ROWE Racing has won the 2023 CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa to give BMW a record-extending 25th overall win at the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic.
The German team confirmed its status as the standout performer of the race’s GT3 era by securing its third victory in the Ardennes followings triumphs in 2016 and 2020. Marco Wittmann, Nick Yelloly and Phillip Eng drove the #98 car to top spot, the latter earning his third outright success at Spa.
The BMW was among the front-runners for the duration of the race, placing fourth at the six-hour mark and sixth and half distance. It emerged as the favourite on Sunday morning, taking advantage of a pit stop under full-course yellow conditions before a stellar stint from Eng culminated in a pass on the #17 Scherer Sport PHX Audi.
A safety car around noon allowed the leading pack to get back on to a similar pit sequence, setting up a four-hour run to the chequered flag. Any remaining questions about the pace of the BMW were quickly answered as Yelloly stretched the lead to more than 10 seconds.
Thereafter the race remained green for the duration, allowing the #98 BMW to edge further clear without being troubled. It ultimately took the chequered flag with an 11-second advantage over its closest rival after easing off during the closing stages. Its victory came from 26th on the grid, marking only the second time since 2001 that a car has won from outside the top-20 starting places.
Last year’s winner finished the 75th edition as runner-up. The #88 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG of Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Timur Boguslavskiy was fast and error free, even if it missed the ultimate pace that would have been needed to topple the BMW. It was third at the six-hour mark and second at 12 hours, banking important points towards the Fanatec GT Europe Endurance Cup standings.
It was chased for the final few hours by the #17 Scherer Sport PHX Audi, which completed the podium thanks to Nicki Thiim, Kelvin van der Linde and Luca Engstler. Thiim pushed Gounon very hard, but their battle brought the #92 Manthey EMA Porsche into play during the final 30 minutes.
Kevin Estre had designs on the podium, forcing Thiim into defensive action and allowing Gounon to pull clear. As such, the top-four finishers represented four different brands: BMW, Mercedes-AMG, Audi and Porsche.
The #5 Optimum Motorsport McLaren won in the Gold Cup and finished an impressive 10th overall. The British squad started from class pole and was always in the mix thanks to strong showings from Sam de Haan, Charlie Fagg, Dean MacDonald and Tom Gamble.
The latter handled the final stint, pulling clear of the #71 AF Corse – Francorchamps Motors Ferrari to ensure that McLaren finished as the best non-German marque at this year’s race. The #30 Team WRT BMW finished second in class (P14 overall) with fellow local squad Comtoyou Racing completing the Gold Cup podium with its #21 Audi (P18 overall).
In the Silver Cup, the Grasser Racing squad finally earned its maiden victory in the Ardennes with the #85 Lamborghini of Clemens Schmid, Benjamin Hites and Glenn van Berlo. The Austrian outfit spent much of the race battling against Audi crews, with the #12 Comtoyou Racing entry proving to be its most serious opponent.
The #85 came home 19th overall, almost 14 seconds clear of the chasing Audi. Saintéloc Junior Team completed the class podium with an all-French line-up steering its #26 Audi. The #99 Tresor Orange1 Audi was also a major player before its retirement early on Sunday afternoon.
With 21 cars taking the start, the Bronze Cup was the biggest class at this year’s race. It produced a suitably impressive contest, which was led at various times by the #188 Garage 59 McLaren and the #911 Pure Rxcing Porsche. Ultimately the #20 Huber Motorsport Porsche rose to the occasion, taking a memorable victory to add to its stunning overall Super Pole.
Anteres Au, Tim Heinemann and Jannes Fittje shared the winning car, the latter producing a heroic finish to overhaul fellow Porsche squad Pure Rxcing. In a further souvenir for the team, Heinemann earned the CrowdStrike Fastest Lap (2m17.087s), breaking the GT3 lap record for the event in the process. The #911 Pure Rxcing Porsche and the #93 Sky Tempesta Racing McLaren rounded out the Bronze podium.
Sun Energy1 produced the feel-good story of the race by securing a comeback victory in Pro-Am with its #75 Mercedes-AMG. The team’s participation was in doubt after Kenny Habul crashed in Pre-Qualifying, but despite being ruled out with a back injury the Australian sourced a new car and brought in Adam Osieka as a replacement driver.
The car started from the pit lane and quickly made progress, ultimately finding itself in a battle for class victory with the #24 Car Collection Porsche. Nico Menzel made it interesting by pushing Nick Catsburg hard during the final hour, but the Dutchman held on to seal a remarkable triumph. Martin Konrad and Chaz Mosert also contributed to the #75 Mercedes-AMG securing victory, while the #24 Porsche and the #888 CSA Racing Audi completed the podium.
The Coupe du Roi, which is awarded to the best-performing manufacturer across all classes, went to Audi. After a tough 2022, the Ingolstadt marque was back on form this year, scoring podiums overall, in the Gold Cup, Silver Cup and Pro-Am.
#52 AF Corse Ferrari 296 GT3 driven by Lilou Wadoux, louis Machiels, Jef Machiels and Andrea Bertolini. Wadoux brought the car safely over the line to finish 26th overall and 6th in the Bronze class.
#83 Iron Dames Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2 driven by Doriane Pin, Rahel Frey, Sarah Bovey and Michelle Gatting completed 151 laps in the bronze class before Pin crashed the car in the 7th hour at Blanchimont resulting in retirement.
In the Iron Dames car #83, Michelle struggled with the humid track conditions during the first stint, and once the first round of pitstops had been completed, she’d fallen to P12 in class and P50 in the overall classification. She’d fare better in the second stint, gaining two class positions to sit P10 before handing over to Sarah. Unfortunately, a puncture forced an early tyre change putting the car out of sync with the rest of the pack, and Sarah Bovy re-joined P16 in class.
Despite the setbacks, progress was made during Sarah’s double-stint and she handed over to Rahel Frey in P13 at the four-hour mark. Rahel had the bit between her teeth and managed to close the gap to the car ahead, before claiming the position in the pits. Having completed six hours of running, the Dames collected 2 points for reaching the race’s first milestone in the top ten and were P8 in class, but they had to serve a 30 second track limits penalty at the next stop. Doriane got behind the wheel but shortly after starting her stint, she lost control of the car on the exit of Blanchimont, resulting in the car retiring from the race.
#38 ST Racing with Rinaldi Ferrari 296 GT3 driven by Samantha Tan, Jon Miller, Isaac Tutumlu and Leonard Wiess completed 192 eventful laps in the pro-am. As the result of a number of unavoidable incidents the team was eventually forced to retire the car.
#81 Theeba Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3 driven by Reema Juffali, Ralf Aron, Yannick Mettler and Alain Valente completed 200 laps in the bronze class before Mettler was involved in a crash at the exit of Les Combes during the night.
The 75th CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa brought 83,677 people to the Ardennes track over the course of the event, with the new grandstands opposite the endurance pits and at Raidillon especially packed for the start. With this year’s edition complete, attention can begin to turn to the centenary running, which has been confirmed for 27–30 June 2024. By Melissa Warren