For the second year running, it was a BMW that won the highlight of the Blancpain GT Series, the Total 24 Hours of Spa. The #99 Rowe Racing BMW of Maxime Martin, Alexander Sims and Philipp Eng ran a faultless race, even resisting a sudden downpour 30 minutes from the end to take their most prestigious win of the year.
“It is difficult to describe. This is the seventh victory for my family at the 24 Hours of Spa and it feels amazing.” said Maxime Martin. “I have tried to win this race a few times before and come quite close in the last few years but today was our day, or at least our weekend. It was the perfect weekend with no mistakes and no regulation breaches. For me it is quite an emotional victory; it is just amazing.”
The adverse weather conditions did influence the other podium positions, though: the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental which ran second for much of the second half of the race, dropped to fourth in the end.
A late Full Course Yellow pit stop gave the #88 AMG-Team AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG the necessary boost to claim the runner-up spot, finishing five seconds ahead of the #28 Audi Sport Team WRT R8. It also secured victory for Mercedes-AMG in the Intercontinental GT Challenge. Pro-Am Cup honours were taken by the #76 IMSA Performance Porsche which ran a faultless race, while the #888 Kessel Racing Ferrari won the battle of the Prancing Horses in the Am Cup.
In the National Group there was no stopping the #911 RMS Porsche and Audi won the Coupe du Roi for a third consecutive time.
It wasn’t long before it was clear that the 69th running of the Total 24 Hours of Spa was going to be an unpredictable, yet extremely hard-fought endurance race. During the first safety car intervention, following a two-car crash on the Kemmel Straight, several teams spread their tactics over different cars which prompted a flurry of lead changes. No fewer than seven different brands led the race at one point or another.
At the first points scoring opportunity after six hours the #99 Rowe Racing BMW lead from the #6 and #1 Audis, but the competition was not far behind. However, there was no #28 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 among them, for there had been contact between that car’s driver René Rast and the #114 Emil Frey Jaguar of Jonathan Hirschi. The Audi squad needed three laps to repair the damage to the #28 car, which recovered during the second half of the race to take third.
During the night hours the two Continental GT3s of the Bentley Team M-Sport came to the front, occupying first and third spots halfway through the race and giving them important points for the championship. In second was the #6 Audi Sport Team Phoenix R8 ahead of the #99 Rowe Racing BMW in fourth, which was still on the lead lap.
With the #7 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental GT3s losing considerable time due to power steering problems, three of those four cars continued to challenge each other for the lead throughout the morning hours. That three-way fight became a duel when the #6 Audi Sport Team Phoenix R8 went up in flames. Flailing rubber from a right rear puncture cut the oil lines of the Audi and triggered a fireball, but driver Christopher Mies escaped unharmed.
With intermittent rain hitting the Ardennes track during the closing stages of the race, the drivers of the remaining #8 Bentley and #99 BMW struggled adapting to the ever-changing conditions. Because the Bentley had to serve several drive-through penalties throughout the race, it was expected to be half a minute short at the end. The late race downpour changed the leaderboard even more, with the Bentley switching to rain tyres under green. At the same time several cars aquaplaned off at the Bus Stop chicane, instigating a Full Course Yellow-situation. The cars in third, fourth and fifth all pitted during that period, which brought them out ahead of the Bentley. It appeared the #86 AMG-Team HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 would inherit a podium position, but in the final minutes it was deemed the car had been released from its pit box in an unsafe manner and driver Maxi Götz was handed a drive-through penalty that demoted him to fifth. Felix Rosenqvist in the #88 AMG-Team AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 climbed to second, and although Laurens Vanthoor in the #28 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 did his utmost to pass the Swede, the Audi-driver had to settle for third.
At the front there were no real worries for Alexander Sims in the new BMW M6 GT3, who took the win under the cheers of the Rowe Racing team and his co-drivers Philipp Eng and Maxime Martin. For Martin it was a very emotional win, for with this victory he follows in the footsteps of his father (and four times Spa-winner) Jean-Michel Martin.