Thousands of fans lined the roads into Spa town centre on Wednesday 27 July to enjoy a phenomenal collection of GT cars as they took part in the traditional TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa parade.
It marked an immensely popular return for the event, which was first staged in 2002 but could not run at the previous two editions due to Covid-19 restrictions. As such, it had been three years since the public last had the opportunity to experience GT3 cars in this unique setting
They fans saw all of the machinery that will contest this weekend’s TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa pass by, with the full 66-car field making its way from the circuit to Spa town.
Nine different brands were on display, representing a roll call of the world’s premier GT manufacturers. German machinery was well-represented thanks to Audi, BMW, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche, while their Italian rivals Ferrari and Lamborghini also drew considerable interest and Aston Martin, Bentley and McLaren added a British flavour to proceedings.
The TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa race cars were joined by cars representing the upcoming weekend’s support races, including the Lamborghini Super Trofeo and GT4 European Series. What’s more, a number of competitors from the SRO 30th GT Anniversary by Peter Auto also took their place in the parade.
This very special one-off event will bring together machinery from the GT1, GT2 and GT3 categories to mark three decades since Stéphane Ratel organised his first international GT event in 1992. Several iconic cars took part in the parade, including old favourites from the GT1 era.
The Peter Auto team was therefore the ideal choice to bring together an exceptional field of 28 cars, which will contest a pair of 60-minute races at Spa-Francorchamps.
The full field spans 1999 to 2013 and includes the Chrysler Viper GTS-R, Maserati MC12 GT1, Aston Martin DBR9, Lamborghini Murcielago R-SV, Ferrari F430 GTC, a variety of Porsche models, and several of the GT3 machines that helped to make this category such as success.
Connoisseurs will notice several TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa winners among the field. Larbre Compétition triumphed twice with the legendary Chrysler Viper GTS-R, which locked out the top-four positions in 2001. Belgian driver Christophe Van Riet will be at the wheel of the big American machine and should bring back plenty of fond memories for the fans.
The 2003 edition was among the most extraordinary in TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa history. The Freisinger-run Porsche 996 GT3-RS from the second-tier N-GT category took advantage of heavy rain to clinch a stunning overall win with its crew of Ortelli/Lieb/Dumas. Appropriately, two versions of this car will be part of the field to celebrate 30 years of SRO.
With three wins in four starts between 2005 and 2008, the Maserati MC12 GT1 established itself as one of the event’s most iconic machines. Run by Michael Bartels’ team in the distinctive Vitaphone livery, its sleek lines and the sound of its V12 are inextricably linked with Spa. Memorably, it was with the MC12 that Éric van de Poele earned his record-breaking fifth overall victory at the event in 2008. Dutch racer Niek Hommerson – a Pro-Am class winner in 2012 and 2014 – will be one of the drivers behind the wheel of this incredible beast.
Upon arrival in the town centre all cars were parked to give the public an opportunity to experience them first hand. The stars of this year’s TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa then signed autographs for thousands of enthusiastic fans, before heading to the theatre for the drivers’ briefing.
The day concluded with a return journey to the Spa-Francorchamps paddock in preparation for Thursday’s on-track action. Once again, fans were out in force along the roads as the sun began to set over the Ardennes.
Thursday was back to activities on the circuit, with four sessions over the course of the day. Free Practice a chance for the entire 66-car field to test themselves on the 7km Spa circuit, a one hour Pre-Qualifying session before the most important session of the day Qualifying for the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa. This will decide the 20 entrants who progress to Friday’s Super Pole session, as well as the final grid slots for positions 21 through 66.
Once preparations are complete all focus will shift to the biggest GT race in the world, the 74th TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa, which will get underway at 16:45 on Saturday 30 July and conclude at the same time on Sunday.
First staged in 1924 and running continuously since 1964, the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa combines a unique sense of history with the unparalleled sporting challenge presented by modern-day Spa-Francorchamps. Since adopting GT rules in 2001 the race has firmly established itself as a key fixture on the international motorsport calendar and today represents the marquee event of both Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS and the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli.
Among this bumper grid, 23 Pro crews will be gunning for overall glory in the Ardennes, the majority featuring factory drivers from the world’s biggest brands.
Ferrari has as its top-tier representative Iron Lynx. In 2021 the Italian squad ended the Maranello brand’s 17-year wait for overall victory in the Ardennes with a sensational charge to the front, while a one-two finish last time out at Circuit Paul Ricard has ensured that it tops the Fanatec Endurance standings ahead of this season’s trip to Spa.
Both of its cars feature a full complement of Ferrari Competizione works drivers, though just one of last year’s winners are among them. That man is Nicklas Nielsen, who shares the #51 entry with James Calado and Miguel Molina. The championship-leading #71 crew packs just as strong a punch, with the vastly experienced Davide Rigon joined by young gun Antonio Fuoco and Brazilian ace Daniel Serra.
There will be six female competitors on the grid in 2022. Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Doriane Pin will share the #83 Iron Dames Ferrari, making them the first all-female crew at the event since 1997. Elsewhere, Samantha Tan will drive a BMW for her own team and Reema Juffali forms part of the #20 SPS Mercedes-AMG line-up.
Mercedes-AMG had their most recent overall triumph came in 2013 and you can be sure no one within this mighty brand will want to mark 10 years without a win. The #88 AMG Team Akkodis ASP entry has earned back-to-back Super Poles courtesy of Raffaele Marciello, who forms arguably the strongest crew on the entire grid alongside fellow factory drivers Jules Gounon and Dani Juncadella.
AMG Team GetSpeed has a revised line-up with regular drivers Luca Stolz and Steijn Schothorst joined in the #2 car by 2013 race winner Maximilian Götz. AMG Team GruppeM Racing is a one-off entry and can call upon top factory driver Maro Engel, who moves across from the GetSpeed stable to join Mikaël Grenier and another 2013 winner in Maxi Buhk.
Audi’s most recent victory was 2017, though it came agonisingly close last year thanks to a brilliant comeback drive from the #32 Audi Sport Team WRT entry. The same line-up of Dries Vanthoor, Charles Weerts and Kelvin van der Linde remain for 2022 should be considered among the absolute favourites for the win.
The sister #46 Audi Sport Team WRT car will garner considerable interest as MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi gets set for his TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa debut. In fact, this will be Rossi’s first racing engagement on the legendary circuit, which should make the support of veteran teammates Frédéric Vervisch and Nico Müller all the more important.
There’s a fresh line-up at Audi Sport Team Attempto, the 2020 runner-up has secured the services of double race winner Markus Winkelhock, who partners fellow factory representatives Dennis Marschall and Ricardo Feller.
Audi Sport Team Tresor is a new addition to the grid, but the Italian squad hit the ground running with a fine fourth-place finish at Imola. Its driver line-up is impressive, with 2017 winner Christopher Haase joined by fellow Audi Sport man Mattia Drudi and single-seater graduate Luca Ghiotto.
Porsche re-established its position as a Spa powerhouse with back-to-back wins in 2019 and 2020; with five very strong crews and a wealth of factory drivers on the entry list, it should be a contender again this year. Dinamic Motorsport will field its full-season Fanatec Endurance line-up, which sees reigning winner Côme Ledogar link up with Porsche experts Klaus Bachler and Matteo Cairoli. This team excels in changeable weather, an ideal quality for a successful Spa assault.
No fewer than four squads will field Porsche machinery on a one-off basis this year. GPX Martini Racing has reunited the line-up that won in 2019, with Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz sharing the #221 car. KCMG also has the potential to be a serious player, with two-time race winner Laurens Vanthoor joined by 2020 winner Nick Tandy and 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli champion Dennis Olsen.
EMA Motorsport makes its TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa debut this term with an impressive line-up. Experienced factory drivers Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet link up with former grand prix racer Felipe Nasr, who recently joined the Porsche works ranks. Toksport WRT completes the set, fielding its regular driver Marvin Dienst alongside Porsche experts Julien Andlauer and Sven Müller.
No brand has more TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa wins than BMW and, with a new car making its debut this term, there’s even greater interest in the Bavarian manufacturer. ROWE Racing will look after a pair of M4 GT3 entries as it chases the marque’s 25th overall win. The #98 machine features a trio of factory drivers in Augusto Farfus, Nick Yelloly and Nicky Catsburg, the latter a winner in 2015. The sister #50 car will be driven by BMW junior drivers Daniel Harper, Max Hesse and Neil Verhagen, whose relative inexperience was quickly forgotten during a fine run to fourth last time out at Circuit Paul Ricard.
In terms of raw speed, Lamborghini could conceivably have won the past two editions of the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa. This year its search for that elusive overall triumph will be led by a pair of full-season cars from Emil Frey Racing. The #63 crew of Mirko Bortolotti, Albert Costa and Jack Aitken is especially potent, while the sister #19 of Giacomo Altoè, Arthur Rougier and Léo Roussel could also be a factor.
There’s further firepower from across the Atlantic. Two years after its maiden outing with a Bentley, American squad K-PAX Racing returns to Spa with backing from Orange1 and an ace driver line-up. Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli share a car for the fourth year in succession, joined by the talented South African racer Jordan Pepper.
Aston Martin will chase its first win since 1948 with a pair of Pro cars. Beechdean AMR’s line-up of Nicki Thiim, Marco Sørensen and Maxime Martin is among the strongest on the grid, with the latter arguably the most popular man among Spa’s spectators. A one-off entry from The Heart of Racing with TF Sport also comes with a crack driver line-up, combining Aston Martin works drivers Ross Gunn and Charlie Eastwood with experienced international racer Alex Riberas.
JOTA completes the Pro runners with its #38 McLaren. A fine run to seventh last year gave the British brand its best-ever finish in the Ardennes, though the early part of the 2022 season has been challenging for the squad. Nevertheless, the line-up of Rob Bell, Marvin Kirchhöfer and Ollie Wilkinson has plenty of Spa experience and is certainly capable of producing another strong run this year.
Any of the 66 cars on this year’s entry list could take overall victory. But while the increasingly high level of the leading Silver Cup crews means that we could see an interloper in the top-10, it is all but certain that the winner will come from the Pro ranks. The combined expertise of teams and drivers is as high as ever this year and whoever emerges on top will have truly earned their success. by Melissa Warren