The Total 24 Hours of Spa, a round of the Blancpain GT Series, gets underway this weekend on the famous Belgian circuit. This round is also the second in the four-race Intercontinental GT Challenge which is now in its second season. The Total 24 Hours of Spa is the world’s leading 24-hour race reserved for GT3 cars.
With the interest and enthusiasm of GT racing growing around the world, the Intercontinental GT Challenge was set up in 2016 by the SRO Motorsports Group. The Intercontinental GT Challenge represents the highest achievement in long distance GT racing, and 2017 Porsche works driver Laurens Vanthoor finished on the podium in each of last year’s three races, winning the season finale, the Motul Sepang 12 Hours.
By uniting these iconic events (Blancpain GT Series and Intercontinental GT Challenge) in one series, the level of racing at each round will certainly increase, elevating the event’s appeal to fans, sponsors, media, drivers and teams alike. The 2017 rounds include: the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hours (3-5 February), Total 24 Hours of Spa (27-30 July), California 8 Hours (14-15 October) and Sepang 12 Hours (9-12 December).
The Intercontinental GT Challenge is aimed at manufacturers, who are encouraged to use local teams to represent them in these GT3 races, as it is more cost- and time-effective to fly engineers and drivers around the world, rather than cars and equipment. As this endurance concept has appealed to spectators and manufacturers alike, Porsche decided at the start of the season to support Porsche teams during all four rounds of the 2017 Intercontinental GT Challenge.
At the Bathurst 12 Hours, the #12 Porsche 911 GT3 R of Calvert-Jones, Long, Lieb and Campbell crossed the finish line in second position. This means that Porsche heads to the Total 24 Hours of Spa second in the manufacturers standings of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, seven points behind leader Ferrari. In the Belgian Ardennes, Porsche will support two squads entering Porsche 911 GT3 R, KÜS Team75 Bernhard and Herberth Motorsport. For the final two rounds of the 2017 Intercontinental GT Challenge (California and Sepang), local specialists are yet to be chosen to carry the Porsche colours, in their bid to become this year’s manufacturers champion of the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
The Spa 24 Hour race was first held in 1924, just one year after the first Le Mans 24 Hour race, and has been held almost continuously every year since. So, the event’s prestige is without question, and this year’s race which is the 69th Spa 24, will be no exception. Both a Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ title will be awarded in the Pro category, while only a Drivers’ title will be awarded in Pro-Am. The events all have common technical regulations, while SRO will manage the BoP.
In an effort to bring the race atmosphere to the Belgian city, a drivers’ parade followed a route from the circuit into the city on Wednesday where the drivers signed autographs. The parade then retraced its steps, and returned to the circuit that evening. The first 90-minute Free Practice 1 session (FP1) will be held on Thursday, followed by three more qualifying sessions that will finish at 23h55 that night.
Qualifying is very different from all other Blancpain GT Series rounds. Teams are free to drive as they wish during the two sessions, with refuelling allowed, and teams able to work on the cars, including putting them in the garages. All drivers must set a qualifying time in at least one of the sessions, but all drivers must complete two timed laps during the night qualifying session. The best time from each car over both sessions is used to determine the top 20 cars, which will qualify for the Superpole. The Superpole sees the top 20 cars each do two laps, leaving the pit lane at one-minute intervals. The teams may choose the driver to take part in the Superpole session. A 30-minute warm up is scheduled for Friday afternoon, with a 30-minute Superpole shoot-out from 19h30 to 20h00. The race proper is scheduled to start on Saturday at 16h30, finishing on Sunday at 16h30 (local time).
This year will see five Porsche 911s lining up in three different classes, Pro, Pro-Am Cup and Group National. These five Porsches are listed below for your convenience, to make it easier for the reader to follow:
|117||991 GT3 R||KÜS Team75 Bernhard||Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen||Pro|
|911||991 GT3 R||Herberth Motorsport||Jürgen Häring, Alfred Renaur, Robert Renaur, Marc Lieb||Pro-Am Cup|
|912||991 GT3 R||Herberth Motorsport||Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Sven Müller, Mathieu Jaminet||Pro-Am Cup|
|56||991 Cup||RMS||Howard Blank, Fabrice Notari, Yannick Mallegol, Frank Mechaly||Group National|
|991||991 Cup||Speedlover||Pierre Yves Paque, Grégory Paisse, Thierry de Latre du Bosqueau, Louis-Philippe Soenen||Group National|
No less than 63 cars will take up their starting positions on the grid on Saturday, and even though the difference between the top drivers and those lower down the order is marked, with this number of high-powered GT racers on track, it can only be a superb race.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Blancpain GT Series