SUMMARY: Strong pace from Marc VDS and a delay in the pits for WRT saw the momentum swing further in the direction of the BMW team, before a hearbreaking retirement for #45 car. Fortunately for the team the #46 was looking equally strong with just five hours to go.
At 9:30am, the sun was fully up around the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. At the front of the field, the Marc VDS BMW with Farfus at the wheel was increasing the gap to Frank Stippler’s #2 WRT Audi (below) in second, it was now up to 27 seconds. VDS’ other car, the #46, was third.
Fourth was the former race-leading #99 ROWE Mercedes crew, on the back foot after two long pitstops during the night but taking some solace in the fact that they led the Blancpain Endurance Series Pro Cup driver’s standings after the 12th-hour points were doled out. They were trading position with the #46 Marc VDS BMW when stopping in similar fashion to the first and second-place cars.
Fifth at this point (but two laps down) was the #5 Phoenix Audi, in the hands of Christopher Mies, having mounted one of the recovery drives of the race. The car was left outside the top 10 by the early safety-car confusion but consistent quick lapping meant not even a stop-and-go penalty for a pit infringement could dent its progress this far.
Next up was the long-time Pro-Am leader, the #47 AF Corse Ferrari (above) driven by Stephane Lemeret. A further lap behind in seventh was the other Phoenix car, the Audi LMP1-crewed #6. Fassler had had a huge moment through Radillon, spinning 360 degrees and working the bonnet loose, which led to an extended stop to stick it back down. Then it was another Pro-Am Ferrari, the championship-leading #51 AF Corse, with Spa 24 guest driver Davide Rigon at the controls.
A slight delay with the right-rear wheel change during a stop for the #2 Audi this hour gave some more breathing space to the leading BMW, with the gap now expanding to more than a lap at times in the cycle. Meanwhile, running just outside the top 10, Zanardi was handed a drive-through penalty for exceeding track limits in the #9 ROAL BMW.
Driver changes around the top of the 19th hour saw Bastian back aboard the ROWE Mercedes and Thiim taking the #5 Audi over from Mies. Elsewhere, Zaugg pulled the long-suffering #63 Lamborghini to the side of the track with smoke pouring from the engine bay, its race looking to be now run.
Looking further down the field, the Ecurie Ecosse BMW (pictured above earlier in the rain) was once again in a Pro-Am podium position and the Team Parker Audi continued its dominant run in the Am Cup class, with MacLeod now at the wheel.
Second and third in the division were the #56 Attempto Porsche and #111 Kessel Ferrari. The usually unreliable Emil Frey Jaguar was also still running, just inside the top 30. 15 minutes into the hour, Lotterer in the #6 joined the drive-through penalty club having also been judged to have exceeded the track limits.
Then, the narrative of the race changed dramatically when the #45 BMW’s rear wheels locked going into Bruxelles, seemingly either a diff or brake problem, but later confirmed by team boss Bas Leinders to have been power steering failure followed by the engine seizing.
The car stopped on the outside of the corner and refused to get going again under its own steam, being pushed aside by marshals. Elsewhere, the #46 was coming under increasing pressure for second from a charging Bastian in the #99 Mercedes.
Catsburg (above) responded, however, and had soon left the Merc behind before passing the #2 Audi for the lead on lap 405 into La Source. A little later, at Pif-Paf, the #23 Nissan came to a halt with Wolfgang Reip at the wheel, looking like another mechanical retirement after the car got back into the top 20. In the pits, Alex Buncombe indicated it was fuel-pressure problem. Nissan’s misery was then compounded by a drive-through for the #22 Pro-Am entry.
As the 19th hour wound down, Catsburg continued to exhibit prodigious pace, taking the gap at the front of field to more than 20 seconds. With both the #46 and the #2 Audi having five stops to make, there was still every chance of victory for Marc VDS.