For the fourth time, after earlier success in 2011, 2012 and 2014, an Audi was the first car across the line in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the world’s biggest GT3 race and the season highlight of the Blancpain GT Series.
After 546 laps of the 7.004 kilometre long Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, German driver Christopher Haase drove the #25 Audi Sport Team Saintéloc Audi R8 LMS across the finish line to secure victory for himself and team-mates Markus Winkelhock (GER) and Jules Gounon (FRA).
Markus Winkelhock #25 Audi Sport Team Saintéloc, 1st, said: “Not only the first, the second victory as well is very important. I think everybody will agree that this one is the toughest 24-hour races there is, so if you can win it, it’s very nice. When we were two laps down with twelve hours to go, we thought: ‘Well, maybe we can still get into the top-5’. I never expected that we would get a chance to win this race. That shows you never should give up in life.”
The #8 car, Bentley Team M-Sport made up for its misfortune in last year’s race at Spa by taking second place.
Maxime Soulet #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental, 2nd, said: “I tried to catch the Audi at the beginning of my last stint, but when I realised I was not getting any closer, I stopped fighting. This second place still feels like a win, though. It was a very hard fight, we all agree that this was the toughest Spa we ever did. It’s a first podium for Bentley in Spa, I heard that everybody was crying when I crossed the line.”
The #90 Akka ASP Mercedes rounded out the top three with the second consecutive podium finish at Spa for the French team.
Michael Meadows #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG, 3rd, said: “From about three hours to go we thought we might be short. It was then just a question of where we would come out again, whether it would third, fifth or second. To be honest, I am quite relieved that we finished on the podium, for it has been a tough race, as we saw with some of the other cars. Raffaelle did a fabulous job in his first 24 hours as well, doing four triple stints. That is quite impressive.”
Mercedes-AMG took Pro-Am class honours with a strong performance by the #16 Black Falcon team.
Oliver Morley #16 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG, 1st Pro-Am Cup, said: “The depth of talent throughout the whole field – in Pro, in Pro-Am, in Am – is just astounding. For me personally, it is a real privilege to be in the company of these guys – Le Mans winners, Spa overall winners, young and upcoming talents. I am very pleased that Mercedes-AMG, Black Falcon and my teammates have made it possible to fulfil a boyhood dream. I never thought this was possible, and certainly not on the top step.”
The #888 Kessel Racing Ferrari led almost throughout, to score a commanding Am class win. The Belgian Speedlover team won the national class with its #991 Porsche.
With 63 cars taking the start and no fewer than 36 of them competing for overall honours, Spa had one of the strongest entries ever in the history of the Belgian endurance racing race.
Qualifying had already made it clear that a fierce battle could be expected among the teams representing the world’s most prestigious sports car brands.
Once the field was released after one formation lap, it was ex-Formula 1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella who made the best use of the pole position and took the lead with the #55 Kaspersky Motorsport Ferrari, ahead of compatriot Mirko Bortolotti in the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini and Kévin Estre in the #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard Porsche.
While the Ferrari and the Lamborghini shone at the front of the field during the first hours of the race, the second hour saw the first of several full-course yellows and a subsequent safety car intervention due to a severe crash by Thai driver Pasin Lathouras, who lost control of his #50 AF Corse Ferrari at the top of the Raidillon. Luckily, the driver walked away unhurt.
Several teams used the neutralisation to come in for pit stops with the different pit stop strategies applied by the teams leading to frequent position changes throughout the field. Meanwhile, it was also clear that the Race Control was watching drivers’ antics closely as there were penalties galore, particularly for track limit infringements.
As the first points were awarded after six hours, the #55 Kaspersky Motorsport Ferrari was leading from the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini and the #84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport Mercedes and no fewer than 16 cars were still on the lead lap after the first quarter of the race.
Soon after the six-hour mark, Swedish driver Jimmy Eriksson crashed the #84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport car at Raidillon.
Temperatures were above 20 degrees until midnight, when the rain shower that so many had expected finally arrived. Most drivers opted for rain tyres, but some gambled and stayed out with slicks.
There were incidents, too, including a collision that put two Mercedes cars out at once, the #00 Good Smile Racing car and the #18 Black Falcon Mercedes. Earlier on, the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes had already retired after a crash.
Halfway through the race, points were awarded to #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini who claimed the full points ahead of the #85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes and the #55 Kaspersky Motorsport Ferrari.
In the 14th hour, the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini and the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari collided at Stavelot corner, after which the Lamborghini caught fire. Its driver, Adrian Amstutz, was taken to hospital in Liège where he was diagnosed with second-degree burns and a broken rib.
The Ferrari driver, Matteo Cressoni, was transferred to hospital in Verviers for a check-up. There was well-deserved praise for the track marshals and rescue teams for their quick intervention.
A little while later the Kaspersky Motorsport team that had led the race for many hours saw its hopes of a possible victory evaporate as Marco Cioci came off track at the Raidillon with damaged steering, the result of contact with the #90 Akka ASP Mercedes at La Source.
Two hours later, the other Italian GT car #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini, retired when Christian Engelhart crashed out at Les Combes with brake issues.
This effectively turned the battle for the lead into an almost entirely German affair with the Porsche, several Audis, the #98 ROWE Racing BMW and a number of Mercedes-AMG cars in contention as well as the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley. Suspension issues then put an end to ROWE Racing’s ambitions of a repeat win after their 2016 success.
In the afternoon, the Saintéloc Audi emerged ahead of the group of front-runners, the #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard Porsche, completed his final pit stop on lap 527, so it was left to German driver Christopher Haase, who had pitted six laps earlier, to bring the Audi across the finish line, which he duly did after 546 laps, scoring Saintéloc’s first 24-hour race win as an Audi Sport team.
The #8 Bentley came second ahead of the #90 Akka ASP Mercedes. The #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard Porsche was classified fourth, making Laurens Vanthoor the best-placed Belgian driver in the overall classification.
The #97 Oman Racing Team with TF Sport Aston Martin led the Pro-Am class for the opening hours of the race, but with consistently fast lap times resulted in good progress for the #16 Black Falcon Mercedes that then moved up into the lead of the class in the evening and held on to its class lead throughout the race. Its drivers Oliver Morley, Miguel Toril, Marvin Kirchhöfer and Maximilian Götz finished twelfth overall, one lap ahead of class-runners-up Ahmad Al Harthy, Salih Yoluc, Jonny Adam and Euan Hankey with the Aston Martin.
Ahmad Al Harthy #97 Oman Racing Team with TF Sport Aston Martin, 2017 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup Pro-Am champion, said: “Honestly, the team only told me when I crossed the line. This title is something that I have been dreaming about for a couple of years. I think this my fifth attempt at the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup. I am really proud of this title, sharing it with Jonny, and Euan and Salih played an important part in it as well.”
For Adam and Al Harty, the points scored at Spa were already enough to seal an early Blancpain GT Series Pro-Am drivers’ title and to rack up the title win for the Oman Racing Team with TF Sport as well.
Third place in class went to the #961 Spirit of Race Ferrari with Alex Demerdjian, Nicolas Minassian, Davide Rizzo and Toni Vilander.
A faultless drive by Swiss team Kessel Racing and its drivers Marco Zanuttini, Jacques Duyver, David Perel and Niki Cadei in the #888 Ferrari 488 GT3 was rewarded with a commanding class win, the team’s second Am class victory in a row in the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
David Perel #888 Kessel Racing Ferrari, 1st Am Cup, said: “Three years ago, I was watching this race on YouTube! I never thought that I would be on the top step so shortly after trying to get into this race. We followed our plan and took no risks. Our car was amazing, we had no unscheduled pitstops, it was an amazing day for all of us.”
The team led in class almost from lights to flag and won with a margin of four laps from the #488 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari of Pierre Ehret, Rino Mastronardi, Patrick van Glabeke and Gabriele Lancieri.
German team Walkenhorst Motorsport took the final podium slot with its #36 BMW driven by David Schiwietz, Stef Vancampenhoudt, Henry Walkenhorst and Ralf Oeverhaus.
Coupe du Roi
Fitting for the year in which the legendary Italian sports car manufacturer is celebrating its 70th anniversary, Ferrari won the prestigious Coupe du Roi for the best performance by a manufacturer in the total of the three classes.
National class honours for Speedlover Porsche
Only two Porsche cars were entered in the national class and once the #56 RMS Porsche had retired, the drivers of the #991 Speedlover car just had to bring the Porsche home to collect the class honours. Yves Paque, Grégory Paisse, Thierry de Latre du Bosqueau and Louis-Philippe Soenen were able to celebrate their success in front of their home crowd.
Pierre-Yves Paque #991 Speedlover Porsche, 1st Groupe National, said: “It was a perfect race, but we managed to avoid all pitfalls. We also have to thank André Van Hoof of Speedlover, who gave us a magnificent car. Without his great work, we would not have made it here.”
1 #25 Christopher Haase, Jules Gounon, Markus Winkelhock Audi Sport Team Sainteloc Audi R8 LMS 2:19.756 546
2 #8 Maxime Soulet, Vincent Abril, Andy Soucek Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 2:20.182 546 11.862
3 #90 Edoardo Mortara, Michael Meadows, Raffaele Marciello Akka ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 2:21.154 546 52.855
4 #117 Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen, Laurens Vanthoor KÜS Team75 Bernhard Porsche 991 GT3 R 2:20.411 546 1:07.247
5 #2 Connor de Philippi, Christopher Mies, Frederic Vervisch Audi Sport Team WRT Audi R8 LMS 2:20.485 546 1:30.566
6 #1 Antonio Garcia, Nico Müller, Rene Rast Audi Sport Team WRT Audi R8 LMS 2:20.867 546 1:49.955
7 #85 Edward Sandström, Fabian Schiller, Dominik Baumann HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 2:20.909 545 1:05.482
8 #4 Luca Stolz, Adam Christodoulou, Yelmer Buurman Mercedes AMG Team Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 2:20.925 545 1:56.452
9 #76 Pierre Kaffer, Frank Stippler, Kelvin van der Linde Audi Sport Team ISR Audi R8 LMS 2:21.149 543 1.724
10 #98 Tom Blomqvist, Nick Catsburg, Bruno Spengler ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3 2:20.697 542 25.661
11 #5 Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, Dries Vanthoor Audi Sport Team WRT Audi R8 LMS 2:20.382 541 1:31.467
12 #16 Pro-AM Cup Oliver Morley, Miguel Toril, Marvin Kirchhöfer, Maximilian Götz Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 2:21.982 540 1:12.052
13 #23 Lucas Ordonez, Alex Buncombe, Katsumasa Chiyo Motul Team RJN Nissan Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 2:21.397 539 49.142
14 #7 Guy Smith, Oliver Jarvis, Steven Kane Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 2:21.118 539 1:24.738
15 #97 Pro-AM Cup Ahmad Al Harthy, Salih Yoluc, Jonny Adam, Euan Hankey Oman Racing Team with TF Sport Aston Martin V12 GT3 2:21.996 539 1:32.621
16 #12 Michele Beretta, Stefano Gattuso, Andrea Piccini Ombra Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2:22.435 538 1:10.179
17 #961 Pro-AM Cup Alex Demirdjian, Nicolas Minassian, Davide Rizzo, Toni Vilander AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 2:21.990 538 2:09.424
18 #19 Rolf Ineichen, Raffaele Giammaria, Ezequiel Perez Companc GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2:22.208 537 1:29.372
19 #51 Pro-AM Cup Ishikawa Motoaki, Lorenzo Bontempelli, Olivier Beretta, Francesco Castellacci AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 2:22.962 536 1:24.178
20 #35 Pro-AM Cup Markus Palttala, Christian Krognes, Nico Menzel, Matias Henkola Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 2:21.403 536 1:47.559
21 #27 Luca Filippi, Nicolas Pohler, Fabrizio Crestani Orange 1 Team Lazarus Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2:22.440 534 28.653
22 #888 AM Cup Marco Zanuttini, Jacques Duyver, David Perel, Niki Cadei Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 2:22.483 532 3.318
23 52 Pro-AM Cup Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin, Aaron Scott, Riccardo Ragazzi AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 2:21.671 531 2:09.846
24 #72 Victor Shaytar, Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 2:21.124 529 1:14.438
25 #488 AM Cup Pierre Ehret, Rino Mastronardi, Patrick Van Glabeke, Gabriele Lancieri Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 2:22.426 528 1:48.152
26 #36 AM Cup David Schiwietz, Stef Van Campenhoudt, Henry Walkenhorst, Ralf Oeverhaus Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 2:23.668 527 1:28.293
27 #26 AM Cup Christian Kelders, Marc Rostan, Fred Bouvy Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS 2:23.543 524 39.184
28 #777 AM Cup Bernard Delhez, Gilles Vannelet, Mike Stursberg, Christopher Zarnella Team HB Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2:23.850 522 1:29.977
29 #912 Pro-AM Cup Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Sven Müller, Mathieu Jaminet Herberth Motorsport Porsche 991 GT3 R 2:21.666 517 55.420
30 #22 Matt Simmons, Struan Moore, Matthew Parry Motul Team RJN Motorsport Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 2:21.635 514 2.217
31 #67 AM Cup Giorgio Maggi, Jürgen Krebs, Clement Mateu, Sarah Bovy Attempto Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2:26.842 511 2:16.431
32 #188 AM Cup Alexander West, Chris Goodwin, Chris Harris, Bradley Ellis Garage 59 McLaren 650 S GT3 2:23.422 501 1.458
33 #99 Philipp Eng, Maxime Martin, Alexander Sims ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3 2:20.310 498 -1:43:15.201
34 #991 Group Nat Pierre Yves Paque, Gregory Paisse, Thierry de Latre du Bosqueau, Louis-Philippe Soenen SpeedLover Porsche 991 Cup 2:31.701 476 1:31.137
35 #66 Mikael Grenier, Max Van Splunteren, Jaap Van Lagen Attempto Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2:22.718 416 -4:03:51.247
NC #9 Christer Jöns, Jordan Pepper, Nico Verdonck Bentley Team ABT Bentley Continental GT3 2:21.067 379 -6:42:04.652
NC #63 Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart, Andrea Caldarelli GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2:21.288 356 -7:50:44.471
NC #55 Giancarlo Fisichella, Marco Cioci, James Calado Kaspersky Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3 2:20.826 299 -10:14:47.196
NC #11 Pro-AM Cup Michael Broniszewski, Andrea Rizzoli, Matteo Cressoni, Giacomo Piccini Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 2:22.590 288 -10:53:10.468
NC #77 Pro-AM Cup Adrian Amstutz, Martin Kodric, Patrick Kujala, Oliver Gavin Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2:22.579 282 -10:53:33.983
NC #53 Pro-AM Cup Niek Hommerson, Louis Machiels, Andrea Bertolini, Rory Butcher Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3 2:21.589 242 -12:29:17.770
NC #3 Pro-AM Cup Josh Caygill, Niki Mayr-Melnhof, Jon Venter, Richard Lyons Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS 2:23.629 233 -13:23:48.639
NC #0 Nobuteru Taniguchi, Tatsuya Kataoka, Kamui Kobayashi Good Smile Racing & Team UKYO Mercedes-AMG GT3 2:23.271 230 -13:21:02.185
NC #43 David Fumanelli, Jonny Kane, Sam Tordoff Strakka Racing McLaren 650 S GT3 2:23.076 230 -12:16:19.664
NC #18 Pro-AM Cup Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal, Hubert Haupt, Gabriele Piana, Renger van der Zande Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 2:22.177 228 -13:47:40.934
NC #88 Felix Serralles, Daniel Juncadella, Tristan Vautier Akka ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 2:22.352 209 -14:40:45.867
NC #15 Pro-AM Cup Dore Chaponik, Brett Sandberg, Scott Heckert, Jeroen Bleekemolen Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 2:22.589 209 -14:34:35.604
NC #42 Pro-AM Cup Craig Fleming, Nick Leventis, Lewis Williamson, Oliver Webb Strakka Racing McLaren 650 S GT3 2:21.890 204 -14:45:41.006
NC #78 Pro-AM Cup Leo Matchitski, Miguel Ramos, Richard Abra, Phil Keen Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2:23.270 198 -13:18:17.382
NC #89 Pro-AM Cup Daniele Perfetti, Alex Fontana, Ludovic Badey, Nico Bastian Akka ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 2:22.901 176 -14:17:49.718
NC #48 Indy Dontje, Patrick Assenheimer, Kenneth Heyer MANN-FILTER Team HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 2:22.627 152 -16:42:46.639
NC #84 Jimmy Eriksson, Maximilian Buhk, Franck Perera Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 2:21.798 142 -17:49:54.784
NC #56 Group Nat Howard Blank, Yannick Mallegol, Fabrice Notari, Frank Mechaly RMS Porsche 991 Cup 2:33.474 142 -16:20:48.496
NC #911 Pro-AM Cup Jürgen Häring, Alfred Renauer, Robert Renauer, Marc Lieb Herberth Motorsport Porsche 991 GT3 R 2:23.142 139 -17:44:10.683
NC #14 Lorenz Frey, Stephane Ortelli, Albert Costa Emil Frey Jaguar Racing Emil Frey Jaguar G3 2:21.732 131 -18:12:54.471
NC #333 Pro-AM Cup Alexander Mattschull, Rinat Salikhov, Matteo Malucelli, Norbert Siedler Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 2:23.838 105 -19:23:35.600
NC #6 Stephane Richelmi, Nathanael Berthon, Benoit Treluyer Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS 2:23.330 103 -19:31:14.264
NC #59 Jazeman Jaafar, Pieter Schothorst, Andrew Watson Strakka Racing McLaren 650 S GT3 2:21.997 96 -19:34:12.623
NC #75 Filipe Albuquerque, Clemens Schmid, Filip Salaquarda ISR Audi R8 LMS 2:21.704 95 -19:44:18.470
NC #58 Ben Barnicoat, Rob Bell, Come Ledogar Strakka Racing McLaren 650 S GT3 2:22.229 74 -20:39:10.010
NC #114 Marco Seefried, Jonathan Hirschi, Christian Klien Emil Frey Jaguar Racing Emil Frey Jaguar G3 2:21.821 69 -20:55:25.720
NC #17 Stuart Leonard, Jake Dennis, Jamie Green Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS 2:22.308 53 -21:40:50.229
NC #50 Pasin Lathouras, Michele Rugolo, Alessandro Pier Guidi AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 2:22.874 44 -22:11:28.203 By Melissa Warren