It will certainly be a race worth revisiting in years to come. Entering their BMW M6 GT3 in the Pro class for the first time at Spa, Walkenhorst Motorsport won the biggest GT race on the planet and secured a tremendous underdog victory. Even more of a shock was the weather, with the 24 Hours run in warm, dry conditions from start to finish.
There was significant activity off-track as well, from the annual parade and a classic racing car display to news of what fans can look forward to in 2019. Here is the final word on a hectic period in the Ardennes.
SRO SPEEDWEEK BEGINS SPA FESTIVITIES
This year’s 70th edition Total 24 Hours of Spa saw an expanded programme at the Belgian circuit. It began more than a week in advance of the main event with SRO Speedweek, which brought GT and single-seater racing to Spa-Francorchamps on the weekend preceding the 24 Hours.
British GT, GT4 European Series, Blancpain GT Sports Club, VW Racing Cup, Ginetta GT5 & G40 Cup and BRDC British F3 were among the competing series, with fans able to watch absolutely free of charge. A number of drivers – including Nicki Thiim, Maxime Martin and Yelmer Buurman – contested both race weekends.
NON-STOP WEEK OF ACTIVITY
No sooner had SRO Speedweek ended than a busy week of build-up to the Total 24 Hours of Spa began. There was a unique track day at the legendary circuit, several autograph sessions, and an opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the most important cars from the race’s past.
The annual parade into Spa town centre was particularly impressive, drawing huge crowds hoping to catch a glimpse of current and vintage racing machines. Fans of all ages packed the streets, bringing a carnival flavour to the parade, while drivers soaked up the atmosphere at the biggest event of the year.
On Friday a collection of significant cars from the race’s long history went on display at one of Spa’s most iconic locations, the descent towards Eau Rouge, as part of a historic trackwalk. There were several winners among them, including a Peugeot 306 GTi, a Porsche 911, and the Ford Capri III 3.0S that brothers Philippe and Jean-Michel Martin drove to victory in 1979 and 1980. Staged as part of the race's 70th edition celebrations, the display proved to be a success and had the makings of a new Spa tradition.
The off-track entertainment did not stop during the race, with the music concert lighting up the venue during Saturday night and into the early hours of Sunday morning. Headliner Kid Noize took the stage a little after 1am, capping more than seven hours of music with an electric performance.
SAFETY TEAM HONOURED
Following the parade, all 221 drivers contesting the 24 Hours attended a large-scale briefing at Spa’s theatre. As well as the usual information provided by race director Alain Adam, a number of awards were handed out.
Among those honoured were Dr. Christian Wahlen, who heads the circuit’s medical service; Pierre Wahlen and Francy Nijs, who are both members of the extraction team; and Paul Adriaens, who received a trophy on behalf of his fellow track marshals.
The most memorable moment came when Leen Coremans, a member of the circuit’s fire team, was honoured for her actions during last year’s race. Leen made headlines when she dived into a burning car to rescue its driver, Adrian Amstutz, who personally presented her with the award to a standing ovation from the room. On Sunday afternoon, Amstutz was part of the Am Cup-winning crew at the 24 Hours.
STEPHANE RATEL REVEALS FUTURE PLANS
Stephane Ratel’s annual press conference took place on the Friday preceding the 24 Hours and featured news on 2019 and beyond.
The creation of GT2, a new class that will be gradually rolled out over the coming years, attracted considerable attention. Featuring high-powered supercars, GT2 will initially be targeted at amateur drivers and is set to debut in the Blancpain GT Sports Club and British GT Championship during 2019.
Among the calendar announcements, it was confirmed that the Intercontinental GT Challenge will add a fifth event on a fifth continent in 2019 by visiting South African venue Kyalami. The GT4 European Series will expand to seven rounds, with a pair of three-hour endurance races now included, while the new schedules for SRO’s North American categories were formally unveiled.
The date from next year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa was also announced. As has long been the case, the event will take place over the final weekend in July (26-28) at the Belgian venue.
BUSY 24 HOURS FOR PIRELLI
With 63 cars competing in this year’s race, official tyre supplier Pirelli was extraordinarily busy during the Total 24 Hours of Spa. The company arrived at the track with a small army of 120 people, with 15 different nationalities represented among them, while some 12,000 tyres were brought to the Belgian Ardennes. A quick walk through the paddock confirmed the vast scale of their operation, with a non-stop stream of tyres flowing from the Pirelli workshop to the teams.
ASSETTO CORSA RELEASE DATE REVEALED
There was further news during the Spa weekend concerning Assetto Corsa Competizione, the official game of the Blancpain GT Series. Speaking as a guest during Stephane Ratel’s press conference, Marco Massarutto confirmed that an early access version is set to be released on September 12, with the full game becoming available during the first quarter of 2019. A preview version was available to play in the Pirelli Activation Area throughout the weekend, while the top-three finishers from a hot-lap competition were able to celebrate on the Spa podium.
SUPERPOLE A KEY INDICATOR OF SUCCESS
Only two of the top-10 finishers in this year’s race did not reach the Superpole qualifying session, in which the fastest 20 drivers battle for the top grid position. The exceptions were the #23 Nissan, which missed out by just 0.012 seconds and started 21st; and the #76 Aston Martin, which would almost certainly have started among the top-20 but for a problem during qualifying.
IMPRESSIVE COMEBACK FROM #76 ASTON MARTIN CREW
The #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin delivered an impressive comeback performance after a technical problem in qualifying sent the car to the very back of the grid. Starting from 62nd, the crew of Jake Dennis, Nicki Thiim and Matthieu Vaxiviere made fast progress through the field and avoided major incidents to come home ninth. That represented a gain of 53 places from its qualifying position, more than any other car in this year’s race.
BARWELL MOTORSPORT INVOLVED IN LARGEST AND SMALLEST WINNING MARGINS
Among the regular Blancpain GT Series classes, the biggest winning margin at this year’s 24 Hours was achieved by the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini, which took Am Cup honours by a dominant five laps. The smallest was in Silver Cup, where just 2.1 seconds separated the winning Ombra-Lamborghini from the #78 Barwell entry.
NISSAN EMERGES AS BEST NEW CAR
GT Sport Motul Team RJN enjoyed an excellent race with their 2018-spec Nissan, which recorded the highest finish for a new car. The #23 GT-R Nismo GT3 was a top-10 contender for a significant portion of the race and even led for a brief spell.
“We’re delighted,” team principal Bob Neville later told. Sportscar365. “We’d [have] loved to come in sixth. It was possible, but the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes only had to stop once at the end and we had to stop twice.”
CLOSE RACE ENDS WITH FIVE CARS ON LEAD LAP
Five cars finished on the lead lap at this year’s race, one fewer than in 2017 but nevertheless the second-highest number since the Total 24 Hours of Spa became part of the Blancpain GT Series in 2011. Indeed, in 2011 through 2013 just one car finished on the lead lap.
NEW GT3-ERA RECORD ESTABLISHED
Six manufacturers finished among the top-10 at this year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa. This set a new record for the GT3 era and ended a run of eight consecutive years in which five brands were classified among the top-10. The last time that more than six manufacturers scored a top-10 finish was 2009, when seven achieved the feat.
ONWARDS TO THE 71ST EDITION
With another Total 24 Hours of Spa complete, many of those involved with the race will take the opportunity for a hard-earned rest. In doing so, they will have time to reflect on a very successful event.
Both on and off the circuit, the 70th edition combined all of the qualities that make Spa such a unique experience. There was no shortage of recognition for the race’s long and storied past, while exciting developments for the future formed an equally important part of the weekend. Spa’s ability to change with the times has been key to its enduring appeal – as can be seen in the music concert and parade – though it has never lost sight of its origins.
Many will already be considering the lessons they have learnt in 2018 and how these can be taken forward. Success at an event of this magnitude means never, ever letting up. The 71st edition Total 24 Hours of Spa may be almost 12 months away, but the preparations have already begun.