Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media
The most important GT3 race of the year in the Belgian Ardennes is on our doorstep. This weekend, the Total 24hrs of Spa will be held behind closed doors. And even though the race is back to its 'regular' 24 hour format (instead of 25 hours due to the clock going back) there is still plenty left to make this a special edition. Who are this years favorites? And which British entries can we support this year? Read it all in our preview.
As the race is scheduled much later in the year than its normal date slot in august, this year, most part of the race will run in the dark. The sun is scheduled to go down around 18:26h local time and comes up the next day around 7.23 AM. Due to the clock going back an hour, the sun will be below the horizon for a total of almost 14 hours. In August, this is no more than 10 hours. The weather forecast is not much different than last year: rain is expected with temperatures around 12 degrees celsius.
The 72nd edition of the race will welcome no less than 56 cars on the grid Saturday early afternoon. Basically, two championships make up the field: the GT World Challenge Europe and the Intercontinental GT Challenge. There will be 28 full Pro crews, 12 Silver Cup entries, 12 Pro-Am and 4 Am entries.
Eleven different car manufacturers will participate this year: Bentley (5), Mercedes (10), BMW (3), Porsche (11), Lamborghini (8), Lexus (1), Honda (1), Audi (8), Ferrari (6), McLaren (1) and Aston Martin (2). We'll discuss the favorites and British entries below.
K-Pax, CMR and Team Parker Racing will run a total of 5 Bentleys this year. The American K-Pax team already had strong outings this year in the Endurance Cup races at Imola and the Nürburging. South African Jordan Pepper switches from the #9 to the #3 car and joins Maxime Soulet and Jules Gounon (back from CMR). His place in the #9 is back in the hands of Alvaro Parente after his absence at the Nürburgring. Both the #3 and the #9 will run in the Pro class.
CMR enters one car in the Pro class, the #107, and one in the AM class, the #108. The driver crew of the #107 is formed by its regular GT World Challenge Endurance cup line up of Nelson Panciatici, Pierre-Alexandre Jean and Brit Seb Morris.
The 5th Bentley is fielded by Team Parker Racing, who, besides British GT, are also active in the GTWC Endurance Cup. Their driver line up consists of Endurance Cup drivers Euan McKay and Frank Bird, both from the UK, complemented with Danish driver Nicolai Kjaergaard.
10 AMG GT3's will be on the grid Saturday, with a couple of favorites for the overall victory among them. Of course team AKKA ASP is present. They run 3 cars this year: one in the Pro class, one in the Silver Cup and one in Pro-Am. The #88 is set to be their front runner, with drivers Timur Boguslavskiy, Raffaele Marciello and Felipe Fraga. The #88 has scored victories and podiums in the GT World Challenge Europe this year and is definitely one of the favorites.
HRT, consisting of a large share of former Black Falcon team employees, also runs two AMGs. Their Pro crew consists of Maro Engel and Luca Stolz, last year's champions in the GT World Challenge and vice-champions in this year's Sprint Cup, and Vince Abril. In 2019, they started the 24 hours from Pole Position. With loads of experience from the Black Falcon team and from racing in the NLS (former VLN) at the Nürburging, chances are considerable that we'll see the #4 running among the leaders at some point in the race.
Also entering a Mercedes is British GT and Endurance Cup team RAM Racing. Regular drivers in the Endurance Cup Remon Vos, Martin Konrad and Tom Onslow-Cole are joined in the Ardennes by Callum Macleod.
Not a lot of BMW's this year, but they're definitely among the favorites. Walkenhorst Motorsport, active in the International GT Open, fields to M6's, both in the Pro class. The team won the race back in 2018, with a driver line up of Brit Tom Blomqvist, Christian Krognes and Philipp Eng. Philipp Eng is still with the team and takes place in the #34, joined by BMW factory drivers Augusto Farfus and Nicky Catsburg. The #35 will be driven by veteran Martin Tomczyk, joined by the Brits Nick Yelloly and David Pittard. Yelloly is also active in the GT World Challenge Endurance Cup for Boutsen Ginion Racing, they field the third BMW in this year's edition in the Pro-Am cup.
BMW is also the most successful manufacturer in Spa. Although the race has been both a touring car and a sports car race in the past, the Bavarians already have a total 24 victories to their name.
Porsche has the most cars on the grid this year, a total of 11. 8 of them are run in the Pro Class. Last year, Porsche scored a 1-2 victory when the GPX Porsche with Michael Christensen, Richard Lietz and Kevin Estre crossed the line 3 seconds ahead of the ROWE Porsche of Makowiecki, Pilet and Tandy. That winning driver line up is still intact for this year, but now drive the #47 KCMG Porsche. The other KCMG machine is driven by Josh Burdon, Alex Imperatori and Edoardo Liberati.
GPX enters two cars, the #12 and #40 with their regular line ups from the Endurance cup: the former is driven by Matt Campbell, Patrick Pilet and Mathieu Jaminet, in the latter Louis Deletraz is back in the car after his absence at the Nürburgring and he is joined by Romain Duman and Thomas Preining.
The ROWE Racing Porsches carry numbers #98 and #99. Nick Tandy is still with the team in the #98, and he is joined by Bamthoor (Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor). The #99 is driven by Klaus Bachler, Porsche Veteran Dirk Werner and Julien Andlauer.
Last but definitely not least, we must mention Dinamic Motorsport who won the last Endurance Cup race at the Nürburgring. Their #54 is still driven by Matteo Cairoli, Christian Engelhart and Sven Müller.
8 Lamborghinis will be on the grid Saturday, spearheaded by Emil Frey Racing and Orange 1 FFF. Emil Frey will run the same cars as they do in the Endurance Cup, both in the Pro class: the #14 with Siedler, Grenier and Feller, and the #163 driven by Altoè, Costa and Perera.
Orange 1 FFF will run three cars this year, but only the #63 will contest in the Pro class. The team and its drivers Andrea Caldarelli, Marco Mapelli and Dennis took both the teams- and drivers championship in the 2019 GT World Challenge Endurance Cup, instantly making them a force to be reckoned with yet again at Spa. Phil Keen will be part of the driver line up of the #19 Pro-Am entry of the team.
British GT regular Barwell Motorsport joins the race with two cars again, the #77 in the Pro-Am cup, driven by their Endurance Cup driver crew Sandy Mitchell, Rob Collard and Leo Machitski, who are joined in Spa by 4th driver Ricky Collard. Their #78 car will run in the Silver Cup, with drivers Kujala, Schandorff and Macdowall.
Of course we have to rank Audi among the favorites as well. The Ingolstadt brand is represented by its GT World Challenge teams WRT, Sainteloc and Attempto.
WRT will run no less than three Pro entries, the #30, #31 and #32. Strongest line up is probably in the #31, with Dries Vanthoor, Chris Mies and Kelvin van der Linde. Dennis Marschall, Ferdinand Habsburg and Matt Vaxivière will pilot the #30 and Mortara, Weerts and Stippler drive the #32. The #33 of the team will contest the Silver Cup with drivers Rik Breukers, Brit Stuart Hall and Benjamin Goethe.
Sainteloc, officially called the Sainteloc Junior Team, will run one car in Pro: the #25 with Chris Haase, Markus Winkelhock and Dorian Boccolacci. The #26 is one of four Am class contestants.
Attempto also runs two cars, in Pro the #66 with Drudi, Niederhauser and Vervisch, in the Silver Cup the #55 with Schöll, Gachet (who comes over from Sainteloc), Aka and Brit Finlay Hutchinson.
Ferrari also has a couple of eye-catching irons in the fire this year. The Italians are represented by a couple of different teams. First ofcourse, AF Corse. The team runs the #51, a WEC-tainted car under the SMP Racing banner for drivers Nicklas Nielsen, Alessandro Pier Guidi and British ace James Calado. The #72, the other SMP car, is driven by Endurance Cup crew Sergey Sirotkin, Miguel Molina and Davide Rigon. They have been among the front runners this year and last.
Easily overlooked is the #27 HubAuto Ferrari, in which Brit Tom Blomqvist, Toyota-ace and former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi and Marcos Gomes aim for nothing less than the win.
Freshly crowned GT World Challenge Sprint Cup Pro-champions Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever are joined by Jonathan Hui and another former F1 driver, Giancarlo Fisichella, in the #93 Sky-Tempesta Ferrari. They contest in the Pro-Am class.
As R-Motorsport skips the whole 2020 season in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, British team Garage 59 is the only one fielding Aston Martins this season. The #159 will challenge the Silver Cup with British drivers James Pull and Andrew Watson joined by Valentin Hasse-Clot and Roman de Angelis, the #188 will contest for Pro-Am honors with drivers Jonny Adam, Chris Goodwin, Alex West and Maxime Martin.
Other entries to keep an eye on are the completely British team Optimum Motorsport, fielding a McLaren 720S. The car will be driven by Ollie Wilkinson, Joe Osborne and Rob Bell. Results over the Endurance Cup season are encouraging with steady races resulting in an 8th place in Imola and 11th at the Nürburging.
For the first time this season we will also be able to see the new Honda NSX on the grid of a race that counts for the GT World Challenge Europe. The #29 Honda Racing car has a strong driver line up with Mario Farnbacher, Renger van der Zande and Dane Cameron.