A spectacular win for Porsche at the 24 Hours of Spa
The 911 GT3 R comes out on top after soaking-wet 24 hours
Porsche returned to Spa Francorchamps at the weekend with hopes of repeating its 2019 victory at the infamous 24-hour race. Eleven 911 GT3 R, fielded by six customer teams with a total of 36 drivers, made Porsche’s largest ever line-up at the iconic Belgian endurance event. The cars were part of a 55-strong GT3 field formed by 11 different manufacturers.
A tricky qualifying saw the Porsche Young Professional Thomas Preining fastest of the 911 drivers, with a 2:32.9-minute lap time good enough for sixth on the grid for GPX Racing. Behind him, hot lap specialist Kévin Estre put the KCMG entry in 10th, while Patrick Pilet was the best of the rest in 12th in the second GPX car.
The start of the 24-hour race was delayed by 30 minutes due to repair work on the guardrails. When the action finally started on a dry track at 16:00, Preining once again showed his class with some remarkable passes to put the GPX car in to third. Frequent rain showers would catch out the cars running slicks, however, and positions at the front of the field were traded regularly through scheduled pit stops and driver changes. After four hours, last year’s winning trio of Michael Christensen, Richard Lietz and Kévin Estre were running third, trailing the leader by just 4.8 seconds.
Terrible weather during the night tested even the most experienced drivers to the limit. Several accidents and safety car phases ensued and by the following day the Rowe Racing GT3 R driven by Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor and Nick Tandy had emerged in second place following a heroic double stint by the veteran Briton. Meanwhile, the KCMG car of defending champions Christensen, Estre and Lietz had been forced to retire with a mechanical fault.
The rain strengthened during the second half of the race and poor visibility and standing water led to a total of 18 full course yellows and 14 safety car phases. It was Tandy who again demonstrated his exceptional mastery of the wet, comfortably the fastest driver on track at times. He swept the Rowe Racing GT3 R into the lead for the first time early on Sunday morning, and after teammates Bamber and Vanthoor also put in impressive stints, it was Tandy who then stole the show in the final hour. Despite a transmission fault that saw oil leak heavily from the rear of the car, Tandy outpaced the No. 66 Audi in a gripping final sprint and after 24 hours and 527 laps of the seven-kilometre circuit, he crossed the finish line 4.687 seconds ahead of his pursuer.
Behind the winners, Matteo Cairoli also shone in the final minutes, fighting his way up to third shortly before the flag. The GPX Racing entry of Jaminet, Pilet and Matt Campbell was close behind in fourth, while the Frikadelli Racing car driven by Porsche ambassador Jörg Bergmeister finished an impressive eight on debut.
“To win under such difficult conditions cannot be appreciated highly enough,” said Fritz Enzinger, Vice President Porsche Motorsport. “Plus positions three and four – what a super performance. My congratulations and huge thanks to the winning team of Rowe Racing and to all other Porsche customer teams as well as the engineers from Porsche Motorsport. They all did a tremendous job at Spa.”
But it is best left to Nick Tandy to sum up the monumental challenge of winning this race: “I’ll never forget this finale,” said the elated Brit on Sunday afternoon. “Our victory was hanging by a thread when loud noises suddenly started coming from the rear of the vehicle in the penultimate lap. It almost sounded as if small bombs were exploding. I got a fright and at the same time, the rear axle was sliding around on a trail of oil. What I didn’t realise was that the oil was coming from our car. I still can’t quite believe that the Porsche 911 GT3 R got us over the finish line. The relief and joy are indescribable.”