24 Hours of Spa preview

24 Hours of Spa Car parade - Photo by Melissa Warren

The 2024 CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa race promises to be exceptional. Scheduled to take place on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 June, the biggest GT race in the world can count on an unrivalled level of competition, while the event’s off-track activities have been organised to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Fans are at the heart of this event, during both the car parade to Spa city centre and at the circuit itself and the Gallery of Time exhibition allow them to recall the past century of competition at Spa-Francorchamps, while evening Pit Walks have been organised to provide the chance to see the garages up close and watch teams perform pit stop practice.

When it comes to the Belgian event, there is a mix of established traditions and new innovations. The Fan Village, at the foot of Raidillon has been redesigned to host a Saturday evening concert featuring star performers from Europe’s electro scene and other music shows in the paddock.

24 Hours of Spa parade

On a glorious sunny Wednesday in the Ardennes more than 15,000 people lined the roads and packed the city centre for the traditional parade of cars that precedes the 24Hours of Spa race weekend. With this being the centenary event, the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa parade was an incredible convoy of more than 200 race cars and supercars travelling from the circuit, taking in parts of the old Spa-Francorchamps circuit, before arriving in historic Spa town.

Along the route and in the city centre, the thousands of fans got up close to the cars that will compete in the 24 Hours, in the support races, and in the special historic events. The drivers were present too, delighting the crowds by posing for selfies and signing autographs. Following the entertainment in the centre of town, many of the fans decamped to line the roads for the cars return journey to the circuit. Always a fan favourite, the cars, once again, satisfied the need for noise and speed with occasional smoke for effect.

During the early evening drivers’ briefing held in the theatre within the Spa casino, SRO Motorsports Group officially launched the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa Hall of Fame. The initial five inductees encompassed both people and institutions who have written the history of the legendary race. They were welcomed on to the stage by Stéphane Ratel, the founder and CEO of event promoter SRO Motorsports Group, who presented each with a Lifetime Pass to the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa.

Best known as the Belgian motorsport federation, the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium (RACB) is credited with creating the race in 1924. Established in 1896, it is also the owner of the event and continues to play a crucial role thanks to the sporting and technical support it provides to SRO Motorsports Group and its championships.

Next, a man without whom we would probably not be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa. After the event disappeared from the calendar following the 1953 edition, the driver-journalist Paul Frère played a key role in reviving the race in 1964. Having participated in the 24 Hours on three occasions – in 1948, 1949 and 1953 – he convinced the RACB, with the assistance of Chevalier Hubert de Harlez, to relaunch Spa as a touring car event. That was 60 years ago, and the 24 Hours has run annually since, ultimately becoming the biggest GT race in the world.

In 75 editions, one driver has secured more victories than any other. A five-time winner, Éric van de Poele triumphed twice in touring cars (with BMW in 1987 and 1998) and three times during the GT era (driving a Maserati in 2005, 2006 and 2008). Nicknamed ‘Tintin’, he started his beloved race 25 times and is undoubtedly among its greatest starts. His place in the Hall of Fame is beyond question.

Last year’s victory was the 25th for BMW, exactly one third of all editions in CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa history. During the past century, more than 560 BMWs have taken part in the Belgian endurance classic, representing 29 different models. From the 75 editions staged to date, no fewer than 60 included at least one BMW among the starters. Andreas Roos, the current boss of BMW M Motorsport, took to the stage to collect the Lifetime Pass on behalf of the Bavarian brand.

24 Hours of Spa manufacturers

Then, of course, there is the sporting side. Having earned six wins between 1971 and 1989, Ford is set to make a popular return to the event with its new Mustang GT3. The American giant will not have it easy, with BMW seeking to add an incredible 26th overall victory and Aston Martin launching a renewed effort in 2024.

Factor in the likes of Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, Lamborghini, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG and perhaps even Honda, and a sensational battle between the world’s biggest GT brands is in prospect. Once again, victory could be decided by just a few seconds.

The centenary CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa offers a superb opportunity to celebrate the rich history of the Belgian endurance classic.

24 Hours of Spa test

In the three-hour pre-event testing Arthur Rougier led the 63 car field. The #111 CSA Racing Audi posting a 2m15.748s time. Jules Gounon came close to bettering him with a time of 2m15.768s in the #2 Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed entry. The Porsches of Ayhancan Güven (#22 Schumacher CLRT) and Joel Eriksson (#23 Phantom Global Racing) were next, with Daniel Morad rounding out the top five in the #48 Mercedes-AMG Mann-Filer machine. All of these drivers were also in the 2m15s.

The recent resurfacing work at Spa-Francorchamps has clearly made a significant difference: Rougier’s lap was more than a second faster than the benchmark time in last year’s Superpole session, with further improvement very likely over the remainder of the event.

The #111 Audi is competing for Gold Cup honours at this year’s race and was comfortably fastest in the class, followed by the #25 Saintéloc Racing Audi in P10 overall. Jordan Love was P12 and led the Pro-Am runners aboard the #888 Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes-AMG.

Rinaldi Racing topped the Bronze Cup class with its #333 Ferrari. Fabrizio Crestani was at the wheel to set a time good enough for 15th on the overall classification. The best of the Silver Cup runners was Cesar Gazeau at the wheel of the #10 Boutsen VDS Mercedes-AMG in 24th spot.

There were a handful of stoppages during the session, though none resulted in a major delay to proceedings. While 63 cars participated in paid testing, a field of 66 will tackle this weekend’s race.

24 Hours of Spa: Iron Dames and Lilou Wadoux

The grid has reduced by one after Iron Dames withdrew its #83 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2 due to injury to driver Sarah Bovy as a result of a race ending crash at Watkins Glenn last weekend. After being transferred to a local hospital for checks she was released with no significant injuries and returned to Belgium to recover.

The team statement confirms that “Sarah is doing fine, and that is what matters, but we have decided to withdraw from the race to allow her time to recover. We want to thank all marshals and medical staff for their support this week, and of course, thank you to all the fans for their well wishes. Your support is truly cherished.”

Flying the flag for women in motorsport will be Lilou Wadoux, driving the #93 Sky Tempesta Racing Ferrari 296 GT3 alongside Christopher Frogatt, Jonathan Hui and Eddie Cheever in the Bronze Cup. By Melissa Warren

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