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Spa 24 Hours: Hours 19-20-21 Report (10:30am-1:30pm) Back Underway At Last

Lead battle develops between #1 Audi, #4 Mercedes and #20 Porsche

At the time the red flag was declared, there were 15 confirmed retirements as follows: #00 Mercedes (accident), #5 Audi (accident), #31 Bentley (accident), #36 BMW (mechanical), #37 BMW (accident), #42 BMW (accident), #55 Audi (lost drive), #59 Aston (broken front hub), #62 Aston (accident), #91 Porsche (damage), #109 Bentley (engine), #227 Ferrari (accident), #333 Ferrari (accident), #555 Lamborghini (TBC), #762 Aston (accident).

Several of the leading group of cars had not taken their five-minute technical pitstops when the red flags flew. These stops must be taken before the end of the 22nd hour of the race (2:30 pm local time) and cannot be started under FCY or SC conditions.

Those cars are the #63 Lamborghini, #34 BMW and #54 Porsche (currently first, second and third in the overall classification), as well as the #90 Mercedes (leading Silver Cup and seventh overall) and the #97 Aston (leading Pro-Am and 15th overall). The #99 and #117 Porsches have taken stops long enough to be counted as technicals, but it has not been confirmed they notified race officials this was the case.

The race finally got back underway at 11:30 am, under the safety car. Behind the top three mentioned above, the #72 SMP Ferrari (now with a commanding points lead in the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup thanks to its six and 12-hour haul) was running fourth with Aleshin at the wheel.

Luca Stolz in the polesitting #4 Black Falcon Mercedes and Fabian Schiller in the #88 AKKA-ASP Mercedes, ahead of Nico Bastian in the Silver Cup-leading #90 in seventh, Michael Christensen in the #20 GPX Porsche in eighth and Rene Rast in the #1 Audi in 10th.

A slight hiccup presented itself almost immediately as, with the field still under the safety car, the #93 Tempesta Racing Ferrari ground to a halt in the very definition of an ‘unsafe position’ halfway up the climb from Eau Rouge to Raidillon! It was quickly towed away by a course vehicle, though, before the field came around again.

Before the safety car came in at the end of lap 254, approaching 11:45am local time, the #88, #90, #20, #117, #76, #16, #77, #2, #17 #133 and #108 cars all pitted for a ‘free’ stop under the waved yellows

On the following lap, the leading #63 Lamborghini, as well as the #66 Attempto Audi, came in for stops, while the #90 AKKA-ASP Mercedes headed for the pitlane again, this time for its technical stop. The #63 and #66 also took their technical stops at this time.

Bortolotti in the #63 thus dropped from leading at the restart to 19th once the technical had been completed. The closest battle on track at this point was between Aleshin in the #72 Ferrari and Rast in the #1 Audi for third, while at the same time the #188 Aston was pushed into the wall on the run down to Eau Rouge by another car.

It initially came to a stop, but Chris Goodwin managed to get going again and crabbed down the Kemmel Straight at severely reduced pace with bad rear-end damage. The car eventually arrived back to the pits and was able to rejoin down the order with Ross Gunn behind the wheel.

In the meantime, Rast had found a way past Aleshin, while Dennis Lind in the #563 Lamborghini was equally aggressive in unlapping himself past the SMP Ferrari, which appeared to be struggling for pace compared to the cars around it. Aleshin eventually pitted with front left corner damage after contact with the #18 KCMG Nissan, also unlapping itself. The Ferrari was pulled into the garage, but the damage looked more severe than even a five-minute technical pitstop could take care of.

The #188 was shortly confirmed as a retirement, and replays showed it had been hit by first the #72 Ferrari and then the #1 Audi on the run out of La Source. Elsewhere, a spin on the approach to Bus Stop (possibly involving another car) for Graham Davidson in the Daiko Lazarus Lamborghini brought on another FCY.

The caution period concluded with the safety car coming at the end of lap 266, just after 12:10 local time. As the field returned to green-flag running, there was once again an uptick in the intensity of the rainfall around the circuit, but a return to red-flag conditions didn’t seem an immediate prospect.

Nick Catsburg took the lead of the race in the #34 BMW when the #54 came in for its technical pitstops, but the real battle for the lead was taking place further down, as Michael Christensen in the #20 Porsche chased down Yelmer Buurman in the #4 Mercedes – both cars having had their technical stops before the red flag. Oliver Jarvis in the lapped #18 KCMG Nissan and Gary Paffett in the #44 Strakka Mercedes were also factors in this battle, being approximately on the same pace as the scrapping Porsche and Audi.

Both cars eventually found a way past, and in the process, Christopher Mies in the #129 Land Audi passed Jarvis for 18th position on track. With Catsburg in the #34 BMW then pitting for a five-minute technical pitstop, the battle at the front finally became clear, with Frijns leading in the #1 Audi by just under 12 seconds from Christensen in the #20 Porsche, with Buurman just 1.2 seconds behind in the #4 Mercedes that had started from pole. There were just over three hours of the race to run.

Leading Silver Cup at this point was the #78 Barwell Lamborghini, with Pro-Am still headed by the #97 TF Sport Aston Martin and Am Cup led by the #33 Rinaldi Ferrari, currently with Alexander Matschull at the wheel, pursued by Patrick Kujala in the #77 Barwell Lamborghini.