The first four hours of the 2016 Total 24 Hours of Spa was dominated by an hour long safety car period because of a two-car crash at the top of Raidillon.
As the race ticked over to four hours completed, it was the BMW M6 GT3 of Maxime Martin who ruled the roost over the 63 cars still running.
At the start of the race, Rene Rast in the Audi Sport Team WRT Audi R8 LMS blasted off down the road as Mirko Bortolotti in the GRT Grasser Racing Team decided to hold station in second from Alessandro Pier Guidi’s Ferrari.
They didn’t get much green flag running in as the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 ended up in the gravel at turn 13 with Marco Seefried potentially having contact with another entry, giving him a rear-left puncture.
It took 10 minutes under full course yellow to recover the car back to the track and as the circuit went green again, Rast had a nightmare of a time and couldn’t get the speed limiter flicked off on the run down from La Source. The end result was demotion to third as Bortolotti and Pier Guidi both sailed past through Eau Rouge and up to Raidillon.
Also having a tough time was Kevin Estre in the #77 Attempto Racing Porsche 911 GT3R who kept running wide at the exit of Stavelot and was given two drive-through penalties in the space of 40 minutes.
Estre’s race got worse not long after that second drive-through, coming out the pits he didn’t give way to the #53 AF Corse Ferrari of Motoaki Ishikawa and the two tangled with the Porsche spearing off in one direction and the Ferrari going off in the other. Both hit the barriers pretty hard but thankfully both men got out unscathed.
However, due to the size of the hit, the barriers needed some pretty substantial repair work doing to them and circuit staff had to do a lot of work to make sure they were safe for racing action again. That unfortunately took an hour to complete meaning the race should really be called the 23 Hours of Spa.
When the Audi safety car came back in, last year’s winner Nick Catsburg was leading in the #98 ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3 with Maxime Soulet’s Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 breathing down his neck.
However, as the third hour changed to the fourth, the car really on a charge was Jonathan Hirschi in the Emil Frey Racing Jaguar XKR who made the best use of an alternative pit strategy to find himself in the lead of the race fighting off the advances of Andy Soucek, who had taken over the #8 Bentley from Soulet. Even a brief rain shower couldn’t distract Hirschi as he led for a ten minute stint before handing the car over to former Formula One driver Christian Klien.
Late stops at the end of this four hour block saw the yet-to-stop Maxime Martin in the #99 ROWE Racing BMW lead the race with the second placed #7 Bentley of Vincent Abril leading closely behind. The first of those who had made four stops was Nico Muller in the pole-sitting Team WRT Audi.
In Pro-Am Cup, the Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 was competing closely with Jonny Adam in the Oman Racing Team Aston Martin, but the leader for most of the opening stint was the Michael Broniszewski anchored Kessel Racing Ferrari with Andrea Rizzoli behind the wheel of that car.
Finally the Am Cup, and Derek Pierce’s Team Parker Racing Bentley led the class as the clock ticked over to just 20 hours remaining.