The 2013 Total 24 Hours of Spa will gather together some of the top teams and drivers from GT racing, making up the 60+, all GT3-spec, grid for this weekend’s race.
Since 2011 the race has been part of the Blancpain Endurance Series (BES), the change pushing the success story that is the GT3 specification of cars to the front of a race that has – through its history – been won by GT1, GTS and all manner of Touring car machinery. The 2013 will mark the first time the entire field has been made up of GT3 cars, with the all-Porsche Cup class of 2012 eliminated from the event.
Instead of differing specification of car the field for the race is divided up on the same lines as the rest of the BES season, which began at Monza in April and has since raced at Silverstone and Paul Ricard. Thus the Pro Cup forms the premier class, with three driver teams likely to dominate the battle for the overall lead. The largest class by number is the Pro-Am Cup, where teams of up to four drivers combine ‘gentleman’ drivers with pro teammates. The final class is turned over to the ‘gentlemen’ racers – some of which are by no means slow.
Such is the quality and depth in the field that even the strongest Pro-Am teams will be unlikely to venture too far into the top ten if at all.
Of course, with hauls of points on offer at three points during the race – after six, 12 and 24 hours – many of the BES regulars are likely to take centre stage. On home soil Belgian teams Marc VDS Racing and Belgian Audi Club WRT both increase their involvement, the teams fielding three and four cars respectively chasing points in the teams’ championship, chasing down the Kessel Racing Ferrari of Davide Rigon, Daniele Zampieri and Cesar Ramos that holds a slender lead in the championship.
However, the BES regulars will have to race around teams and drivers making a one-off visit to the championship. In the Pro Cup the incomers come no bigger than a Porsche works entry in all but name, with Manthey Racing fielding a car for Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet.
The three Porsche works brought together are an eye-catching combination but are by no means the only works drivers to be found on the entry list.
The aforementioned Belgian teams both boast works drivers among their line-ups. WRT’s Audi R8 LMS ultras will be driven by teams that include Oliver Jarvis, Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Matthias Ekstrom taken from around Audi’s racing commitments alongside R8 and endurance specialists like Christopher Haase, Frank Stippler and Rene Rast, the latter two trying to follow up their 2012 win, though in different cars. In the lead of their BMW Z4 Marc VDS Racing have works man Maxime Martin alongside regular co-driver Bas Leinders and Yelmer Buurman in one of the teams expected to challenge for the race win.
As part of his role as a works driver of McLaren Alavro Parente races for the Hexis Racing team, the French squad almost certainly the team with the best chance of delivering a win for the MP4-12C GT3.
As their centenary year continues Aston Martin will have a number of works assisted vantage GT3 on the grid run by GPR AMR. In the lone Pro Cup works driver Darren Turner and Jamie Campbell–Walter are slated to join Bertrand Baguette, another driver on home soil in the depths of the Belgian Ardennes.
While elsewhere Stuart Hall, Peter Dumbreck, Bruno Senna and Rob Bell – all part of Aston’s WEC teams – are racing for other manufacturers Stefan Mucke is drafted into complete the Beechdean team in the Pro-Am class. Mucke joins what has been a regular threesome in the BES this season in the car, Daniel McKenzie and Avon Tyres British GT Championship pairing Jonny Adam and Andrew Howard.
Unsurprisingly drivers and teams from the UK series – another riding high on the success of the GT3 regulations – will race at Spa-Francorchamps before the summer break in the UK ends a fortnight after the race.
First year GT team Fortec Motorsports are part of the Pro class with the interesting (maybe even dark horse) team of Oli Webb, Alex Brundle and Karl Wendlinger sharing the Daventry team’s Mercedes SLS.
Despite having traded the SLS for a McLaren for the British series the Jones family keep one of the gullwinged racers for European competition. Twins Godfrey and David combine with Morgan Jones – representing the next generation of Jones (which also includes a set of twins) in the Preci–Spark entered car in the Gentlemens Cup class of the race. That class also includes Snetterton British GT winner Ahmad Al Harthy, who won the class with Miro Konopka at the Silverstone round of the BES in May.
United Autosports bring their Audi R8 LMS ultra to Spa, though its 2013 British GT driver Matt Bell is reunited with his 2012 teammates Charlie Bateman in a JRM run Nissan GT-R that will also be driven by outgoing British GT4 champion Jody Fannin.
The Pro-Am class they will contest includes other familiar names to British GT racing fans. As well as the Beechdean team Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin will share an AF Corse Ferrari with Alex Mortimer and Toni Vilander. Jann Mardenborough and Alex Buncombe, who came so painfully close to the 2012 British championship in that championship’s breath-taking finale are split in a two car team for Nissan GT Academy Team RJN. Alex drives alongside brother Chris with GT Academy a pair of the newest GT Academy graduates while Mardenborough – 2011 alumnus of the program, completes an all-gamer line-up with Lucas Ordonez, Wolfgang Reip and Peter Pyzera.
Elsewhere drivers include former F1 racer Olivier Panis, DTM legend Bernd Schneider and BTCC driver Will Bratt, swapping his Audi A4 touring car for United Autosports’ R8 for the weekend, the trio summing up nicely the drawing power that 24 hours of racing around Spa-Francorchamps and the GT3 rules exert.
After the build-up for the race, which includes a ‘Superpole’ session on Friday evening to set the front portion of the grid the race itself starts at 4:30pm local time on Saturday.
www.theCheckeredFlag.co.uk will have regular updates throughout the entire race.