Updated: Jul 30, 2021
Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media, Garage 59, Schnabl Engineering, Rutronik Racing, WRT, Emil Frey Racing, Haupt Racing Team,
This Saturday, the 31st of July, 15:30h, no less than 58 GT3s from 9 different manufacturers will be set loose on the 7kms long Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in the Belgian Ardennes. 25 of them will contest the overall win in the Pro category of the 73rd Total 24 hours of Spa. We'll take a look specifically at the British drivers and teams and list the other big favorites of the extensive entry list.
Out of the (at the time of writing) exactly 200 drivers, 27 are from Britain after the latest news that Jonny Adam has tested positive for COVID-19 and cannot participate in the #188 Garare 59 Aston in the Pro-Am cup. He will be replaced by Marvin Kirchhöfer from Germany. Of the Brits, 10 of them are competing in the Pro cup, 5 in the Silver cup and now 12 in Pro-Am. Only Germany is represented by more drivers: 39 in total. The British drivers are spread nicely over all manufacturers except, surprisingly maybe, Bentley. There's not really a favorite manufacturer for the Brits, as 5 of them drive a Mercedes, 5 an Audi, 4 a McLaren, 4 a Ferrari and 4 an Aston Martin.
A couple of familiar names on the list are over from the British GT championship. Sandy Mitchell and Leo Machitski will pilot the #77 Barwell Lamborghini together with Miguel Ramos and Enrique Chaves, who drive the car in the GT World Challenge. Machitski, with co-driver Dennis Lind, won the British GT race last weekend for Barwell, so the team is going into the race in excellent form.
Phil Keen will share the #19 Orange 1 FFF Lamborghini with his regular GT World Challenge teammate Hiroshi Hamaguchi and is joined in Spa by Stefano Constantini (ITA) and Bertrand Baguette (FRA).
Yelmer Buurman will drive the Pro cup #50 HubAuto Mercedes with Maximilian Buhk and Maxi Goetz, definitely a car to keep an eye on. Buhk and Goetz won the race in a Mercedes back in 2013 (together with legend Bernd Schneider). Dennis Lind is part of one of the WRT star line-ups: he's in the #37 WRT Audi together with Robin Frijns (NLD) and Nico Müller (CHE).
Brits in the Pro Cup
A couple of our countrymen are certainly among the favorites to win the race. Last two editions were won by a Porsche 911, last year Nick Tandy was in the winning driver crew of the #98 ROWE Racing Porsche. This year he's back in a 911, together with the oldest of the Vanthoor brothers: Laurens. He's assigned to the #47 KCMG this time. They'll share the car with another local who knows Spa like his back pocket: Maxime Martin. Martin took a class (G3) victory in a Matech Ford GT back in 2009.
Another successful car in recent years has been the BMW M6, with overall wins in 2018 and 2016. Walkenhorst Motorsport won the 2018 edition and this year they return to the Ardennes with three cars, two of which in the Pro cup. Part of the #34 line up is David Pittard.
In both GTWC Endurance Cup races this year, in Monza and Paul Ricard, Callum Ilott, with teammates Antonio Fuoco (ITA) and Davide Rigon (ITA) was found at the front of the field. In their Iron Lynx Ferrari, #71 in Spa, they were 3rd and 2nd on the grids, and 3rd and 4th (although 2nd on track but later dealt a time penalty) at the finish. Their speed and consistency may be key in the fight for the win this year.
A phenomenon that has blown over from the WEC is the "Dane train". Long time Danish Aston Martin drivers Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen are back in a Vantage, with their same familiar starting number #95, prepared by Garage 59. Their honors list is pretty extensive: Both have won the GT Pro driver's World title in the World Endurance Championship in 2016. Thiim also secured that title in 2018. Both have also won over 10 WEC races for Aston Martin. At Spa, the Dane train is supplemented with relative youngster (24) and Brit: Ross Gunn, who's been with Aston Martin since his days in British GT back in 2015.
Long time Audi veteran Jamie Green teams up with Sainteloc this year, sharing the #26 R8 with young Scot Finlay Hutchinson and former DTM team-colleague Adrien Tambay. Green and Tambay both have a long history in the R8, dating back to 2015. Hutchinson already has 2,5 seasons in the car under his belt in the GT World Challenge Europe.
Last but definitely not least is the all British outfit in the #38 JOTA McLaren 720 S, consisting of Ben Barnicoat, Ollie Wilkinson and Rob Bell. Active in both the GTWC Sprint and Endurance cup, the car has been gathering more and more speed over the season. A win at Spa might be a bit too much to ask, but if everything goes flawless, there might be opportunities for a nice result in the upper part of the top 10.
Beside our British aces, there are more line-ups which will definitely be in the top of the bookmakers' lists.
All of Porsche's line-ups are equally impressive and as the last two editions of the 24hrs, and both GTWC Endurance Cup races this year, were all won by the Stuttgart brand, those outfits are automatically among the favorites. No less than eight 911's were scheduled to contest the Pro category this year, but following Frikadelli's withdrawal of two cars due to the Eifel floodings, their number was down to six. Schnabl Engineering though, after a request of Porsche itself, took over one of Frikadelli's entries with a combined driver line-up of both of Frikadelli's cars: Makowiecki (FRA) and Olsen (NOR) are joined by Michael Christensen (DEN) in the #3 car. Christensen was part of the driver crew that won the 24hrs of the Nürburgring this year.
The other Frikadelli-entry is picked up by KCMG, who fields an additional car, the #18, for Edoardo Liberati (ITA), Josh Burdon (AUS) and Alex Imperatori (CHE).
The winning team of 2019, GPX, has kept two thirds of last year's driver crew in tact: Matt Campbell (AUS) and Mathieu Jaminet (FRA) are joined for this edition by Campbell's fellow countryman Earl Bamber. Bamber was part of the race winning crew in 2020. The trio already gained experience with each other in this year's GTWC Endurance Cup races at Monza and Paul Ricard. They didn't make it to the finish in Monza, but already took a commanding victory in the 1000km of Paul Ricard.
At that race in Lombardy, another 911 took the victory: the #54 Dinamic Motorsport with Christian Engelhart (GER), Klaus Bachler (AUT) and Matteo Cairoli (ITA) at the wheel. The same formation will now contest the race in the Ardennes. With one race win this season already, a victory is certainly not impossible. For the race in Spa, the #56 car of the team is promoted from the Silver to the Pro cup, with drivers Andrea Rizzoli (ITA), Mikkel Pedersen (DEN) and Romain Dumas (FRA). Dumas has won the 24h of the Nürburgring and the 24h of Le Mans, but Spa is still missing on his resume.
Kevin Estre (FRA), who won the 2019 race with GPX for which he played a decisive role, is now assigned to the #21 Rutronik 911, together with long time Porsche factory drivers Richard Lietz (AUT) and Sven Müller (GER). Estre already won the 24hrs of the Nürburgring this year. Rutronik is usually active in ADAC GT Masters and NLS in which it fields both Audi R8s and Porsche 911, so definitely has experience in endurance racing.
Biggest competition, at least in numbers, is set to come from Audi with no less than 5 cars in the Pro category. Most eye-catching line-ups are in the WRT team: in the #32 are current Sprint cup leaders and reigning GT World Challenge Sprint cup champions Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts, as usual joined in endurance races by Kelvin van der Linde. Young Dries Vanthoor, only 23 years old, has already won both the 12 hours of Bathurst and the 24 hours of the Nürburgring. His even younger teammate Weerts, only 20, has already three years of experience in GT World Challenge, ADAC GT Masters and the Intercontinental GT Cup. Compared to the two young Belgians, Kelvin van der Linde (RSA) is already a seasoned driver, with two titles in ADAC GT Masters, and multiple race wins in NLS, GT World Challenge and the Hankook 24h series and even a win in the brand new setup of the DTM.
WRT's Spa liveries for the #32 and #37
WRT has a minimum of two irons in the fire this year, with another star crew driving the #37. Dutchman Robin Frijns has won the 12hours of Bathurst twice and stood on the podium of the 24h of the Nürburging. He took the 2017 Blancpain GT Sprint Cup title and scored several DTM race wins in 2020. He is joined in Spa by former DTM teammate Nico Müller, who's two-time vice-champion in DTM and won the 24hrs of the Nürburgring in 2017 in the SP9 class. Dennis Lind (DEN), currently also active in British GT, is the third driver in this crew, Lind has driven GT3's from Lamborghini and recently also Audi almost everywhere from the US to Asia.
Just as the #26 Sainteloc car we already discussed above with Green, Hutchinson and Tambay, the #25 is also a force to be reckoned with. Markus Winkelhock (GER) has won the 24 hrs of the Nürburgring three times already and the 24hrs of Spa twice. He's joined by Christopeher Haase (GER) with whom he won the 2017 edition, also in an Audi R8 by the way, and who won the Green Hell endurance classic twice. Third driver in the crew is Patric Niederhauser (CHE) who was runner-up in last year's edition.
The Bavarian brand is represented in the Pro category again this year by long time partner Walkenhorst. They field two M6 GT3's, the #34 we already highlighted earlier with David Pittard. He's joined by multiple DTM champion and long time BMW factory driver Marco Wittmann (GER) and Kelvin van der Linde's younger brother Sheldon, who's also a BMW factory driver formerly active in their DTM campaign.
The #35 will be piloted by another set of experienced BMW factory drivers: former F1 driver Timo Glock (GER) and Martin Tomczyk (GER), supplemented with youngster Thomas Neubauer (FRA) who was picked up by BMW after his remarkable performance in the GT World Challenge last year in the Tech1 Lexus.
Lamborhini's assault is spearheaded this year by both Orange 1 FFF and Emil Frey Racing. Both outfits have at least one driver line-up that's ought to be mentioned. In the #63 Orange 1 Huracan is the all Italian crew of Mirko Bortolotti, Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli. They have all won the Blancpain GT title at least once and have long time experience in the Huracan in several endurance classics.
Emil Frey's no. 1 crew consists of Albert Costa (ESP) and Giacomo Altoè (ITA), who already scored several GTWC Sprint cup wins over the last two years. For the 24hrs, they are joined by GT3 veteran Franck Perera (FRA).
We've already highlighted the #50 HubAuto Mercedes AMG with Yelmer Buurman (NLD) and his teammates Goetz and Buhk (GER), but there a more AMG's to pay attention to. Of course there are Luca Stolz (GER) and Maro Engel (GER), accompanied by endurance teammate Vince Abril in the #4 HRT. The consistent front-runners should always be taken into consideration for the overall win.
AKKA ASP is the other Mercedes Pro team and they enter not one but two cars in the pro category for this race. Raffaele Marciello (ITA), Daniel Juncadella (ESP) and Jules Gounon (FRA) share the #88, while Boguslavskiy (RUS), Felipe Fraga (BRA) and Lucas Auer (AUT) share the #89.
Ferrari's charge is led by Iron Lynx this year, with no entries in the Pro category from either AF Corse or SMP Racing. We've already discussed the #71 with Illot (ENG), Fuoco (ITA) and Rigon (ITA), but the #51 is also worth mentioning. The second (or first if you like) Iron Lynx is piloted by Alessandro Pier Guidi (ITA) and Nicklas Nielsen (DEN), who shared the #51 AF Corse Ferrari last year with James Calado and in that formation won last year's 1000km of Paul Ricard. Calado did not transfer to Iron Lynx and is substituted by Come Ledogar (FRA) for the 2021 season.
Remember you can watch the biggest GT3 race on earth live with English commentary on SRO's YouTube channel "GT World":