It was largely as you were as we entered the final three hours of the 2015 Spa 24 Hours: #46 Marc VDS BMW of Palttala leading the #2 WRT Audi of Stippler by the best part of a lap, with the #99 ROWE Mercedes of Stef Dusseldorp holding station on the same lap in third, ready to pounce if trouble hit either of the first or second-place cars.
A further lap down was the #5 Phoenix Audi of Christian Mamerow, which, in common with its #6 sister car in sixth, had battled both poor luck under the early safety cars and subsequent penalties. Splitting them was the Pro-Am-leading #47 Ferrari, now back in the hands of its star ‘guest driver’ Gianmaria Bruni.
McLaren’s early race-leading form seemed but a distant memory when the #58 650S came to a halt, stranding driver Rob Bell trackside until the team despatched a scooter to retrieve him. Elsehwere, Timo Glock looked to have been off track in the #9 BMW when he came in for a routine stop with a lot of grass and muck visible on the body.
Meanwhile, the #1 car’s long recovery drive saw Markus Winkelhock sitting ninth, eight laps off the leader, with an hour and three-quarters of the race remaining. Ahead of him, in seventh and eight, were the two potential Pro Am podium finishers: the #51 AF Corse Ferrari (Matt Griffin driving) and the #79 Ecurie Ecosse BMW (Sims at the wheel). Johnny Cocker rounded out the top 10 in the other Barwell-run BMW, the #78 Team Russia machine.
Winkelhock’s work was brought to a temporary halt by a track-limits penalty shortly afterwards, and around the same time (90 minutes to go) the #2 Audi made its penultimate scheduled pit stop. Also taking a late-race penalty was the #6 Audi (not its first); this time for exceeding the maximum driver stint time.
Like Pro and Pro-Am, the Am Cup order was fairly settled at this point. Ian Loggie was now at the wheel of the #24 Team Parker Racing Audi that had long held the lead of the class
With only a little over an hour remaining, news came through of perhaps the cruelest retirement of the race, the #9 ROAL BMW of Zanardi, Spengler and Glock. With Glock at the wheel, it pulled to the side of track pouring smoke from the bonnet and sounding rough.