Without a doubt for the second time in 2019 (after the astounding scenes at the WEC’s 6 Hour race in May), the major supporting headline here at Spa has been the weather. After blistering record-breaking temperatures all week, the weather broke for race day and gave us the shortest Spa 24 Hours since 1993 (when the race was red-flagged in response to the untimely death of King Baudouin).
The race saw around six hours of suspension under red for the simply terrible conditions, torrential rain making driving beyond hazardous through the night and race officials taking the opportunity as daylight broke to make a number of running repairs to barriers before the event was restarted.
A total of 363 laps of the 7.004km circuit covered means the race distance just cleared 2,500 km, only the second time on the current circuit that the race distance has been below 3,000km On three occasions it has been more than 4,000km!
There was little doubt that the Porsches revelled in the conditions whilst others struggled. Bentley finished its four-car centenary run with a best finish of 29th for the only surviving Continental GT3, the team looking to BoP to explain how the #110’s faultless run saw the car finish six laps down.
In contrast, the sole Honda NSX in the Pro class had an excellent run, losing fifth overall only very late in the race, but the Motul Honda squad was still the top non-German car to finish. A loss of air-con and drinks bottle functions in the closing hours made the achievement more impressive still!
Others too had a challenging 2019 Spa 24 Hours. Ferrari’s bid melted away due to a litany of accidents and a stint at the restart from Mikhail Aleshin in the #72 SMP racing 488 that was more appropriate to a mid-ranking touring car race than an international 24-hour GT encounter.
Lamborghini had a mixed weekend, too: only one Pro car within a lap of the leader at the flag after a number of incidents for its leading runners. A class win apiece will have to do for the two Italian marques.
And it would have to do, too, for Aston Martin. Much of the R-Motorsport and Garage 59 efforts fell away cheaply, although both the #76 R-Motorsport car and the then-class-leading #188 Garage 59 Am Cup effort were innocent victims of circumstances outside their control.
BMW didn’t even get that, and was left with a single meaningful bullet in the gun after big accidents for some of its customer cars. The #34 was up at the top of the order after the red flag, but was one of several cars that hadn’t taken its ‘technical’ five-minute stop before the suspension. All of these cars would see their hopes evaporate as a result.
One of the decisive moments of the race came with a little over two hours to go. Estre, on a typical charge in the GPX Porsche, had already got past Engel in the polesitting #4 Mercedes for second, and was rapidly filling the mirrors of leader Muller in the #1 Audi, which had been there or thereabouts the whole race thus far.
Coming through Les Combes, the Audi twitched slightly and pitched the back of Muller’s car into the barriers. He was able to continue and the car seemed to escape lightly in terms of damage, but the positions were lost: the battle between Estre’s Porsche and Engel’s Mercedes was now a fight for the win. Just over a second separated the two cars, which were on the exact same pitstop cycle, with two hours of the race to run.
That exchange summarised the fortunes of the other major German marques: Porsche quicker, and more successful in their aggression in traffic; Engel a standout for AMG; Rast the same for Audi, but neither managing to anchor a telling effort to make a difference at the flag.
Nissan’s representative KCMG seemed to attract contact: both GT-Rs looked battered throughout. Oliver Jarvis eventually toughed it through to 18th to be the best of the pair at the flag.
Major incidents through the 24 Hours included:
– Very early retirement for the #109 Bentley with engine failure, Callum MacLeod rolling to a halt with flame licking from the exhaust pipe.
– The #59 Garage 59 car withdrawn after suffering a broken right front hub and the team determining that the repair would leave them without an opportunity to contend for a significant finish
– Ricky Collard’s clash with the #30 Honda in the very early running; the #762 R-Motorsport car suffering enough damage to be withdrawn.
– A huge accident for the #37 3Y BMW in the hands of Jean Paul Buffin at Les Combes, the gentleman driver seeming to suffer a failure as the lead battle approached and the M6 GT3 was pitched into a car-destroying impact with the barriers, bringing out a lengthy FCY.
– Nick Foster lost control of the IGTC-entered #227 HubAuto Ferrari backing the car into the wall. A broken rear wing and other damage accounted for the 488 before nightfall.
– The #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley suffered a big off at T15, with Ryan Ratcliffe losing the car over the outside kerbs and making a big impact with the outside wall on the exit.
– Matt Parry lost the #62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin at around the same point on the circuit a short time later. A rear-end impact left the Vantage with enough damage for the team to call time.
– At around midnight, the dominant Silver Cup-leading #55 Attempto Audi lost drive: Game over immediately for a car that had been running consistently in the top 10 overall!
– The #42 Team Schnitzer BMW was eliminated after an accident for John Edwards in the worst of the rain.
– The #00 AMG went out after a heavy off into the barriers at Blanchimont. Kataoka was at the wheel and another lengthy repair to the barriers was required.
– It was an almost carbon-copy of the shunt that eliminated the #51 AF Corse Ferrari; Alessandro Pier Guidi went off just before Blanchimont after contact with a Lamborghini.
– The #108 Bentley was withdrawn overnight after Alex Buncombe had suffered a worsening gearbox issue.
– The #52 Ferrari suffered a double rear puncture during an incident under braking at Les Combes, with the car unable to be driven back by Toni Vilander.
– The #72 SMP Racing Ferrari retired after the restart, with the damage incurred during a wild stint from Mikhail Aleshin taking too long to fix to offer any chance of a meaningful finish.
– The #107 Bentley was a late retirement with accident damage, the car having dropped back down the order.
– And with just 25 minutes to go, Benny Simonsen hit the barriers on the exit of Speakers Corner to eliminate the #16 Team Modena Porsche.
– At the flag, the surviving R-Motorsport Aston Martin (the #76 car) was penalised by 0.25 of a second for taking advantage outside track limits at T1 – dropping the car back to 19th overall behind the #18 KCMG Nissan.
In addition, among the retirements were the #5 Audi (accident damage), the #14 Ferrari (accident), the #27 Lamborghini (mechanical), the #36 BMW (mechanical), the #91 Porsche (accident damage), the #333 Ferrari (accident damage) and the #555 Lamborghini (accident damage).