It came down to the final 40 minutes of the Spa 24 Hours to decide the overall winner.
BMW had led since the opening hours of the race when the no.2 AF Corse Vitaphone Ferrari encountered problems after dominating from pole at the start of the race, haring into a lead and the two Schnitzer Motorsport M3 battled with the Audi R8 LMS of Phoenix Racing, leading the GT3 class at the time.
Charly Lamm's team could have been forgiven planning the post race celebrations when the no.79 car span off at Les Fagnes. “I was driving already in the safe mode, not taking the kerbs, cruising around doing pretty slow lap times, and then suddenly I had to leave the track because something on the car broke,” said Dirk Werner, in the driving seat at the time. “I made it back to the pits and the guys repaired it pretty quickly, I would say.”
“We had a very good race, a lot of times we managed to get a big gap between us and our competitors. The yellows didn't play into our hands, so the field bunched up again, so we would have had a bigger gap when the drama came up. But even in the difficult conditions, when it started to rain and we stayed out on slicks, it was really running very well compared to the other cars on rain tyres we were still very competitive. It's very disappointing of course.”
The late, late delay meant Werner and teammates Dirk Adorf and Dirk Muller fell to third overall, though they kept the lead in the GTN class from the second BMW.
Instead of a BMW taking the win it was left to Porsche to take the plaudits, finishing one-two overall and in GT2 and The GT3 class win with Muhlner Motorsport
The overall win went to BMS Scuderia Italia, the squad a relative newcomer to the Stuttgart marque's stable of team. Drivers Romain Dumas, Martin Ragginger, Wolf Henzler and Jorg Bergmeister showing Porsche influence in the team as well as endurance racing experience, Dumas adding another Spa crown to Nurburging titles and an overall win in the Le Mans 24 Hours earlier this year.
“At the end we weren't expecting that the BMW was going to have such a problem,” admitted the Frenchman. “We took the victory, for sure [but] it's not been an easy week. We saw with the GT2 that the Porsche was not as quick as expected. Compare this Ferrari and the GT3 was also quick, and the GTN class.”
“When Porsche asked me if I wanted to drive in this race, I said yes because this year is not GT1 and we can win overall. After qualifying, we weren't so sure that we would be able to win. With such a line-up and a good team, we were able to be quickly in the top five. We were a bit lucky, and we won the 24hr.”
IMSA Performance Matmut finished second overall, completing 541 laps, the same total as the leader, the margin of victory measured at 1:16. Again Porsche works drivers were among a startling driving line-up – Patrick Long, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet sharing the no.16 car with team owner Raymond Narac.
Third place in the GT2 class, the race deciding the GT2 European Cup, was the no.1 Ferrari which included NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip and Robert Kauffman (a partner in Waltrip's NASCAR Sprint Cup team) beside Italians Nicola Cadei and Marco Cioci.
“I'm supposed to be in Pocono where there are only 3 turns, y'all got like 20,” quipped Waltrip, twice a Daytona 500 winner in America. “So I spent most of my time trying to orientate myself with what to expect. But I did learn something very valuable, and that's when it rains, you're supposed to stay off line, and I've spent most of my career offline, so I was very comfortable in the rain.”
Behind Muhlner Motorsports in GT3 Belgian team Marc VDS finished second with FIA GT1 regulars Bas Leinders and Maxime Martin among the drivers. United Autosports finished third and fourth in class in their maiden endurance event.
The well fancied Phoenix Racing Audis, which had dominated GT3 in practice and qualifying suffered a litany of problems with their two cars, eventually finishing 27th and 29th, reliability issues limiting the leading no.51 car to just 325 laps, compared to the class winning 518.
The final class – GT4 – proved to be a race of attrition with nearly every car in the class suffering early problems of varying levels of seriousness. The Jota Sport Aston Martin Vantage claimed class honours and a commendable 22nd overall for drivers Simon Dolan, Sam Hancock, Roger Wills and Joe Twyman, though they too had problems.
“Early on that we had a lot of stops but none of them were mechanical, they were all electrical failures,” admitted Hancock. “The guys worked tirelessly to get us out again, we had about 30 pit stops and they've been up all night. So that was what made the difference – a real team achievement.”