Image credit: Martijn van Tussenbroek
The 67th running of the Total 24 Hours of Spa promises to be one of the highlights of the international motorsports season. With over a dozen candidates vying for the win, representing a plethora of prestigious manufacturers, the spectacle during the Ardennes endurance classic will be of the highest level.
Whoever thought that last year’s gap at the end of the Total 24 Hours of Spa – a mere seven seconds separating the winning Belgian Audi Club Team WRT car from the BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS machine – would be hard to beat, might be in for a surprise come Sunday July 26th. The 2015 edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the highlight of the Blancpain GT Series, will probably produce a very open race, with an unprecedented number of candidates for the win.
With three different winners in the first three races of the Blancpain Endurance Series, it is clear that there is little or nothing between this year’s teams and drivers in the Pro Cup division. The driver standings are led by Wolfgang Reip, Katsumasa Chiyo and Alex Buncombe – the winners of the previous round at Le Castellet with the #23 Nissan Academy Team RJN car – but the gap towards the competition is almost non-existent.
The Bentley Boys Smith, Meyrick and Kane are only one point behind, while the Audi-trio of Vernay, Frijns and Vanthoor just two. All of them are among the candidates for the win in Spa, but it is worth noting that reigning Blancpain Endurance Series champion Laurens Vanthoor has new team-mates for his home race, as he will be teaming up with René Rast and Markus Winkelhock to reunite the winners of last year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Vanthoor, Rast and Winkelhock will be driving a new Audi R8 LMS, entered by Audi Sport Team WRT. There are four of those at the start in Spa, two in the Audi Sport Team WRT camp and two in the Audi Sport Team Phoenix garages. Among the drivers of the latter are threefold Le Mans-winners Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer. The German-with-Belgian-roots is competing in Spa for the fifth time in his career and would love to add an almost home win to his tally.
The Audi R8 LMS is not the only car making its debut in the Total 24 Hours of Spa. The same goes for the Lamborghini Huracàn and the McLaren 650S. Both showed massive potential during the previous races of the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series – the VonRyan Racing McLaren taking the win in Silverstone – so keep an eye out for them as well.
That does not mean that the older generation of GT3 cars will not have their say during the Ardennes weekend. The previous generation of the Audi R8 – three times the winner in the last four editions of the Belgian classic – still has got a lot going for it, as shown by the cars of Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, Saintéloc and ISR.
The Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 – that car that crossed the line in first in 2013 – is the weapon of choice for Rowe Racing and Black Falcon in the Pro Cup, and with Black Falcon having local specialist Nico Verdonck in its driver line-up, they are expected to be among the frontrunners as well.
One of the advantages Verdonck and his team-mates Christodoulou and Simonsen will have is that they do not have to worry about the points after six and twelve hours to establish their strategy, as they are not competing in the whole of the 2015 series. The same goes for two other teams who have come to Spa with the clear intention to finish on the podium. Both entering one or more BMW Z4 GT3 cars, Roal Motorsport and BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS will do their utmost best to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bavarian brand’s first win in Spa in style.
The Italian squad will almost certainly be in the spotlight for the whole of the weekend, since Alex Zanardi is among its drivers. The former F1-driver, IndyCar-champion and Olympic champion has chosen the Total 24 Hours of Spa to be the next in his long line of challenges and together with DTM stars Timo Glock and Bruno Spengler the Italian is certainly aiming for a top finish.
A top finish might not be enough for the troops of Count Marc van der Straten. The BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS has been chasing a win in its home race for so long now, that anything less will probably be a disappointment for Belgian squad. With Martin-Farfus-Werner and Palttala-Catsburg-Luhr, they arguably have their best line-up ever, and the preparations for the Ardennes race week were nigh on perfect, so everything seems to be into place for that elusive first win. But only the race itself will decide whether 2015 will be Marc VDS’s year or not