Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media
Nick Tandy, Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber have won the 24 hours of Spa in the #98 Rowe Racing Porsche. After last year's GPX win, Porsche now scored two victories in a row in the biggest GT3 race in the world. Barwell Motorsport looked set to do the same in the Silver Cup after last year's win, but the #78 crashed into the spun #991 Herberth Motorsport Porsche on top of Raidillon and ended their hopes for the win with little over a quarter race to go. The #5 HRT Mercedes inherited the lead and managed to take the class win.
The British crew from Barwell might feel comforted nonetheless as their Pro-Am car, the #77 with drivers Sandy Mitchell, Leo Machitski and Rob and Ricky Collard took the class win. In the Am class, only one entry made it to the finish: the #108 CMR Bentley with French trio Mateu, Ricci and Tribaudini, added with local Stéphane Lemeret picked up the win.
The night in the Ardennes took a couple of significant victims. After Marciello and Fraga in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes had led most of the first half of the race, trouble hit the car just over 11 hours in. The left front brake exploded while braking for Les Combes as Fraga was battling with the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. A couple of turns later he lost his left front wheel. The Brazilian managed to limp the car back to the pits, but the mechanics judged there was too much damage to repair and they had to retire.
Dennis Lind in the #63 Orange 1 FFF Lamborghini he shared with former champions Mapelli and Caldarelli, was next to try and pass the WEC-themed Ferrari of Calado, Pier Guidi and Nielsen. He had more success, though not before the #51 took the GT World Challenge Endurance Cup points at the 12-hour mark.
By the time dawn broke, 8 cars were still in the lead lap. Dennis Lind led in the #63 Lamborghini, about a second ahead of the #98 Rowe Racing Porsche with Earl Bamber in the driver's seat. Some 25 seconds behind were the #51 AF Corse Ferrari and the #12 GPX Porsche of Campbell, Pilet and Jaminet.. The #4 HRT Mercedes of Stolz, Engel and Abril was half a minute further down. The #54 Dinamic Porsche of Cairoli, Müller and Engelhart followed at a minute, pursued by the #66 Attempto Audi of Vervisch, Niederhauser and Drudi and the #25 Sainteloc R8 of Haase, Winkelhock and Boccolacci.
Then suddenly, at two thirds of the race, Lind crashed out of the race at high speed at Raidillon handing over the lead to the #98 Porsche.
In the changing track and weather conditions that followed, the Audi's of Attempto and Sainteloc made their way up to the lead of the race. Multiple safety cars in the last phase shifted the order a bit, most notably after big crashes from Alex Macdowall in the #78 Barwell Lamborghini and a bit later Louis Machiels in the #52 AF Corse Ferrari.
The last safety car came out just passed the last 65-minute mark, the maximum stint time, giving all the leaders the opportunity to make their last stop towards the end. With an hour to go, great strategy, the right choices and great driving had brought Earl Bamber in the #98 Porsche the lead, though still closely followed by the same group of cars that chased him 5 hours earlier. Only now, they were all within 15 seconds, separated only by a small number of back markers, if any.
Half an hour before the finish, the stranded BMW of Boutsen Ginion Racing brought out the safety car and the field back together again one last time. In the remaining minutes, Bamber managed to pull away from Niederhauser in the #66 Attempto Audi for one last time. In the last laps though, the Porsche lost considerable speed due to a gearbox issue, but the gap towards the Audi proved just big enough to take the checkered flag. 4.5 seconds behind Bamber was Niederhauser, Third podium spot was claimed by the #54 Dinamic Porsche, in which Cairoli made a late move on Pier Guidi in the #51 Ferrari at Eau Rouge. Pier Guidi then also had to give way to Patrick Pilet in the #12 GPX Porsche to eventually finish 5th. Haase in the #25 Sainteloc Audi finished 6th, three seconds ahead of Maro Engel in the #4 HRT Mercedes.