After the chequered flag has fallen on the 70thedition Total 24 Hours of Spa, five sets of drivers will spray the victory champagne and be crowned winners of their respective classes.
While the overall standings often attract the most interest, the battles that take place elsewhere in the field are just as competitive. The combination of professional and amateur drivers in a single race has always been at the heart of endurance motorsport, and this remains as true as ever at Spa.
A total of 35 cars will compete outside the Pro category in 2018. They are spread across four classes, each of which will provide its own dramatic twists and turns throughout the 24 Hours.
RETURNEE HONDA AMONG IMPRESSIVE PRO-AM GRID
A total of 11 cars will contest the Pro-Am category, with the return of Honda to the Total 24 Hours of Spa attracting particular interest. The Japanese brand will give its new NSX GT3 a first outing on European soil, having already found success in Asia and the U.S.
The factory-backed effort will deploy an impressive Pro-Am line-up, with Honda drivers Bertrand Baguette and Esteban Guerrieri leading the line. They will be joined by motorsport legend Riccardo Patrese, a veteran of more than 200 Formula 1 races and winner of six. The line-up is completed by Loic Depailler, whose late father Patrick was a grand prix star of the seventies and a contemporary of Patrese.
Black Swan Racing will also add an impressive one-off entry to the Pro-Am class, with its #540 Porsche 911 GT3 R including 2003 winner Marc Lieb and team owner Tim Pappas. The American squad will make its first racing appearance at Spa as part of a full-season assault on the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
Sun Energy 1 Team HTP Motorsport will also travel to the Belgian Ardennes as part of its Intercontinental GT Challenge programme. Fielding a Mercedes-AMG GT3, Kenny Habul and Marcel Konrad will compete as the team’s Am drivers, while Pro representation comes from Thomas Jäger and two-time Spa 24 Hours winner Bernd Schneider.
Brussels Racing will add local flavour to the Pro-Am class, with its #100 Aston Martin V12 Vantage being piloted by an all-Belgian crew. Tim Verbergt will return to the 24 Hours for the first time since 2012 as the team’s Gold-graded driver.
The remaining seven Pro-Am entries are competing full-time in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup this season, and all have added additional driving strength for the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Reigning class winner Black Falcon calls upon Adam Christodoulou to join its #5 Mercedes-AMG, while Strakka Racing adds David Fumanelli to the similar #42 machine. Ram Racing will also run Mercedes-AMG equipment – making the German marque the best-represented in Pro-Am – and adds highly-rated single-seater ace Felix Rosenqvist to its driving talent.
Team Parker Racing will field Andy Meyrick as an additional Gold-rated driver in its Bentley Continental GT3, where he will link up with fellow Welshman Seb Morris.
The remaining Pro-Am entries will all field Ferrari 488 GT3s. Two of these come from the AF Corse stable, with long-time teammates Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin anchoring the #51 machine, while Niek Hommerson and Louis Machiels do likewise in the #53 entry.
Finally, Rinaldi Racing will run its 488 GT3 for regular drivers Alexander Mattschull and Rinat Salikhov, who are joined for the 24 Hours by Daniel Keilwitz and 2017 Am Cup winner David Perel.
FAVOURITES ADD QUALITY IN BATTLE FOR AM CUP HONOURS
11 cars will dispute the Am Cup category at this year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa. Each will run a four-driver crew, taking advantage of the opportunity to add a Silver-graded competitor for the biggest race of the season.
The Garage 59 trio of Alexander West, Chris Harris and Chris Goodwin have scored two Am Cup victories this term. In an effort to secure the biggest win of all they will be joined at the 24 Hours by Andrew Watson, who moves across from the British squad’s Pro entry.
AKKA ASP Team has adopted a similar tactic with Nicolas Jamin. The French ace has competed in various classes for the AKKA squad this season, even scoring an outright pole position at Misano, and represents an impressive teammate for the race-winning crew of Eric Debard, Philippe Giauque and Fabien Barthez.
These two squads may be the pre-race favourites, but Spa cares little for reputations and several of their competitors will also have designs on the winners’ trophy.
The #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS is an intriguing addition to the field, having switched to the Am Cup class for Spa with a line-up that includes young guns Nyls Stievenart and Simon Gachet.
Barwell Motorsports adds Finnish rising star Patrick Kujala to its crew of Leo Matchiski, Adrian Amstutz and Richard Abra. The British outfit will be one of four squads fielding a Lamborghini Huracan GT3, with Target Racing, Antonelli Motorsport and Attempto Racing also putting their faith in the Italian machine.
Fellow Italian brand Ferrari will be represented by two Am Cup squads: Rinaldi Racing will field its #488 machine, while Blancpain GT Series Asia entrant T2 Motorsport will also be present in the Belgian Ardennes.
Finally, Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup regular Walkenhorst Motorsport will fly the flag for BMW, while fellow German outfit Herberth Motorsport will do likewise for Porsche.
SILVER CUP ADDS FURTHER EXCITEMENT TO TOTAL 24 HOURS OF SPA
The Silver Cup category will be part of the Total 24 Hours of Spa for the first time this year and features nine cars representing six different brands. Eight of these are full-season Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup entrants who will be looking to put the mileage they have already accumulated during 2018 to good use.
The #6 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 crew of Hubert Haupt, Gabriele Piana and Abdulaziz Al Faisal currently lead the Endurance Cup standings and must therefore be considered strong contenders at Spa, where they will be joined by Manuel Metzger.
But their competition will have other ideas. The #54 Emil Frey G3 Jaguar has shown impressive pace in 2018 and the young crew of Alex Fontana, Adrian Zaugg and Mikael Grenier will be keen to give the car a fitting send-off in its final appearance at the 24 Hours.
AKKA ASP Team will also be vying for class honours with its #90 Mercedes-AMG GT3. The regular Endurance Cup trio of Jack Manchester, Nico Bastian and Jules Szymkowiak will be reinforced by Fabian Schiller at Spa, forming an impressive crew for the French squad.
Lamborghini will be the best-represented brand in the Silver Cup, with Ombra Racing, Barwell Motorsport and Daiko Lazarus Racing all fielding the Huracan GT3. Among them, the Barwell squad has already shown race-winning pedigree at Circuit Paul Ricard in 2018 and will fancy its chances in the long-haul Spa contest.
Sean Walkinshaw joins the regular trio at Nissan outfit GT Sport Motul Team RJN, while Ross Gunn is the fourth man at Oman Racing with TF Sport aboard its Aston Martin V12 Vantage. The Silver Cup field is completed by one-off entrant Aust Motorsport, which will field an Audi R8 LMS. Among the driver line-up will be Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup regular Loris Hezemans, whose farther Toni and elder brother Mike are both past winners of the 24 Hours of Spa.
Four cars are set to contest the Groupe National category, which is open to single-make Cup machinery and always attracts interest from Belgian competitors wishing to participate in their country's biggest endurance race.
Last year’s class winner was the Speedlover outfit, which lived up to its Belgian heritage with a livery consisting entirely of Smurfs. With that in mind, the final 2018 colour-scheme for its #70 Porsche 991 Cup machine is eagerly awaited.
Speedlover will be challenged by Mühlner Motorsport, which will field a pair of 991 Cup cars for a currently unconfirmed group of drivers. Finally, the GDL Motorsport squad will deploy a Lamborghini Super Trofeo machine for a crew that includes local racer Sarah Bovy, who will be the sole female driver contesting this year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa.
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.