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Spa 24 Hours: Hours 9-10 (00.30-02.30) Safety Cars Keep Lead Battle Close

Several more retirements confirmed

The best battle on the track as the ninth hour began was between Maxime Soulet in the #8 Bentley trying to get past the #25 Sainteloc Audi, driven by Jules Gounon for sixth place. Max was able to get by and then quickly set about passing the #85 HTP Mercedes of Dominik Baumann. This put Soulet in fifth, some four seconds behind the #55 Ferrari.

What had been an Audi 1-2-3 two hours previously had become Mercedes, Lamborghini, Audi, Ferrari and Bentley in the top five places. But with the Mercedes and Ferrari both on used tyres following the previous round of stops, all eyes were on the lap times, looking for evidence of tyre degradation.

There was a longer stop for the #35 Pro-Am Walkenhorst BMW, which had sustained damage to the front left. The car was pushed back into its garage for repairs, but had already fallen two laps off the leader.

At 1am, it was still warm, around 19C, and very muggy. Lap times were still consistently in the 2m 22s to 2m 23s bracket, with Vervisch now in the WRT Audi #2 and Calado in the Kaspersky Ferrari #55 slowly closing the gap on the Lamborghini, which in turn was closing on the Mercedes ahead.

Before Bortolotti could make the pass on the track, though, Marciello brought the leading #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes in for its stop, after only 51 minutes, though, the tyres not allowing Raffaele to go any further. In on the same lap was Maxime Soulet in the #8 Bentley, to hand over to Vincent Abril after a full 65 minutes (having had the benefit of new tyres at the previous stop).

This left Vervisch circulating on the tail of the Grasser Lamborghini, with Calado less than five seconds behind. Bortolotti was in the pits, though, five minutes short of his 65-minute limit, which gave the lead to the WRT #2 Audi again.

Vervisch’s pit stop, one lap later, was faultless as ever, the Belgian being fed a banana through the window before being sent on his way. One lap later still, James Calado, having taken the lead with the Ferrari was in for his stop, having completed 36 laps on his tyres.

The cycle of stops put the #2 WRT car back into the lead of the race, seven seconds ahead of the #63 Grasser Lamborghini, which Caldarelli had taken over. Michael Meadows had taken over the #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes, but had a fired-up James Calado snapping on his heels, and Vincent Abril in the #8 Bentley not far behind either in fifth place.

At 01:46am, the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes crashed into the barriers on the left side of the track at the beginning of the Blanchimont section (T16), in avoidance of a slower car which brought out the safety car after a brief full-course yellow.

During the neutralisation, the #2 and #1 WRT Audis took the opportunity to stop for fuel and tyres, but the #55 Ferrari and the #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes both (once again) did fuel-only stops, which meant they were both ahead of the two Audis.

The interruption was brief, only about 10 minutes, but two laps later, the track was back to FCY due to the #15 Black Falcon Mercedes stopping at T9 (‘Speaker’s Corner’). Once again this was a mere precursor to a safety car period – the seventh such, and the tenth neutralisation.

The signal for racing to resume was given at 02:08am and the top 10 cars were not only all on the same lap, but within half-a-minute of each other. In 11th place overall and back on the lead lap despite a three-minute stop-go penalty served earlier in the race, was the #117 Team75 Bernhard Porsche, the highest-placed representative from that marque.

Unfortunate timing meant that the two best-placed Bentleys weren’t able to take advantage of the yellow periods to make their pit stops and both came in just after the circuit went green. Abril stayed at the wheel of the #8 car, Pepper at that of the #9 yellow Abt car.

Staying out through all the fun and games with FCYs and SCs, though, was Andrea Caldarelli driving the race-leading Lamborghini #63; a decision that meant it had to pit some six laps later (at 2:22am). Caldarelli single-stinted this time, handing the car to Engelhart.

That left Calado in the #55 Ferrari two seconds clear of the two WRT Audis (Vervisch nearly six seconds ahead of Muller), but running on used tyres, unlike the Audis.