Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media
Darkness has set for a while now in the Belgian Ardennes and the first quarter of the Total 24 hours of Spa is behind us. At the six hour mark, the race was running behind the safety car to give the marshals the opportunity to clean debris off the track at Blanchimont. During the Safety Car phase that followed, the first of the race favorites had to retire, as Kelvin van der Linde parked his smoking #31 WRT Audi R8 on top Raidillon.
A crash in the support series this afternoon forced the start to be delayed by half an hour to repair a couple of barriers. When the race got underway, Marciello in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes was the first to dive into Eau Rouge, Raidillon and on to Kemmel straight. In the first hour, the Mercedes slowly pulled away from the rest of the field, to open up a 5 second gap at the first stops. Early excitement came when Mattia Drudi in the #66 Attempto Audi, passed both Maro Engel in the #4 HRT Mercedes and Chris Mies in the #31 WRT Audi to move up to second.
An hour later, Marciello had doubled his lead but was now chased by the #63 Orange 1 Lamborghini with Dennis Lind behind the wheel. The Huracan started 8th and moved up to third after the first set of stops. Lind then overtook Niederhauser, who was now piloting the #66 Attempto Audi, at Les Combes and took second. The Dane closed the gap to Marciello and right when he was under his rear wing, brought the car in to hand it over to teammate Mapelli. After Marciello also made his stop and started his third stint in a row, he suddenly found Mapelli three seconds ahead.
Right before the three hour mark, Nick Catsburg ran his #34 Walkenhorst BMW into the #32 WRT Audi of Charles Weerts at Bruxelles. This meant the end of the race for the freshly crowned Sprint Cup champion and his teammates Edoardo Mortara and Frank Stippler. Catsburg managed to get his car back to the pits, but retired a couple of laps later after first being penalized for causing a collision.
After the Safety Car that followed, the field was back together again. Mapelli led in the #63 Lamborghini, ahead of Fraga who'd taken over from Marciello in the #88 Mercedes. Last year's winner Michael Christensen in the #47 KCMG Porsche made his way up to third, Dries Vanthoor (#31 WRT Audi) was 4th while the WEC-themed #51 AF Corse Ferrari with James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Nicklas Nielsen was 5th. Their sister car, the #72 SMP Ferrari was running 9th by that time, with Miguel Molina behind the wheel. The #4 HRT Mercedes was dropping a bit down the order after starting 4th, the car was now 8th.
In the phase leading up to the 6 hour mark, at which the first set of points for the GT World Challenge Endurance cup would be divided, Caldarelli in the #63 Lambo got under pressure from Fraga in the #88 Mercedes. With half an hour to go, Fraga managed to make use of some back markers to get by Caldarelli and snatch the lead. Minutes before, both Kelvin van der Linde (#31 WRT Audi) and Michael Christensen (#47 KCMG Porsche) were dealt a drive through penalty for track limits. This gave p3 to Patrick Pilet in the #12 GPX Porsche. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari with now Alessandro Pier Guidi behind the wheel was still 4th, ahead of Patric Niederhauser in the #66 Attempto Audi, Albert Costa in the #163 Emil Frey Lamborghini and Mario Farnbacher in the #29 Honda Acura NSX. The Honda had steadily moved up through the ranks after starting 26th.
Unfortunately the race was running behind the Safety Car at the 6 hour mark, but drama emerged nonetheless. The race was neutralized to remove the #26 Sainteloc Audi at Blanchimont, when the attention suddenly shifted to the smoking silhouette of a car on top of Raidillon. It became clear that it was the #31 WRT Audi of Kelvin van der Linde, Chris Mies and Dries Vanthoor. Their race was over and so the 2nd of 4 WRT Audi had retired. The #30 and #33 are still running, but on p29 and p34 respectively.
The Silver Cup was led by last years class winners: the #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini with Kujala in the car at that moment. The #5 HRT Mercedes of Beretta was not far behind. Pro Am was lead by Maxime Martin in the #188 Garage 59 Aston, the Am class leader was the #129 Raton Racing Lamborghini