With six hours to go in the 2018 Spa 24 Hours, it’s shaping up nicely. Up front, due to FCYs, the Red Flag period and multiple yellows, the field has stayed relatively bunched up, with the racing now in full daylight once again.
The contenders at this point, are the #99 Rowe Racing BMW, #25 Sainteloc Audi (which led at the end of hour 18), the #29 Land Aui, #7 Bentley and #4 Black Falcon Mercedes. All of them rise and fall up the order, as the staggered pit cycles continue. It seems there’s no true leader at the moment.
As it happened
A strong stint from Alex Sims left the #99 Rowe Racing BMW leading for the first time, staying aboard at his late stop to retain a 3 seconds lead from the #25 Audi, Markus Winkelhock now installed. Sims got back to business quickly to extend this gap to nearly ten seconds. The #4 Black Falcon Mercedes was just under 10 seconds adrift of the Audi for third, Maro Engel at the wheel.
Key however at this point though was the suggestion that a number of runners had not made their 5 minute mandatory brake service stops, including the leader. ‘FCY’ appeared on the screen yet again but it was confirmed by Race Control that all cars bar the #98 BMW (out of contention) had in fact completed the requirement. The #19 Grasser Lamborghini had been handed a 5 + 5 + 5 secs penalty for continuous track limits infringements, this before Phil Keen had an accident that damaged the barriers at Raidillon, put the car into retirement and caused the yellow period.
After a troubled earlier part of the week when it missed the Super Pole through a heavy frontal accident, the #88 Team Akka ASP Mercedes was well and truly back in the hunt. Raffaele Marciello was now running fourth, albeit 18 seconds behind the third placed Black Falcon car and under pressure from the #117 KUS Team75 Bernhard Porsche in the hands of Timo himself. Tom Blomqvist was on a charge in the #34 Walkenhorst M6, as indeed was Jordan Pepper’s #7 Bentley, Blomqvist passing Bernhard for sixth, Pepper gaining fourth place from Marciello as the top six overall positions compressed and the next round of stops beckoned.
Resuming a 12 second lead the #99 BMW now had Catsburg back aboard, Vervisch in the #25 Audi and Stolz in the third place #4 Mercedes. Marciello was the loser from the stops, the #7 M-Sport Bentley fourth, Steven Kane now aboard, with Philipp Eng’s Walkenhorst M6 staring at its rear wing, nudging the #7 car under braking into the Bus Stop and making a move stick into La Source. Kane made a drag race of the fightback down into Eau Rouge, but ultimately the BMW had the measure of things, gapping the Bentley on the run to Les Combes and pulling a three second gap in traffic.
Localised yellows at Sector 3 saw Laurens Vanthoor’s return to the pits with significant right rear damage. The Bernhard car had made contact lapping the #111 Audi on the run to the chicane, both cars being collected by the #8 M-Sport Bentley, which went airborne in the three-car incident. All three looked to be retirements in their garages, notably the Porsche which had been running in seventh overall. A further Full Course Yellow was imposed as debris was cleared.
Eng and Kane pitted just ahead of Kane, getting the better restart of the two at the green flag to extend his gap to just under 17 seconds. Ahead though it was Stolz who made the best of the restart, drawing into Vervisch’s #25 Audi and passing for second.
Philipp Eng was on a real mission for Kelvin Van der Linde’s fourth place. The #34 BMW closed right up to the rear of the #29 Land Motorsport Audi R8, making contact into La Source in what was starting to become a trademark notice of intent. On the run into Les Combes smoke was visible from the Audi’s right rear, as was bodywork damage, the BMW getting past under braking.
With the #99 demoted to fifth in the pits stops and Stolz’s Mercedes dropped to sixth, Vervisch’s #25 Audi took to the pits from the lead as the hour closed.