Every sport has its majors. In Tennis, players define their careers by the Grand Slam tournaments, their performances at Roland Garros, Flushing Meadows and Wimbledon. In golf, like tennis, each season has four majors and every player’s dream is to have all four to their name.
This year both Novak Djokovic and Jordan Spieth have both taken two titles, Speith narrowly missing out on a historic third major in the changeable conditions of St Andrews at The Open last weekend.
In Motorsport the definition of a Major is more uncertain. Through the 60s and 70s drivers sought the Triple Crown – victories at Le Mans, Monaco and Indianapolis – but in the modern era with drivers less willing – or less able – to split their most profitable and productive years between racing disciplines, any driver’s quest for a Grand Slam often has to be limited to the events contested in a single series or – at most – a single discipline.
Allan McNish missed out on adding a Rolex 24 win to his successes at Le Mans, Sebring and Road Atlanta. Sebastien Ogier needs only victory in Argentina to complete a career Grand Slam of all the current World Rally Championship events.
In endurance racing in Europe there can be little doubting the major events. The 24 Hours of Le Mans, aside a calendar year sweep of the twice around the clock races at Nurburgring and Spa-Francorchamps, can be seen as the pinnacle of a career for the growing number of drivers dedicating their time to racing in a manufacturer’s GT3 machinery.
All four drivers who were victorious two months ago in Germany have made the trip just across the border in Belgium for this week’s Total 24 Hours of Spa. However, the quartet of Christopher Mies, Edward Sandstrom, Nico Mueller and Laurens Vanthoor will line up at Spa with four different teams.
Vanthoor leads the line as part of the #1 crew. Mueller and Mies will line up with the #2 and #5 crews – also Audi Sport Team WRT fielded R8 LMS – while Sandstrom lends his muscle of the effort of the privateer Sainteloc team, supporting Marc Basseng and Gregory Guilvert.
As well as those aiming for a GT3 Grand Slam, there are those aiming for ‘the double’ – a target that Premiership football teams will begin their pursuit of in the coming weeks.
With additional points on offer from the Spa weekend in both the Blancpain Endurance Series and the Blancpain GT Series that combines the Endurance and Sprint Series, a winning performance at Spa will be a huge boost to a team’s – and driver’s – championship aspirations.
Audi Sport Team WRT team-mates Vanthoor and Robin Frijns arrive at Spa conjoined at the top of the GT Series championship, but are almost guaranteed not to leave the 7km circuit on the same points, as like the N24 winners, they will take their places in different teams for the Belgian weekend. Vanthoor is one third of the reformed winning team for a year ago – Rene Rast and Markus Winkelhock also part of the #1 line-up for The Belgian Audi outfit. Frijns, in his first season in GT machinery, is part of the #3 line-up with Jean-Karl Vernay and Stephane Richelmi.
In the Endurance Series standings a single point separates the Pro Cup teams from Nissan GT Academy Team RJN and Bentley M-Sport in favour of the GT-R drivers Katsumasa Chiyo, Wolfgang Reip and Alex Buncombe. The lead Bentley trio of Steven Kane, Andy Meyrick and Guy Smith are second, without a win this year at the point when they had two in 2014.
Like any major sports event there are those who break away from their regular schedule to have a tilt at the big event.
These are the wildcards, and at Spa few are as threatening to the series regulars at Marc VDS Racing – or BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS to give them their full (and not very wild) name. The Belgian squad have a chequered past with their home event with recent years marked by bizarre incidents (an exploding fire extinguisher), animal encounters (pity the team member who had to pull the hare from the grill of the Z4) and narrow losses owing to niggling mechanical problems that delayed them in the final hours.
Then there are the underdogs, the long-odd punts who could just come good. Like the VonRyan Racing line-up of Rob Bell, Shane van Gisbergen and Kevin Estre who gave the McLaren 650S GT3 its first victory at Silverstone, or even the sister car of Alvaro Parente, Bruno Senna and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs. Perhaps even one of the pair of new for 2015 Lamborghini Huracans fielded by the GRT Grasser Racing Team.
24 Hour racing has all the unpredictability of a knockout tournament and Spa’s weather has all the potential to push someone’s metaphorical ball from the green just as they appear in a perfect position.
And all of these variables are simply within the Pro Cup, the premier class for teams comprised of three professional drivers. There are also the Pro-Am Cup and the Am Cup classes to take into account, each class chasing down championship honours as well as a major win.
But the identity of the winners – and the losers lies beyond 24 Hours of racing. That’s enough time for 16 football matches, for Open winner Zach Johnson to repeat his final round six times and for the Centre Court crowd to watch Djokovic beat Federer nearly eight times.
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Words:James Broomhead and Kevin Mc Glone.
Pictures:Kevin Mc Glone(Red Square Images)