The 69th running of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, highlight of the Blancpain GT Series and Intercontinental GT Challenge, promises to be a wide open race, with several dozens of drivers having a shot at adding their names to the prestigious trophy.
One look at the current team standings of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup, of which the Total 24 Hours of Spa is the fourth round, makes it clear that 2017 is one of the closest seasons since the series began. After three rounds, three different teams - Team M-Sport, Grasser Racing Team and SMP Racing – representing three different manufacturers – Bentley, Lamborghini and Ferrari – are only separated by five points. It’s the best proof that the 2017 races of the greatest GT championship on the motorsports planet are among the most closely-fought of recent years. That will almost certainly also be the case for the upcoming Total 24 Hours of Spa.
A look at the 64-car-strong entry list shows that no fewer than 37 cars have a full-Pro line-up. Almost all of those 37 cars – for the first time representing ten different manufacturers – could have a shot at winning the Belgian endurance classic. That means that nearly one hundred drivers could climb onto the highest step on the podium come Sunday afternoon.
Some of them already have their names engraved in one of the most prestigious trophies in GT racing. No fewer than seventeen former winners of the Total 24 Hours of Spa are at the grid this year, shared between fifteen different cars! Only last year’s winners, the #99 ROWE Racing BMW trio of Alexander Sims, Maxime Martin and Philipp Eng, are sharing the same car, but all others are on different machines.
Among the teams competing for the overall honours, Audi have the majority of former winners in their ranks, with René Rast, Marcel Fässler (both Audi Sport Team WRT), Marcus Winkelhock (Audi Sport Team Saintéloc) and Frank Stippler (Audi Sport Team ISR). BMW also has four: last year’s winning trio and Nick Catsburg on the second car of ROWE Racing.
Several other manufacturers have one former winner among their drivers. Emil Frey Jaguar Racing has Stéphane Ortelli, Lamborghini has Andrea Piccini (Ombra Racing), Mercedes-AMG has reigning Blancpain GT Series champion Maxi Buhk (Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport) and Porsche has local hero Laurens Vanthoor in the full-Pro line-up of the #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard 911.
For the German manufacturer this is the first full-Pro car in the Total 24 Hours of Spa since the race has been part of the Blancpain GT Series. With Vanthoor – former Spa winner, former Blancpain GT Series champion and reigning Intercontinental GT Challenge champion – Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen at the wheel of the #117 Porsche, they immediately join the list of favourites.
Obviously, there are more candidates for the win in the Total 24 Hours of Spa than those drivers that have already won it. Last year’s edition was dominated by Bentley Team M-Sport, but due to a hectic final hour the British squad suffered a bitter defeat. They are eager for revenge and their win in the Circuit Paul 1000 km shows they are at the top of their form.
Keep an eye out on the #63 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini as well, for although Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart and Andrea Caldarelli lost the championship lead at Circuit Paul Ricard, their wins at Monza and Silverstone showed they are very competitive this year.
The reigning Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup champions are aiming for a good result as well. Although Rob Bell and Côme Ledogar are having a difficult season in the #58 Strakka Racing McLaren, the Total 24 Hours of Spa is such a unique event that all could change during the course of the Belgian race weekend.
Nissan has won in Spa before, with the legendary Skyline in 1991, and with former Blancpain Endurance Series champions Lucas Ordonez, Katsumasa Chiyo and Alex Buncombe sharing the #23 Motul Team RJN Nissan GT-R a repeat of that historic win might well be within the realms of possibility.
And then there is Ferrari. Somebody in the Prancing Horse camp might have noticed that it has been thirteen years since a Ferrari took the overall win in Total 24 Hours of Spa, and that it is about time to get a new victory. Count on the #50 Spirit of Race, the #55 Kaspersky Motorsport and the #72 SMP Racing Ferraris to be among the frontrunners as well.
In short, all ten manufacturers have at least one candidate - most have several - for the win in the Total 24 Hours of Spa and not even a fairground full of fortune tellers could help in predicting the outcome of this year's edition of the Belgian endurance classic.
Pro-Am: three in a row for Barwell Motorsport?
The fight in the Pro-Am Cup will probably be as exciting as that for the overall win. Lamborghini squad Barwell Motorsport has won the two most recent endurance races of the Blancpain GT Series, Silverstone and Circuit Paul Ricard, but thanks to a win in Monza and solid performances in the next two races the Oman Racing Team with TF Sport Aston Martin is leading the Pro-Am Cup standings, a mere eight points ahead of the Barwell Motorsport team. Mercedes-AMG squad AKKA-ASP scored points in every round as well, and is in third, 23 points behind the leaders. In the knowledge that there 50 points on offer during the Total 24 Hours of Spa – 1 for pole position, 12 at the 6- and 12-hours marks and 25 at the finish – this situation might be completely different come Sunday afternoon.
Especially since these three teams will have their hands full with the competition. Five of the nineteen cars entered in the Pro-Am Cup have former overall winners at the wheel: in his 23rd participation double-winner Fred Bouvy drives the #26 Audi of Saintéloc Racing, Markus Palttala shares the #35 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW, Andrea Bertolini shares the #53 Spirit of Race Ferrari with former double Pro-Am Cup champions Louis Machiels and Niek Hommerson, former Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup champion Maxi Götz is at the wheel of the #16 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG and Marc Lieb – one of the few drivers that have won both the Le Mans and Spa 24 Hours – is in the #911 Herberth Motorsport Porsche. In 2003 Lieb won the Total 24 Hours of Spa with a GT2 Porsche, when GT1 was the lead category. Could a Pro-Am car claim a similar upset?
For it will not be a surprise if one of those Pro-Am cars is among the overall frontrunners during the early hours of the race. Keep an eye out on them during Friday evening's Superpole as well.
Am Cup: Ferrari or not?
All three rounds of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup have seen a Ferrari team victorious in the Am Cup: AF Corse won in Monza, Rinaldi Racing in Silverstone and Kessel Racing in Le Castellet. And even though only the latter two are present in the Am Cup in Spa, they still start as the big favourites in their class. The competition – two Lamborghinis, a BMW and a McLaren – will do all they can to beat the Prancing Horses though. In the National Group the outcome will be decided by the duel between the Porsche 911 Cups of RMS and Speedlover.
Nine support races
Before the race start of the Total 24 Hours of Spa on Saturday afternoon (16.30 CEST), the interesting and varied support races will produce their fair share of the entertainment. With the unmistakable sound of the Lamborghini Super Trofeo, the high-level single-seater action of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, the door-to-door action of the Peugeot 308 Racing Cup and the entertaining racing of the Blancpain GT Sports Club, each and every of the nine (!) support races will please the die-hard racing fans.
As you can see, there is plenty to look forward to in the 69th edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa. And you don't have to miss a single moment, for from Qualifying through Superpole to the whole of the 24-hour race, everything will be streamed live on the official website.