Porsche took up the battle in the 2018 Spa 24 Hours with four 911 GT3 R race cars. The Spa 24 Hours is regarded as one of Europe’s major long-distance classics alongside the 24-hour races of Le Mans and the Nürburgring. The Spa 24 Hours marks round two of the Intercontinental GT Challenge as well as the fourth race of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup. This was the the 70th running of this great endurance race in Porsche’s 70th anniversary year.
First contested in 1924, the Spa 24 Hours is just one year younger than the legendary long-distance classic at Le Mans. The last overall victory for Porsche in the Ardennes was back in 2010 with Romain Dumas, Jörg Bergmeister, Wolf Henzler and Martin Ragginger in the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR fielded by the BMS Scuderia Italia team. Since 2011, the event on the 7.004-kilometre Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps has represented a highlight on the international GT3 calendar. This year, a total of 221 drivers and 63 vehicles tackle the Spa 24 Hours, spread across thirteen manufacturers.
The four Porsche cars in this year’s 24 Hour race were:
|#911||Manthey-Racing||Pro||Romain Dumas, Frédéric Makowiecki, Dirk Werner|
|#117||KÜS Team75 Bernhard||Pro||Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor|
|#540||Black Swan Racing||Pro-AM Cup||Marc Lieb, Tim Pappas, Marc Miller, Jeroen Bleekemolen|
|#991||Herberth Motorsport||AM Cup||Jürgen Häring, Edward-Lewis Brauner, Wolfgang Triller, Alfred Renauer|
The #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard squad and the #911 Manthey-Racing team both qualified for the Super Pole top-20 shoot out. The final Porsche qualifying positions were as follows:
|Car #||Qualified||Team||Super Pole|
|#117||8||KÜS Team75 Bernhard||Super Pole 12th|
|#911||13||Manthey-Racing||Super Pole 9th|
|#540||45||Black Swan Racing|
Don’t take any unnecessary risks, keep the car on the track and steadily make up ground to the frontrunners – this was the policy to be followed by all four 911 GT3 R race cars in the 2018 Spa 24 Hours.
Earl Bamber handed the #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard to his factory driver teammate Timo Bernhard unscathed after his first stint. Dirk Werner also swapped seats with Romain Dumas in an unscratched yellow-and-green #911 Manthey-Racing 911 GT3 R. The same went for the #540 Team Black Swan Racing which also managed to make up several positions and the #991 Herberth Motorsport, in which Jürgen Häring took over the wheel from Wolfgang Triller in the Am-category.
Sebastian Golz (Project Manager 911 GT3 R): “We had a problem-free start, all of the cars made it through the first corners. We matched the pace at the front, but with such a competitive field it was going to be a tough fight. But as they say, we’re still in the game.”
The KÜS Team75 Bernhard 911 GT3 R made it through the night without any problems. Drivers Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Laurens Vanthoor put in a flawless drive with the #117 car. The Manthey-Racing squad was less lucky with the sister car. The #911 Porsche 911 GT3 R in the hands of Romain Dumas, Frédéric Makowiecki and Dirk Werner lost contact with the leaders when their car required extensive repairs in the pits. The final third of the race would be crucial for the trio.
At the two-thirds distance mark, the two cars in the Pro-Am-class were also experiencing mixed fortunes. The #540 Black Swan Racing 911 GT3 R, driven by Tim Pappas, Marc Miller, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Lieb were running in the leading group of the class.
After technical problems, the #991 Herberth Motorsport 911 GT3 R had fallen back in the Am-class with little chance of securing a podium spot.
Winning in endurance racing is all about making it to the chequered flag first, but this was not to be at the 2018 Spa 24 Hour race. The best-placed Porsche 911 GT3 R was on target for a podium result, when its challenge was brought to an abrupt end. However, a vehicle that had been repeatedly lapped by the Porsche failed to see the #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard and ended the strong performance by Bamber/Bernhard/Vanthoor with five hours and 38 minutes remaining in the race.
The #911 Porsche 911 GT3 R run by the Manthey-Racing team was hampered by electrical problems while running promisingly during the night. The crew of Romain Dumas, Frédéric Makowiecki and Dirk Werner was unable to make up lost ground after the necessary repairs, and finished the race in 29th place.
After a strong performance during the night, the #540 Black Swan Racing 911 GT3 R had moved up the ladder in the Pro-Am category. Tim Pappas, Marc Miller, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Lieb were heading for a podium spot in class only to have several minor problems throw them back down the field again. Shortly before the end of the race, Marc Lieb had to park the vehicle in the pits.
In the Am-category, the #991 Herberth Motorsport 911 GT3 R fielded was one of the fastest vehicles. A defective driveshaft, however, robbed them of any hope of victory, and Jürgen Häring, Edward-Lewis Brauner, Wolfgang Triller and Alfred Renauer finished the race in sixth place in the Am-class.
Dr Frank-Steffen Walliser (Vice President Motorsport and GT Cars): “This was an extremely difficult race weekend for us. Our strategy to drive consistently and without mistakes worked well with the Team75 Bernhard squad. Then the car was knocked out of contention by another vehicle. The #911 Porsche GT3 R was several laps down due to alternator damage and lost all chances of bringing home a top result. And the vehicles in the Pro-Am and Am categories also experienced technical problems. It just wasn’t our weekend.”
Sebastian Golz (Project Manager 911 GT3 R): “Our teams managed to stay out of any tricky situations over the entire race and were very focussed and controlled. Everyone stuck to our zero-mistake plan, because this is the only way to win at Spa. Unfortunately, the #117 GT3 R was damaged while lapping a slower car and couldn’t be repaired.”
Laurens Vanthoor (#117): “I keep wondering what I could have done differently. The Audi driver was 15 laps down and I’d already passed him in that particular corner. He stayed on the outside, we were side-by-side and I gave him room. Suddenly he turned in as if I wasn’t there, he hit my front wheel and spun. The Bentley came from behind and hit my car with full force. It’s incredibly annoying because we were looking promising in the race and on our way to the top.”
Frédéric Makowiecki (#911): “In the first six hours of the race we were running in the top ten and were fighting hard. Then we had problems with the electrical system and fell far behind. Finally, the underbody of the car was also damaged while driving over debris from an accident. Had we not been handicapped by these problems a podium finish would have been possible.”
Marc Lieb (#540): “We drove a superb race in the first twelve hours and were running second in the Pro-Am class. Afterwards, though, we were hampered repeatedly by small defects and repairs, and finally we got a puncture. For safety reasons we pulled out of the race, which was a great shame.”
Alfred Renauer (#991): “The weekend here at Spa went really well, and we were particularly strong in the qualifying. Unfortunately, we had a driveshaft defect after five hours of racing and that cost us about an hour in the pits. Without this long stop for repairs we would have been amongst the frontrunners.”
For Porsche, the 2018 Spa 24 Hours was possibly one their more disappointing races in recent years, and while they came away from the race without any silverware, they were all the wiser for the experience. The factory team is back in action in two-and-a-half weeks in Round 3 of the WEC at Silverstone. Porsche Road & Race will be there, so be sure to stay tuned to our reports.
2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge calendar:
|4 February||Bathurst 12 Hour||Bathurst, Australia|
|28/29 July||24 Hours of Spa||Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium|
|26 August||Suzuka 10 Hours||Suzuka, Japan|
|28 October||California 8 Hours||Monterey, USA|
Edited by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto