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24H Spa: Pre-Race Paddock Notes

DSC's selection of notes from Spa 24 week

Pre-race BoP change made

Following yesterday’s Super Pole, the SRO has implimented a pre-race BoP change affecting the Audi and Porsche teams. The Audis will run with 15kg extra and the Porsches will race with an additional 5kg.

SRO statement following this morning’s Super Trofeo incident

“This morning, during the Lamborghini Super Trofeo support race ahead of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, a vehicle left the track at marshal post 12. Four marshals and one driver were injured in the incident.

“All were immediately attended by the circuit medical staff. One marshall and the driver have been transferred to hospital for medical checks. However, their injuries are not life-threatening.

“Following a delay of 1 hour and 30 minutes, track activities have now resumed.

“SRO Motorsports Group, RACB and Circuit Spa-Francorchamps would like to thank all of those involved in the medical assistance that followed the incident. Furthermore, we would like to wish a speedy recovery to all of the marshals and the driver involved.”

Photo call

Earlier this week 13 cars (one from each manufacturer in the race) and all 221 drivers gathered for the pre-event photo call, which of course was interuppted by rain!

Parade

The tradional parade into town also took place, on Wednesday, giving the fans a chance to see the cars hit the public roads and get up close to them in the sentre of Spa.

In addition to the GT3 cars competing in this year’s race, a fleet of historic Spa 24 Hours machinery also made the trip to town.

Among them, the legendary BMW 3.0L CSL, nicknamed the Batmobile for its distinctive aero styling, which was victorious at Spa in 1973 and 1976. And the 1979-winning Ford Capri.

Last year of Group N?

After yesterday’s SRO Annual Press Conference, Stefan Ratel mentioned in conversation to select media that he is doubtful of Group N coming back.

This year just two cars are set to run in the category, which is for cup cars, after four were originally put on the entry list.

Historic track walk

Last night after Super Pole the fans trackside were treated to a historic trackwalk, featuring some stunning vintage machinery.

Celebrating the 70th running of the endurance classic an intriguing selection of cars from the race’s history were parked on the pitside descent towards Eau Rouge.

Two race-winning 1970’s Ford Capris, a striking BMW 3.0 CSL were among a selection of ‘60’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s machinery, the least conventional of which was probably the Peugeot 806 that took the start of the 1995 race, complete with its scaffold like roll-cage.
As the sun set over the Spa circuit and the beer started to flow this made an interesting excursion ahead of tomorrow’s main event.

The cars on display:

Volkswagen 1500 S (1965)
NSU 1000 TTS (1967)
Porsche 911 (1967)
Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA (1969)
Mercedes-AMG 300SEL (1971)
Ford Capri RS 2600 (1971)
Mazda RX3 (1972)
Ford Escort RS 1600 (1972)
BMW 3.0 CSL (1973)
Renault 12 Gordini (1973)
Toyota Celica GT (1973)
Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV (1974)
Zastava 101P (1976)
Vauxhall Magnum (1977)
Ford Capri III 3.0S (1980)
Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV6 (1985)
Toyota Corolla (1988)
Peugeot 806 (1995)
Peugeot 306 GTi (1999)

Spotted in the paddock

In addition to the historics here trackside mentioned above, there’s also a couple of other notable cars in the paddock on display.

Outside the Castrol Honda Racing hospitality, is a Honda NSX liveried up as the 1993 Spa 24 Hours challenger sitting next to a 2018 NSX GT3 display car.

Elswhere, an Alpine GT4 and Nissan GT-R50 by Italdesign are present. The Nissan is fresh from an appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, when it ran up the hill with Lucas Ordonez at the wheel.

DSC also came across AMR factory driver Darren Turner, who explained that he hasn’t got a last minute drive, and instead is here this weekend with R-Motorsport working in the background. It’s very odd not seeing him in a race suit at Spa!

Black Falcon’s 320 Changes Direction livery

While there are plenty of stunning liveries on show in this weekend’s Spa 24 field, one in particular stands out, Black Falcon’s #4 Mercedes AMG GT3, which is running a special livery.

The car is carrying the colours of the ‘320 Changes Direction’ initiative (www.changedirection.org), founded by Talinda Bennington to support people with mental health issues.

Bob Neville on the 2018-spec GT-R’s chances for the race

With the RJN Motorsport garage hard at work preparing its two Nissan GT-Rs ahead of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, team principal Bob Neville took a few minutes with DSC to reflect on the team’s prospects going into the pivotal Blancpain Endurance Cup round.

“Though we are really just in the hunt with the #23 car (the 2018-spec GT-R, entered in the Pro class), the #22 being our Silver entry, we know the car has the pace, as we proved at Paul Ricard with its fifth place. If it hadn’t been for an Audi hitting us up the back and turning us round we could have had a podium.

“We will see whether we will have the reliability here with the new car over a 24-hour distance. We only had the official test here recently, so we’ve not had huge experience with it, but we’ve run without any problems. The guys like driving it and all in all it’s shaping up quite nicely. Sure, it was a bit disappointing to not be in the top 20 shoot-out, but the advantage is that we are able to have more time working on the car here in the garage to prepare for the race.

“I would rather go into tomorrow with that extra degree of preparation than to be fighting for maybe 18th or 20th on the grid and risking issues when we are already 21st. Having warm-up this evening also gives the teams some comfort should anything present itself as a problem ahead of the race. So I’m genuinely not too bothered about qualifying at all; it’s all about being ready for the main event.”

The weather

Spa Francorchamps’ Ardennes microclimate is legendary, but with Europe in the grip of a pronounced heat wave, the DSC crew has not previously experienced the prolonged temperatures at the circuit for this week’s Spa 24 Hours meeting.

Notwithstanding the challenge of a badly affected Eurotunnel service, flash flooding from localised storms en route through Belgium and, frankly, sweltering temperatures reaching 37 degrees Celcius during yesterday’s sessions, teams and spectators alike have had much to contend with this week.

Track temperatures being consistently high over the whole of the long 7 km lap, the Pirelli control tyre is somewhat in uncharted territory, the supplier’s technicians gathering performance data ahead of today’s 24 hour event. Officially the tyre could double stint in cooler conditions, but with the mandatory pit stop time teams would be pressed to deliver any potential benefit of doing so.

“If it was cooler it would be better, but the temperature affects tyres, engines, everything… the teams who are well prepared know how to face the conditions and the higher degradation,” explained Circuit Technical Matteo Braga.

Pirelli have stated that the tyres are able to survive but their performance does drop off, the track being what it is affecting their heat cycle to maintain high temperatures.

With an earlier rain shower this morning, a little wind and cooler temperatures the good news may be that the Spa region is returning to its own state of ‘normal’. Thunder storms or, at least, heavy showers are predicted however just before the start of today’s race, the hope being for a clean start without safety car conditions.

#76 Aston, #7 Bentley & #88 AKKA Mercedes good to go

R-Motorsport’s Sam Hignett caught up with DSC and confirmed that the #76 Vantage is good to go for today’s race after it stopped out on track during Qualifying. The car suffered a minor oil leak which the car that caused it to withdraw from Qualifying was caused by contact with another car at the pit entry.

“It’s a shame,” Hignett said. “The car was on for fifth or sixth at the time, and instead it wasn’t even able take part in Super Pole.”

Hignett also commented on just how quick Domnik Baumann (who is in Alex Brundle’s seat this weekend) has got up to speed with both the car and working with the team.

“It’s been really manic for him, as he only did two days of testing here before race week, between IMSA races. He flew here from Watkins Glen, did the test, then flew straight out to Mosport.”

R-Motorsport’s Astons will indeed start at both ends of the field, its #62 set to start P1 (after the stewards decisions this morning which saw the pole-sitting Audi lose its times), while its #76 which didn’t qualify is due to line up 62nd on the grid.

Bentley’s #7 Continental GT3 will also start from the back, after the car failed to start up for the final session of Thursday qualifying, and therefore didn’t set a time.

And the #88 AKKA Mercedes will line up 20th, after the car failed to take part in Super Pole due to a sizable accident in Warm Up moments before. DSC understands that despite the damage sustained to the front-left of the car, it has been rebuilt and will take the start.

R-Motorsport Onboard

SRO has released an on-board video of the #62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin, which you can watch in the build up to the Spa 24 Hours:

“Sebring is darker!” – Serra

2017 GTE Pro Le Mans winner Daniel Serra spoke to DSC ahead of his Spa 24 Hours debut with Belgian outfit WRT. 2017 was quite a ride over the for the Brazillian, going from Dunlop tyre tester to Le Mans winner.

That ‘dream season’ turn opened a lot of doors. He’s not racing with Aston Martin this year (his original placement in the team due to its technical partnership with Dunlop) and instead is still racing in Brazillian Stock Cars, as well as select GT races.

This meeting is not only his first at Spa, but also his first with WRT and driving in an R8. It’s been a lot to take in, but so far he’s loved every minute.

“It’s been great this week with WRT, they are a very professional team, and the car is great to drive. It’s a bit trickier to drive overall than the Ferrari I raced in IMSA, but because the tyres are different it’s hard to compare. So far it looks like the car to have on pace, but you never know here was the other factories have for the race.

“The circuit is also awesome, I’m really enjoying it. I was surprised though, everyone said to me before Night Practice ‘it’s so dark, it’s crazy, pitch black’. But honestly I think Sebring get’s darker! It might be because there are so many cars here though, that the track gets lit by the headlights.”

Serra took part in Super Pole yesterday in the #3 WRT Audi and qualified the car 13th on the grid. It will however, start from 12th after the #1 WRT Audi’s laps were cancelled by the stewards.

Super Pole highlights

Catch up on the best bits from yesterday’s Super Pole session, which decided the top 20 grid spots for the Spa 24, with the official highlights below:

Rules & regs

The rule changes for the Spa 24 Hours over the past two years, have been a real talking point. Some feel rules like minimum pit stop times, have made it fairer, others are of the opinion that it detracts from the show.

Either way, there’s plenty to digest. And if you want to read up on how it all works, the SRO has produced an explainer, which you can find HERE.

How to follow

You can stream the race live, for free using the official SRO GT World YouTube channel. The race is set to get underway at 16:30 local time in Belgium.

Photos courtesy of Blancpain GT