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Intercontinental GT Challenge

Spa Thursday Notebook

Sportscar365’s Thursday notebook from the 24 Hours of Spa paddock…

Photo: Jules Benichou/SRO

***The build-up to the Total 24 Hours of Spa is taking place against the backdrop of Belgium facing tighter social restrictions as the country battles against a sharp rise in coronavirus cases. A return to lockdown conditions is being widely reported in national media, although the race weekend currently appears set to go forward as planned.

***New restrictions were introduced on Monday, including a night-time curfew and the closure of bars and restaurants for four weeks.

***Joerg Bergmeister has replaced Timo Bernhard in the No. 22 Frikadelli Racing Team Porsche 911 GT3 R. The result of Bernhard’s mandatory pre-event COVID-19 test did not come back in time for the double 24 Hours of Le Mans winner to attend Spa.

***It means former Porsche factory ace Bergmeister is set for another last-minute call-up to represent one of the brand’s Pro customer teams in a major 24-hour race. Bergmeister, whose Porsche competition role ended last year, joined KCMG for last month’s Nürburgring 24.

***The No. 9 K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3 will start from the back of the grid on Saturday after failing to take part in qualifying. K-PAX program manager Darren Law told Sportscar365 that the trouble started with a misfire in Pre-Qualifying practice, which led to the discovery of an issue with the fuel pump.

***The American team opted for an engine change in a bid to resolve the problem and plans to be back out during tomorrow’s warm-up session. The No. 3 K-PAX Bentley driven by Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour winners Jordan Pepper, Maxime Soulet and Jules Gounon qualified 26th, putting them out of the running for Super Pole.

***That has been the only Pro-class Bentley without major problems so far. CMR’s No. 107 Continental underwent a gearbox change after qualifying in an attempt to address an issue with the car’s differential that came about after Seb Morris went off in Free Practice. Morris told Sportscar365: “The diff was locked solid. And we were getting a really loud noise, louder than the engine.”

***Nelson Panciatici took the car out for a shakedown run at the end of night practice.

***HubAuto Racing technical director Phillip di Fazio told Sportscar365 that the team has is set to contest the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series but has yet to decide any GT3 program plans beyond that.

***The Taiwanese-flagged outfit kept its Asian-based crew in Europe between last month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and Spa. “It was so difficult to get travel exemptions for the Asian guys and myself from Australia,” said di Fazio. “It was a two-month process to get everyone over here. For that reason, planning for next year is tough.”

***Team Lazarus, which fields Bentleys in International GT Open, has loaned members of its crew to make up for the Hub Auto Racing staff who couldn’t obtain quarantine exemptions in time.

***Kevin Estre says Porsche’s dry-weather pace at Spa is “a bit of an unknown” after the wet official test days. “Wet weather is not an issue, and damp as well,” the defending 24H Spa winner told Sportscar365. “We will see on the dry later. It’s colder, we have a different tire this year and a different BoP.”

***Estre, Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz are bidding to become the first driver lineup to win the 24 Hours of Spa consecutively since Jean-Michel Martin – the father of Aston Martin driver Maxime Martin – and Philippe Martin in 1979-80.

***Additionally, no team has won back-to-back 24H Spas since Vitaphone Racing’s double triumph with the Maserati MC12 GT1 in 2005 and 2006. GPX Racing is hoping to change that fact this weekend.

***Team Parker Racing, which is running a Bentley Continental GT3 at Spa, has committed to the Porsche Sprint Challenge GB series next year running a Porsche Cayman 718 GT4 Clubsport. The British squad has prior experience in Carrera Cup GB.

***Dorian Boccolacci is no longer performing double duty this weekend. The Audi Sport Team Sainteloc driver has stepped down from his title-contending Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe drive with Oregon Team to focus on the 24 Hours. Kevin Gilardoni will contest this weekend’s Lamborghini races on his own.

***A total of 19 cars are entered into this weekend’s fourth round of the Super Trofeo Europe season. There have been two late withdrawals: the Van der Horst Motorsport entry for Gerard van der Horst and Loris Spinelli, and the Pro-Am Oregon Team duo of Lorenzo Bontempelli and Victor Franzoni da Silva.

***According to Ferrari, the No. 52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020 encountered a “technical problem” after contact with another car, which led to Andrea Bertolini stopping on-track and triggering the only red flag of Pre-Qualifying. The Pro-Am car returned near the end of the session.

***Honda is confident of a strong outing after its recent podium in the Indianapolis 8 Hour, combined with its strong run to finish sixth at Spa in 2019. “We were very competitive at Indy,” Renger van der Zande told Sportscar365. “It was a good preparation race with this team not being on track for such a long time. The car always runs well when it’s colder, so I think this weekend we have a good shot.”

***Honda Racing’s IGTC team for Spa has been strengthened by the return of a handful of team members – including the No. 29 NSX GT3 Evo’s chief engineer – after they were forced to miss Indianapolis due to positive COVID-19 tests.

***Today’s qualifying and night practice gave teams the chance to prepare for the longer-than-usual night portion of this October edition, which is uniquely being held through the transition out of Daylight Savings Time. The race will be dark for almost 12 hours, rather than the usual 8.5 hours for a July event. 

***Friday’s program is a lot less hectic than Thursday’s with only two track sessions planned. The half-hour warmup is due to start at 5:30 p.m. CEST (11:30 a.m. EST) while single-driver Super Pole to determine the top 20 grid positions begins at 6:20 p.m.

***Most of the day’s track activity will be reserved for the support series. Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe, Formula Renault Eurocup, the GT4 European Series and TCR Europe are all in action. Live coverage of GT4 can be found here.

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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