BMW wins Spa, Audi scores full points for the Intercontinental GT Challenge

BMW wins Spa, Audi scores full points for the Intercontinental GT Challenge
BMW scored a one-two in the 70th edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, but it was Audi that scored the most points for the 2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge, of which the Belgian endurance classic was the second round. The #25 Audi Sport Team Saintéloc finished in fourth overall, increasing the German brand’s lead in the manufacturer championship. Bathurst-winner Robin Frijns took the points for fourth and remains on top in the drivers’ standings.

This anniversary edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa proved to be a very hectic affair, as is often the case. The #2 Audi Sport Team WRT machine led much of the first hour after beating the pole-sitting Aston Martin into Eau Rouge. Their positions were then reversed after the first round of pit stops, but the complexion of the race changed over the next 90 minutes as a full-course yellow – which then developed into a safety car – brought a number of new competitors into the frame, including the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport machine.

The #8 Bentley moved into the overall lead a couple of laps later and remained there after another full-course yellow. There was almost immediate drama when the race went green as a Lamborghini made heavy contact with the #58 Garage 59 McLaren, causing significant damage to both cars. The pair was forced to pit for lengthy repairs. After the #17 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT car shed a wheel and retired, the leading Bentley remained out front through yet another full-course yellow, with Andy Soucek at the front for the start of the sixth hour.

With several neutralisations, strategy played an important role in proceedings. Unfortunately, the race was also red-flagged after an accident involving the #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley of Andy Meyrick and the #666 Lamborghini driven by Jurgen Krebs, just before the eleven-hour mark. Both drivers remain under observation. However, neither has suffered life-threatening injuries.

When the race was restarted at 4.50 on Sunday morning, several cars competing in the Intercontinental GT Challenge were part of the leading pack. The #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental that had led proceedings on Saturday evening was no longer part of that group, as it had lost a significant amount time due to steering problems.

At the start of the last quarter of the race the #25 Audi Sport Team Saintéloc was lying first overall, with the second of the Intercontinental GT Challenge cars, the #4 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon car close behind. The second of the Bentley Team M-Sport cars - the #7 Continental GT3 that had started the race from pitlane - was still on the lead lap at the time, but an issue with the radiator cost them a lot of time soon afterwards.

As far as the points for the Intercontinental GT Challenge were concerned, the final hours were marked by a duel between the Audi and Mercedes-AMG representatives. The #4 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon of Yelmer Buurman, Luca Stolz and Maro Engel lost ground due to an ill-timed pitstop just before a Full Course Yellow period and was unable to make up for the lost time.

That meant that the #25 Audi Sport Team Saintéloc took full points for the Intercontinental GT Challenge. The car of Fred Vervisch, Christopher Haase and reigning drivers’ champion Markus Winkelhock almost finished on the overall podium, but a fuel issue saw it drop back to fourth overall. However, the problem did not threaten their points’ score for the Intercontinental GT Challenge.

With the #4 Mercedes-AMG taking the points for second, the third place in the Intercontinental GT Challenge went to another Mercedes-AMG, the #88 Mercedes-AMG Team Akka ASP of Dani Juncadella, Raffaele Marciello and Tristan Vautier. The latter two are now on 33 points in the drivers’ standings, together with Luca Stolz. They all are four points behind Robin Frijns, who took the points for fourth at the wheel of the #2 Audi Sport Team WRT he shared with Nico Müller and René Rast.

For both McLaren and Porsche, this proved to be difficult edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa. The #58 and #188 Garage 59 McLaren cars hit technical issues after contact with other cars, with the latter not finishing the race. For the representatives of the Stuttgart brand the #911 Manthey-Racing Porsche dropped down the order due to electrical issues and the #117 Küs Team75 Bernhard was parked after contact with a backmarker. Both the #540 Black Swan Racing 911 and the #991 Herberth Motorsport car were among the fastest cars driven by Bronze drivers, but technical issues meant they could not end the race.

The best of the Bronze drivers was Nick Leventis in the #42 Strakka Racing Mercedes-AMG, finishing in 17th overall. At the wheel of the #175 Sun Energy 1 Team HTP Motorsport car Kenny Habul also took a top-20 spot overall.

The Total 24 Hours of Spa was round two of this year’s Intercontinental GT Challenge. Next month, the Suzuka 10 Hours takes centre stage, on August 24-26. The Laguna Seca Raceway California 8 Hours, on October 26-28, closes out the campaign, which began in February at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.