The second hour of the race kicked off with the first round of pitstops complete, with all the leaders having switched from wets to slicks as the rain had ceased and the track was drying. Once the order had shaken out, Engel in the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes had nearly six seconds in hand over Estre in the #20 GPX Porsche, with Rast a further 1.5 seconds behind in the #1 WRT Audi.
Earl Bamber, Max Goetz and Dennis Lind completed the top six, in the #117 Team75 Porsche, the #999 GruppeM Mercedes and the #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini respectively. Steijn Schothorst led the Silver Cup in 11th overall in the #55 Attempto Audi, while you had to go all the way down to 30th to find the Pro-Am leading #74 Ram Racing Mercedes of Tom Onslow-Cole.
Just behind him was a charging Nicki Thiim, the #97 TF Sport-run Oman Racing Aston having had to start from the pitlane due to changing the car’s chassis following its free-practice shunt.
A few minutes into the hour, having made its first stop, the #36 Am Cup Walkenhorst BMW was seen going slowly at Fagnes with a puncture, Anders Burchardt the man at the wheel.
A second full-course yellow that became a safety car then had to be called when Nick Foster found the barriers at T9 in the #227 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari, one of the Italian brand’s nominated IGTC points-scoring entries for the race. Foster got out of the car, which had to be loaded onto a flatbed to be recovered.
The safety car came in with just over 90 minutes of the race elapsed, with all previous gaps wiped out and a straight pursuit of Engel by Estre for the lead ensued. Further back, the #762 R-Motorsport Aston clouted into the side of the #30 Motul Honda as they rounded La Source, leaving Ricky Collard’s car slow with an apparent puncture, and Bertrand Baguette in the Honda having lost several positions, dropping to 32nd overall.
Into the garage then came the #333 Rinaldi Ferrari with ABS failure, while elsewhere Jamie Green in the IGTC-nominated #129 Land Motorsport Audi was handed a drive-through penalty for overtaking under the full-course yellow procedure.
Engel and Estre continued to circulate closely at the front, six-tenths separating them a full-on battle hadn’t quite broken out. Then, right in front of the leading duo, Am Cup runner Jean-Paul Buffin in the #37 3Y Technology BMW had a huge shunt when the car jinked right, then left as he tried to correct it, under braking for Les Combes. It contacted the barrier heavily and came to rest in the runoff area.
Another full-course yellow seemed certain, and indeed Black Falcon was quick to call in leader Engel for a stop, and much of the field followed suit. The GruppeM Mercedes crew elected to use one of their jokers to make a quick stop under the FCY, elevating Max Buhk in the #999 to third on the road, behind Nick Tandy in the #998 Rowe Porsche and Robin Frijns in the #1 Audi.
With barrier repairs necessary in the wake of Buffin’s shunt, the FCY period was a long one. Tandy’s co-driver Makowiecki reported from the Rowe garage: “We are in the game, it’s hard to predict how the conditions will change. The word for us at the moment is to survive. We’re strong on braking and in the rain, we have good traction.”
As the FCY dragged on, further pitstops were called for to adhere to stint-time regulations, dropping Frijns to third behind Buhk. Dennis Lind circulated fourth in the #563 Lamborghini, Laurens Vanthoor was fifth in the #117 Porsche and Michel Christensen sixth in the #20 GPX Porsche, having taken over from opening-hour star Estre.
Following his long opening stint, Engel reported: “The car was good in the wet, I think it depended on pressures in the end. I struggled a bit when it was drying, so I think we made the right call to stop when we did for slicks.”
The #55 and #74 continued to lead Silver Cup and Pro-Am respectively, while at the head of the Am Cup was the #444 HB Racing Ferrari, with Jens Liebhauser at the wheel.
As the clock approached the three-hour mark, the order at the front (still under FCY conditions) was Tandy from Buhk, Christensen and Lind, with Clemens Schmid now fifth aboard the #66 Attempto Audi and Luca Stolz sixth in the polesitting #4 Mercedes. The safety car came in at the end of lap 51, with just under three hours of the race now in the bag.