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Audi Team WRT Audi in control as night falls, SMP Racing Ferrari secures points for leading at six hours

27 July 2019

SMP Racing led the Total 24 Hours of Spa as the event reached one-quarter distance, but the Ferrari crew relinquished its advantage to Audi Sport Team WRT shortly after.

The #72 car remained on-track with slick tyres in heavy rain to ensure that it scored maximum points for leading after six hours, losing significant time as Mikhail Aleshin tried to negotiate the 7km track on the wrong rubber.

The Russian was up to the task and stopped for wet-compound Pirelli tyres as soon as the points were secured, handing the advantage to the WRT Audi. This put Rene Rast in control, but the German faced pressure from the #25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc car driven by Frederic Vervisch. Maxi Goetz ran third in the #999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM machine.

By the time the pit stops had cycled through the SMP Ferrari was running seventh, more than a minute off the lead. Nevertheless, the crew of Aleshin, Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina have extended their advantage at the top of the Endurance Cup drivers' standings, while the SMP squad now leads the teams' championship.

The race began under safety car conditions after heavy rain soaked the Spa-Francorchamps circuit before the 16.30 start. Four laps later the contest began for real, with pole-sitter Maro Engel going on to lead the opening 90 minutes in his #4 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon car. The crew remained in contention at the six-hour mark, with Yelmer Buurman running fifth.

Two lengthy full-course yellow periods restricted competitive running between the hours of six and eight. The first was necessitated by a heavy accident for the #37 3Y Technology BMW of Jean Paul Buffin, who veered into the barriers on the approach to Les Combes. While track workers repaired damage to the barriers, Buffin and a marshal were transported to the medical centre. Both escaped serious injury, though Buffin will remain under observation.

Another crash brought the yellow flags out again shortly afterwards. On this occasion it was due to the #31 Team Parker Bentley of Ryan Ratcliffe, which made heavy rear contact with the tyre barriers at Paul Frere. The driver was able to climb from the car unaided, but the stricken Bentley was out on the spot.

There were no such problems for Silver Cup-leading Attempto Racing outfit, which continued to dominate from pole at the six-hour mark. The #55 machine ran ninth overall as Mattia Drudi, Steijn Schothorst and Pieter Schothorst continued their superb showing, holding an advantage of 13 positions over its nearest class challenger.

It was a very different story in Pro-Am, with the #97 Oman Racing With TF Sport Aston Martin battling back from a pit lane start to lead its class. Indeed, the car was a superb 17th overall with Nicki Thiim at the wheel. In Am Cup, the #77 Barwell Lamborghini began its challenge for a second successive class win in excellent fashion by leading after six hours.

Several high-profile cars were hit with drive-through penalties during the first quarter of the race, including the #998 ROWE Porsche, the #20 GPX Porsche, the #2 Audi Sport Team WRT, and the #563 FFF Lamborghini. The #2 WRT car had staged the best recovery by the time six hours had been completed, with Dries Vanthoor running 10th and setting fastest laps.

Teams will now tackle the night hours, with the recent rainfall adding an even greater challenge to one of the toughest aspects of the Total 24 Hours of Spa.