While the battle for overall honours provides the main attraction, the Total 24 Hours of Spa is very much a multi-class contest. The action that takes place elsewhere in the field is just as competitive as what you will see at the front.
After 24 hours of racing, the champagne tastes just as sweet whether you are a class winner or the overall victor.
The class structure at Spa is almost identical to the one used in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup. The exception this year is 'Juliet', an additional entrant that will compete as a guest. Carrying #53, the car is in fact a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup MR – though it has been modified to resemble a very famous Volkswagen Beetle. It will compete in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Herbie film and to raise funds for charity.
While Juliet will run for a worthy cause, the rest of the field has its sights firmly set on victory.
Now in its second year as part of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the Silver Cup has gone from strength to strength over the past 18 months. A 12-car grid will compete for class honours in what is now seen as a final step before reaching the top tier.
The #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG crew is the favourite to clinch class honours. Two wins from three races have put the trio of Nico Bastian, Felipe Fraga and Timur Boguslavskiy in a strong position at the top of the championship standings and there are few better-run teams than Jerome Policand's AKKA ASP operation.
Among their chief rivals will be another Mercedes-AMG entrant: the #6 Black Falcon machine. A regular class front-runner this season with an experienced driver line-up to call upon, the German outfit is more than capable of launching a strong challenge. Competing with a distinctive Manga-inspired livery, this car will be unmissable in the Ardennes.
Lamborghini will be the best-represented brand in the Silver Cup, with four Huracan GT3 Evo machines contending for class honours. This group includes the #12 Ombra Racing entry that took top spot last year, though the Italian squad has a fully revised driver line-up for 2019.
They will be joined by the #78 Barwell Motorsport effort that finished a close second 12 months ago, as well as entries from Grasser Racing and Orange1 FFF Racing. With quality and quantity, it would be no surprise to see a Lamborghini crew on top of the Silver Cup podium again this year.
There will be three Audi R8 LMS entries competing for Silver honours, led by the mighty Belgian Audi Club Team WRT with its #17 machine. Phoenix Racing and Attempto Racing will also tackle the event using the 2019-spec R8 LMS and should be capable of fighting at the front.
Ferrari is represented in every class this year, with its Silver Cup assault coming from brand loyalist Rinaldi Racing. The German squad won the Pro-Am class at Spa last term and has now stepped up to challenge for Silver honours with its #333 machine.
The driver line-up includes David Perel, who has taken back-to-back wins at the 24 Hours in Am Cup (2017) and Pro-Am (2018). The South African could therefore complete a unique treble if Rinaldi triumphs again this year – though the competition is tougher than ever.
R-Motorsport will add its #762 Aston Martin to the field. Two of its four-strong crew bring momentum from Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe, with Aaro Vainio and Hugo de Sadeleer having taken a brace of Silver wins last time out at Zandvoort. They are joined by Ricky Collard and Ferdinand Habsburg to form a young crew with considerable top-line experience.
Finally, Jenson Team Rocket RJN will tackle the 24 Hours with its new Honda NSX GT3 Evo, which is one of the few Intercontinental GT Challenge nominated cars competing outside the Pro class – and the only one vying for Silver Cup honours. With the RJN crew among the most experienced competitors at Spa, the distinctive #22 machine should run like clockwork in the Ardennes. Whether that is enough to clinch victory, only time will tell.
The Pro-Am class has been a crucial element of the Total 24 Hours of Spa since the creation of the Blancpain GT Series in 2011. For a number of years it attracted the biggest grids at the race, while its leading contenders regularly logged top-five overall finishes.
It remains an important part of the event and will see 11 cars competing for victory this year. And, while it is difficult to pick an obvious favourite among them, the #52 AF Corse Ferrari looks strong. Andrea Bertolini, Louis Machiels and Niek Hommerson have taken two class wins at Spa, first in 2012 and again in 2014, and will hunt for a third this year alongside the experienced Toni Vilander. What's more, the #52 machine is the only Pro-Am car nominated to score Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli points at Spa.
There will be further Ferrari representation from Tempesta Racing, which took victory at the season-opening Endurance Cup event and has bolstered its Spa line-up by adding three-time grand prix winner Giancarlo Fisichella. Czech outfit Scuderia Praha will also field a 488 GT3 in the Ardennes.
Another clear contender is the #97 Oman Racing with TF Sport Aston Martin entry. The crew of Ahmad Al Harthy, Salih Yoluc and Charlie Eastwood have captured a hat-trick of pole positions this term and lead the drivers' standings ahead of the 24 Hours, where they will be joined by Aston factory ace Nicki Thiim to form a very strong line-up.
Ram Racing is also without a win this year but Tom Onslow-Cole and Remon Vos sit second in the class standings thanks to a pair of podiums aboard their #74 Mercedes-AMG. The addition of Darren Burke and Christiaan Frankenhout for Spa further strengthens their effort. Scuderia Villorba Corsa will field the same machine and returns to the Ardennes for the first time since 2014, while Strakka Racing will field its #43 AMG GT3 for a crack line-up that features Christina Nielsen and Jack Hawksworth.
Sainteloc Racing's #26 Audi is led by recent Blancpain GT World Challenge race-winner Simon Gachet, while Team Parker Racing has a shuffled line-up in its #31 Bentley Continental that will be led by the experienced Andy Meyrick. The class will be completed by a pair of Porsche entries as Herberth Motorsport and Modena Motorsports field the Stuttgart marque's 911 GT3 R.
The Am Cup completes the class structure at this year's Total 24 Hours of Spa, with its 13-car grid the biggest outside the top-tier.
There is a clear favourite for victory in the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini, which took class honours last year by a full four laps. This crew went on to add the 2018 Endurance Cup title and leads the standings again this year.
The British squad's car will be one of three Lamborghinis, with Italian outfits Daiko Lazarus and Raton Racing by Target adding the others. Given how strong the Huracan has been at Spa in recent years, all should be capable of challenging for class honours.
But the most likely opposition for the Barwell car will come from Garage 59, which has switched to Aston Martin machinery this year but retains last season's driver line-up and front-running form. Victory last time out at the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000kms has added momentum, while rapid youngster Ross Gunn will bring additional pace for the Spa contest.
Local squad Boutsen Ginion returns to the race with a BMW M6 GT3, ensuring another Belgian effort at the nation's biggest endurance race. Walkenhorst Motorsport will field the same car, with both being nominated to score Intercontinental GT Challenge points by the German marque. 3Y Technology completes a trio of Am Cup entries fielding the M6 GT3, a car that is no stranger to Spa success.
There will also be a trio of Ferrari 488 GT3s. Two come from Rinaldi Racing, whose experience with the Italian marque's equipment makes it a definite contender for class honours. HB Racing will add the third and will hope to carry the strong form it has shown in Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe into the marquee race.
Tech 1 Racing will tackle the event with its Lexus RC F GT3, a car that showed impressive pace on its Spa debut last term. The line-up is anchored by experienced gentleman driver Fabien Barthez, while silver-graded Timothé Buret joins for the 24 Hours.
Open Road Racing will add its Porsche 911 GT3 R to the grid in a one-off effort, while the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup squad brings together a quartet of drivers who compete in the Asian-based championship of the same name. Appropriately enough, they will pilot an Audi R8 in the Ardennes.
With each class sure to provide its fair share of stories, heartbreak and glory over the race distance, the Total 24 Hours of Spa promises to be a gripping contest from start to finish.
Total 24 Hours of Spa parade
First staged in 2002, the parade has grown into an immensely popular aspect of the week-long festivities that precede the Belgian endurance classic. Each year has seen the event expand further, both in terms of the participating machinery and the number of fans who take part. That trend continued at the latest edition, with clear skies and sunshine making for perfect conditions in which to soak up the atmosphere.
As ever, all of the cars that will contest the upcoming Total 24 Hours of Spa were part of proceedings. That meant no fewer than 11 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 Lamborghini and Ferrari also drew considerable fan interest.
2019 will be significant for British marques Aston Martin and Bentley, with the former giving the new Vantage AMR its first Spa outing and the latter celebrating its centenary year. A trio of Japanese manufacturers brought their competitive machinery thanks to Honda, Nissan and Lexus, completing a 72-car field that will establish a new record for the event's GT era.
The parade was not limited to the GT3 equipment that will contest the race. The 24 Hours hopefuls were joined by the new GT2 cars launched by leading brands Porsche and Audi, both of which are set to compete throughout the 2020 season.
The R8 GT2 produced by Audi was among the first cars to pull away from the circuit at 18.00, while Porsche's new 911 GT2 RS Clubsport was present with a fleet of 10 cars. The latter will be on-track at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, contesting a pair of support races ahead of the 24 Hours.
Championnat de France FFSA GT/GT4 France and Lamborghini Super Trofeo will also compete on the support bill and both were out in numbers for the parade, while Formula Renault Eurocup was well represented by a series of Megane RS machines.
Upon arrival in the town centre the cars were parked in front of Spa Casino, giving fans an opportunity to experience them first hand. The stars of this year's Total 24 Hours of Spa then signed autographs for thousands of enthusiastic fans, before heading to the theatre for the drivers’ briefing. Indeed, with 72 cars competing in the race, it would prove to be the biggest in recent memory.
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. By Melissa Warren