This weekend’s 24 Hours of Spa could be the championship decider – Photo Preview

Like its German neighbour, the Total 24 Hours of Spa has become one of the biggest endurance races on the calendar and this weekend’s event marks the penultimate round of the Blancpain Endurance Series (BES) for the very finest GT3 specification cars.

Last year’s Spa 24H was a duel between Audi and BMW, but for this 65th edition the competition is far more widespread, with 70 cars representing 9 different manufacturers including Porsche, Ferrari, Audi, Lamborghini, Mercedes, BMW, McLaren, Nissan and Aston Martin.

After racing at Monza, Silverstone and Paul Ricard the trip to Spa-Francorchamps forms the fourth round of the 2013 BES season, with the final round at the Nurburgring Nordschleife on the 21-23 September, 2013, but given the challenge of the Ardennes race, a strong result could go some way to deciding the 2013 champion.

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The twice-around-the-clock race will challenge both teams and drivers, and with just two points between the top two teams in the championship, should see positions change.

The Kessel Racing trio of Cesar Ramos, Daniel Zampieri and Davide Rigon lead the championship they began with a win at Monza in April, but are now just two points clear of Paul Ricard victors Bas Leinders, Maxime Martin and Yelmer Buurman. The Marc VDS Racing team will aim to improve upon their fourth place in last year’s race after they challenged for the win throughout the first half of the race.

There’s a 26-strong group of Belgian drivers headed up by Koen Wauters in the Boutsen Ginion McLaren MP4-12C GT3. The drivers joined a media frenzy during yesterday’s parade through the town of Spa, with each driver presented with exclusive red jackets to highlight their Team Belgium status.

The Belgian team have three BMW Z4 GT3s on the still provisional entry list, promising a battle for domestic supremacy with their 2012 rivals Belgian Audi Club WRT. The Audi squad have four cars entered in the premier Pro Cup class with a driving line-up that includes several GT-racing stars.

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Frank Stippler and Rene Rast – winners together last year – are split into separate cars. Stippler shares with Christopher Mies and double Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer while Porsche Supercup champion turned GT endurance specialist Rast will carry the #1 plate with Laurens Vanthoor and Stephane Ortelli.

“Last year was difficult, this year will be even more so,” said Rene Rast, #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS ultra – Pro Cup. “At the end of the day you need a bit of luck to win the Total 24 Hours of Spa, and hopefully we will have that with us.”

“Competition this year is so strong, BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Ferrari have impressive teams, the McLaren could well factor here too. For me, the atmosphere is what makes this event special.”

The fourth of WRT R8 LMS ultra combines Oliver Jarvis, seeking a second 24 hour win of 2013 to match his Daytona win, DTM star Matthias Ekstrom and his fellow Swede Edward Sandstrom, who found the unforgiving side of Spa last season when he crashed out of a race for the podium spots at the top of Eau Rouge.

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However, the WRT team and their regular rivals, including SMP Racing, Hexis Racing and ART Grand Prix have their eyes on the points, looking toward championship glory, while others will be aiming solely for the trophy. It should make for an interesting mix of raw speed and race strategy.

“It’s a nightmare, we have no chance, I joke! This event is utterly incredible,” said Stef Dusseldorp, #7 Hexis Racing McLaren MP4-12c – Pro-Cup.

“How can you not love it? Our car is well prepared, the team is superb and in Alex and Alvaro I have two of the best guys in the car with me. Twenty-four hours is always special, but this is on the best track in the world. If it rains, it doesn’t matter to me or the fans, it is just electric.”

Other familiar names joining the grid include the Nissan GT Academy Team RJN fielding a pair of GT-R Nismo GT3s. Ordonez, Mardenborough, Pyzera and Reip start in the #35 car, while Buncombe, Shulzhitskiy and Doherty will drive the #32 car.

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Several teams more familiar with the Nurburgring make the trip across the border. Black Falcon, winners earlier this year, are represented by two Mercedes SLS, though with both in the Pro-Am category neither are likely to challenge for overall victory. Bernd Schneider, the only member of the ring-winning foursome joins the HTP Motorsport team.

The race around the 4.35-mile Ardennes Forest circuit begins on Saturday 27th July at 16:30 CET, with Superpole qualifying on Friday 26th July between 18:15 and 18:35 CET.

You can watch it live (in French and Dutch) on total24hours.com or in English on blancpain-endurance-series.com.

WORDS: James Broomhead
PICTURES: Kevin Mc Glone of Red Square Images.