In an incredible finish to a riveting TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa race, it was heartbreak for Kelvin van der Linde and the Audi Sport Team WRT when Dries Vanthoor was overtaken with nine minutes to go by the Iron Lynx Ferrari driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi.
Ferrari, however, achieved its first Spa victory since 2004 – by just 3,9 seconds.
The car Guidi shares with Come Ledogar and Nicklas Nielsen dominated much of the race’s second half but was caught out by a late downpour that handed the advantage to Audi Sport Team WRT’s crew comprising Vanthoor, Kelvin van der Linde and Charles Weerts who appeared on course for an unlikely victory after switching to wet tyres moments before the heavens opened.
But they ultimately fell 3,9s short of completing an incredible comeback from 54th on the grid thanks to the brilliance of Pier Guidi who recovered from the disappointment of losing a 40s advantage to pass Vanthoor around the outside of Blanchimont in treacherous conditions as the race clock ticked towards zero.
Garage 59’s Aston Martin shared by Ross Gunn, Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim completed the overall podium, while WRT’s entry featuring Robin Frijns, Nico Mueller and Dennis Lind finished third of the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli entries in fourth overall.
The remaining three manufacturers – Lamborghini, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche – also finished in an overall top-10 featuring eight IGTC nominated entries.
Ferrari’s 488 is usually a victory contender at Spa but, for whatever reason, has always fallen short of emulating the 550 GTS Maranello that won in 2004.
And that looked to be the case again with an hour remaining of this year’s edition when a heavy rainstorm turned the lead battle on its head after the crew had steadily climbed the order from 13th on the grid.
Ironically, Iron Lynx partly owed its place at the front to the misfortune of its other Pro entry. Only 30 minutes had elapsed when a multi-car accident at the top of Raidillon ended the hopes of four prominent IGTC entries. After hitting the tyre barrier, Jack Aitken’s Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini was collected by team-mate Franck Perera, the Iron Lynx Ferrari driven by Davide Rigon, and Kevin Estre’s Rutronik Porsche. Perera and Estre were discharged from the Medical Centre soon after, while Rigon and Aitken transferred to hospital for further checks. Neither sustained serious injury.
The race returned to green just under an hour later with Super Pole’s top-two – Raffaele Marciello and Mirko Bortolotti – briefly remaining out front until both ran a lap too long on slicks at the start of a heavy downpour.
Thus, Nico Mueller ended the second hour in first place despite his dramatic sideways moment heading up Raidillon. But Audi Sport Team WRT’s entry would ultimately drop off the lead lap when Dennis Lind lost over a minute while stationary at pit-in with a fuel pick-up problem.
With AKKA ASP’s pole-winning Mercedes-AMG also losing time to a drive-through penalty, the pendulum initially swung back Orange1 FFF Racing’s way thanks to the combined efforts of Bortolotti, Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli who capitalised on the Audi’s problem in the fourth hour.
However, their Huracan found a worthy adversary in Iron Lynx’s remaining Ferrari which was the chief beneficiary of Mapelli’s drive-through penalty for pitlane speeding just after 03:00. A further two penalties – one for track limits infringements and another for causing a collision – as well as a late puncture and unscheduled pit visit restricted FFF to eighth.
Another primary victory contender fell by the wayside in the night when a damper issue forced AKKA ASP’s Mercedes-AMG into retirement.
That, along with misfortune elsewhere and the correct decision to change from slicks to wets just after the early restart, left WRT’s Audi as Iron Lynx’s only realistic rival.
The car shared by Vanthoor, Weerts and Van Der Linde topped both practice sessions but was caught out by two red flags in qualifying that prevented a representative time from being set. The latter therefore lined up 54th but made up 18 places in the opening hour before vaulting into the top-15 thanks to the early call for wets.
The trio were metronomically fast and mistake-free thereafter to move the R8 LMS GT3 firmly into contention. Initially on a different pitstop sequence, the crew’s strategy aligned with the Ferrari’s at the end of the 19th hour when Iron Lynx reacted to Vanthoor eradicating Ledogar’s 10s lead.
The two cars continued to stop one lap apart thereafter, Nielsen initially maintaining a narrow advantage over Van der Linde before Vanthoor and Pier Guidi returned for the final two hours.
Any hopes of a grandstand finish were seemingly dashed by a combination of drizzle, Iron Lynx’s quicker pitstops and their rapid Italian who was supreme during the penultimate stint’s tricky damp conditions. A six-second lead became 22 just before the final hour when the Ferrari made its customary stop a lap before the Audi. A dry track and no rain in the air made slicks the only option, but that all changed within one dramatic lap that saw WRT swap to treaded Pirellis at the same moment as the heavens opened.
The heaviest rain of the week sent GT cars aquaplaning off at the Bus Stop, Eau Rouge and Kemmel Straight, resulting in an inevitable Full Course Yellow and Safety Car. They came as a lifeline to Iron Lynx who initially gambled on a light rain shower by leaving Pier Guidi out an extra lap. He was in next time around for wets and emerged several lapped cars behind Vanthoor in the Safety Car line.
45 minutes remained when the race went green for the final time and after clearing the traffic Pier Guidi quickly homed in on WRT’s Audi. The pair circulated two seconds apart for a time before the Italian picked his moment to pull off one of the most spectacular overtaking manoeuvres in TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa history before pulling away to a deserved victory.
Garage 59’s Aston Martin was the last car on the lead lap and first non-IGTC entry home in third following a relatively lonely run over the race’s final third.
WRT’s other Pro trio of Frijns, Lind and Mueller survived a late drive-through to collect third place Intercontinental points for Audi, while reigning two-time winners Porsche came home fourth in IGTC’s classification after Nick Tandy and Maxime Martin completed the bulk of KCMG’s heavy lifting as a result of Laurens Vanthoor’s non racing-related paddock accident.
The R8 LMS GT3 crewed by Haase, Niederhauser and Winkelhock completed a relatively low-key run to sixth overall but added more points to Audi’s IGTC tally as its third and final scoring entry.
Jota’s McLaren was the only other non-IGTC manufacturer to feature in the top-10 and benefited from the late issue that dropped FFF’s Lamborghini to eighth, one place behind Audi’s fourth IGTC-nominated Pro entry of Attempto Racing.
But there was disappointment for Mercedes-AMG who looked like serious victory contenders in the hands of Marciello, Gounon and Juncadella. Their retirement, as well as that of HRT’s entry, left AKKA’s other example as Mercedes-AMG’s primary IGTC points scorer in 10th overall.
TokSport’s example collected two points in 13th and the event’s Pro-Am winners, AF Corse, added another to Ferrari’s IGTC tally in 16th overall.
Intercontinental’s own Pro-Am Challenge was won by EBM Giga Racing’s Reid Harker, Wolfgang Triller, Carlos Rivas and Will Bamber.
Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli continues at the Indianapolis 8 Hour Powered by AWS on October 15-17.