolz, at the halfway point.

Close behind in sixth was the No. 12 GPX Racing Porsche of Mathieu Jaminet, Patrick Pilet and Matt Campbell, ahead of the No. 54 Dinamic Porsche of Engelhart, Matteo Cairoli and Sven Mueller.

The overall top ten was completed by Audi Sport Team Sainteloc, Porsche squad Frikadelli Racing Team and Audi Sport Team Attempto.

Silver Cup was led by Barwell Motorsport’s No. 78 Lamborghini, while the AF Corse-run Sky-Tempesta Racing Ferrari held sway in Pro-Am over another Barwell car.

Retirements have thinned the Am Cup field out to just two entries, with CMR’s No. 108 Bentley leading from Raton Racing.

The 11-hour mark presented the switch from Central European Summer Time to Central European Time, meaning the clock went back to 2 a.m. at the end of 2:59 a.m.

This unique changeover meant the race saw 2 a.m. pass by twice, while the checkered flag is due to fall at 3 p.m. CET having started at 4 p.m. CEST on Saturday.

Additionally, teams will be allowed to carry out their mandatory technical pit stops lasting at least four minutes from the start of hour 12 until the end of hour 22.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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