This weekend sees the GT World Challenge Europe head to Spa Francorchamps for the Total Spa 24 hours. A grid of 56 cars heads to the historic circuit once again to take on this gruelling challenge.
Following on from the conclusion of the Sprint Cup series two weeks ago, all the attention now diverts to the Endurance and Overall championships which are still yet to be decided. The marquee GT3 event of the racing season has a new place on the calendar this season due to the postponement announced earlier this year. The autumn back drop is likely to give impressive visuals for the fans tuning in for what promises to be a fantastic event.
Out of the impressive grid size, 28 of them are full pro-crews. All of which will be battling around the Ardennes forest with the help of their full strength squads. No one here would be considered an outsider as every car has the top talent to produce victory at the end of the race.
GPX Racing took victory last year for the Porsche group, but the German manufacturer has only increased it’s commitment to the race. Eight full-pro crews have been put forward to give the brand the best chance at a repeat of last years success. Last year’s winning group of Kevin Estre, Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen, move to KCMG. Experience alone makes them the favourites among Porsche’s representative, but it won’t be the only place that the challenge will come from. Dinamic Motorsport scored a dominant victory in last month’s Endurance Cup race at the Nürburgring, while the #98 ROWE Racing crew of Nick Tandy, Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber also looks set to be a factor. Add a second car for ROWE, two very strong crews from GPX and a one-off entry by Frikadelli Racing and the you can see just how stacked the challenge is from Porsche this year.
Although Porsche come in as previous winners of this event, Audi are the form manufacturer this year after strong showings in most of the GT World Challenge races this year culminating in the Sprint Cup title with the #32 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT squad. This year Audi bring four factory-supported cars contending for overall victory. Audi Sport Team WRT have had to do a few last minute changes but the drivers that are in both cars are still strong contenders. In the #30 car Dennis Marschall joins Ferdinand Habsburg and Matthieu Vaxivière whilst in the #31 machine, Dries Vanthoor will be running with Christopher Mies and Kelvin van der Linde.
Audi Sport Team Sainteloc will have a pair of past winners in Markus Winkelhock and Christopher Haase partnered by DTM championship contender Nico Müller. Audi Sport Team Attempto will field Frederick Vervisch, Mattia Drudi and Patric Niederhauser. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT provides an extra top-tier car for Sprint Cup champion Charles Weerts, 2012 race winner Frank Stippler and Audi returnee Edoardo Mortara.
With Mercedes-AMG celebrating the 10th anniversary of its customer racing programme this year, the German brand brings two strong factory-backed cars hunting its first win since 2013. The #4 Mercedes-AMG Team HRT crew retains the established pairing of Maro Engel and Luca Stolz with Vince Abril alongside them. Team AKKA ASP also comes to the race with a potential race winning lineup. Raffaele Marciello, Felipe Fraga and Timur Boguslavskiy have shown well at Imola and the Nürburgring and will want to take it all the way this weekend.
Ferrari comes to Spa with their last win being in 2004, which for a manufacturer that has a lot of history, is not really good enough for their high standards. The #51 AF Corse crew will hope to right this statistic. 2017 poleman James Calado is paired with two-time Pro-Am class winner Alessandro Pier Guidi with rising star Nicklas Nielsen joining them. Sergey Sirotkin will tackle the event for the first time in the #72 SMP Racing machine. The Russian has shown impressive speed this year and in Miguel Molina and Davide Rigon he boasts two of the best teammates to drive a Ferrari GT car. There’s one additional Ferrari thanks to HubAuto, which has assembled an exciting line-up of Kamui Kobayashi, Marcos Gomes, and 2018 race winner Tom Blomqvist.
Given past successes in the series and elsewhere, Lamborghini have one particular achievement they have yet to obtain: A win at Spa. The #63 Orange1 FFF Racing crew has not enjoyed an easy start to its Endurance Cup defence and will be relying on a stellar run in the Ardennes to reignite its hopes. The #163 Emil Frey Racing line-up could also be a factor. Franck Perera is vastly experienced, while Albert Costa and Giacomo Altoe have shown excellent form in the Sprint Cup winning at the last two events. The same is true of the sister #14 crew, and if they can add consistency to their speed the Swiss squad will be very competitive.
Bentley is the only non-German brand to score an overall podium during the 24 hour’s GT3 era and remains committed to taking victory to add to the one they got at Bathurst this year. American outfit K-PAX Racing will field two cars, Maxime Soulet, Jordan Pepper and 2017 winner Jules Gounon will drive the #3 Continental. The sister #9 car also looks to be in with a good chance as the vastly experienced Andy Soucek and Alvaro Parente will be joined by Rodrigo Baptista. French squad CMR will add a third Bentley to the grid. The #107 Continental is a potential dark horse, with factory ace Seb Morris joined by long-time sportscar racer Nelson Panciatici and young charger Pierre-Alexandre Jean.
BMW are always a brand you can never count out when it comes to the Spa 24. The brand holds a record 24 overall wins, and while it has just two full-pro cars this term both are contenders for the top of the podium. Walkenhorst Motorsport come into this race after taking a one-two finish at the recent Indianapolis 8 Hour. Two of the Indy winners, Nicky Catsburg and Augusto Farfus, are joined by double Spa winner Philipp Eng. Martin Tomczyk, Nick Yelloly and David Pittard share the sister #35 M6 GT3.
McLaren returns to Spa with its 720S and a new team, Optimum Motorsport. The familiar presence of Rob Bell, who first raced a McLaren at the 24 Hours in 2011 will be a key cog in the machine when driving alongside fellow factory pilot Joe Osborne and development driver Ollie Wilkinson.
Honda will only have one full-pro representative at Spa, with the #29 Team Honda Racing entry competing as part of its full-season Intercontinental GT Challenge programme. Fielding one car means there’s no room for error, but this is a highly capable crew. Renger van der Zande and Mario Farnbacher were part of the line-up that finished sixth last year, a fine debut result for the NSX GT3 Evo. They’re joined by multiple American sportscar champion Dane Cameron, and the trio are fresh from a podium at the Indianapolis 8 Hour.
This year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa gets underway at 15.30 (local time) on Saturday 24 October, considerably later in the year then we are used to. The race will also feature a great deal more night running than previous editions, adding to the challenge faced by competitors. Indeed, whoever emerges on top in 2020 will have thoroughly earned their victory.