• Fierce competition between 25-car Pro contingent
• Global automotive heavyweights add significant factory support for marquee race
• Eight manufacturers represented, world-leading GT drivers ready for battle
With less than a week remaining before the world's most competitive GT race gets underway, there is an important question to consider: who is the favourite for overall victory at this year's TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa.
The conversation must begin with Porsche. The Stuttgart marque has clinched the past two editions, while the GPX Martini Racing squad that won in 2019 currently leads the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup standings following victory last time out at Circuit Paul Ricard. Running in collaboration with ART Grand Prix, the line-up of 2020 winner Earl Bamber alongside Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet is a match for anyone.
Dinamic Motorsport should also be a factor with its #54 crew of Christian Engelhart, Matteo Cairoli and Klaus Bachler. Third overall in 2020, the Italian squad is rarely a hot favourite but frequently hits the front when it counts most. In the sister #56, Mikkel O. Pedersen and Andrea Rizzoli will benefit from the vast experience of two-time race winner Romain Dumas, who made his debut at the 2002 event.
KCMG returns for a second year with Porsche machinery, retaining the established #18 crew of Josh Burdon, Edoardo Liberati and Alex Imperatori. There's excitement about the sister #47 car, which sees local favourites Maxime Martin and Laurens Vanthoor sharing for the first time. Add in the understated brilliance of Nick Tandy and this looks to be one of the very best picks.
Rutronik Racing may be preparing for its maiden appearance, but many see the German squad's #21 entry as a strong contender. Their crew features 2019 winners Kevin Estre and Richard Lietz alongside Sven Müller, who was third last year with Dinamic Motorsport.
Porsche's Pro contingent should have consisted of eight cars, but the Nürburgring-based Frikadelli Racing squad has been forced to withdraw following the severe flooding in its local area. Everyone involved with the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa wishes the team well and hopes to see them back on-track as soon as possible. One of its crews will race with a new outfit as Schnabl Engineering steps in to run the impressive trio of Fred Makowiecki, Dennis Olsen and Michael Christensen.
In terms of Porsche’s rivals, the most obvious place to start is Audi. The Ingolstadt marque is the most successful brand of the GT3 era and came within a few seconds of taking its fifth overall win last year.
The #32 Audi Sport Team WRT machine features the combined talents of Dries Vanthoor, Charles Weerts and Kelvin van der Linde. With an average age of 23 this is one of the youngest crews in the field, but there is no question that they are among the leading contenders.
The sister #37 is a one-off entry, but it should be just as potent. Robin Frijns and Nico Müller are regulars at Spa and both long overdue a win, while crew-mate Dennis Lind represents a promising addition to the Audi stable.
The #25 Audi Sport Team Saintéloc entry is always a strong bet. Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock have shared each year since their win in 2017 and are joined by 2020 runner-up Patric Niederhauser. Saintéloc Racing will deploy an additional Pro car for full-season driver Finlay Hutchison, who has experienced crew-mates in Jamie Green and Adrien Tambay.
Attempto Racing ran as an Audi Sport squad for the first time in 2020 and was the brand's top performer. Mattia Drudi is the only remaining member of its trio, with the vastly experienced Christopher Mies and rising star Dennis Marschall joining for what should be another strong effort.
It is now eight years since the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG clinched overall victory in the Ardennes. The German marque has come close several times since, but another victory has proven elusive. Could 2021 be its year?
When AKKA ASP named its 2021 driver line-up, team boss Jerome Policand made it clear that his objective was to clinch overall victory at Spa. To do so, he assembled an all-star crew of Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Dani Juncadella, which is perhaps the strongest driver line-up in this impressive field. The French squad will deploy a second Pro effort for frequent crew-mates Felipe Fraga and Timur Boguslavskiy, who are joined by Lucas Auer in the #89 car.
The #4 Mercedes-AMG Team HRT is another regular front-runner and few would be surprised to see the trio of Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Vincent Abril make the breakthrough. Engel earned Super Pole in 2019, while all three drivers have previously secured overall podiums at the event. HubAuto will add a fourth AMG GT3 for the all-star trio of Maxi Buhk, Maxi Götz and Yelmer Buurman, whose #50 machine celebrates the German brand’s breakthrough 1971 class victory in the Ardennes.
Lamborghini has won a host of major endurance races and titles, yet the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa trophy is yet to travel to Sant'Agata Bolognese. The #63 Orange1 FFF Racing entry represents its best shot yet, combining the speed, composure and experience of Mirko Bortolotti, Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli. On pole at Monza and at Circuit Paul Ricard, the Italians should be among the leading pack.
Emil Frey Racing will add an additional pair of cars to the field. The Swiss squad has been a regular winner in the Sprint Cup but is yet to take a breakthrough Endurance result with Lamborghini machinery; without doubt, the perfect place to do so would be Spa.
Its #163 entry combines a trio of factory stars in Albert Costa, Franck Perera and Giacomo Altoè, making this a real contender. Across the garage, the 2021 race will be a baptism by fire for the #114 crew of Jack Aitken, Arthur Rougier and Konsta Lappalainen, all of whom are set to contest their first major 24-hour race.
Walkenhorst Motorsport made its name by taking a surprise win at the 2018 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa. Today, it is a leading partner team for BMW Motorsport. It seems appropriate, therefore, that the German squad will run the M6 GT3 in its final Spa assault. Its pair of Pro cars showed well at Monza and Circuit Paul Ricard, while BMW has a useful habit of rising to the top once track activity begins in the Ardennes.
There's plenty of talent behind the wheel, too: Marco Wittmann, Sheldon van der Linde and David Pittard share the #34 entry, while the #35 features Timo Glock, Martin Tomczyk and Thomas Neubauer. Having won its final race with the Z4 in 2015 and its first with the M6 the following year, there would be no surprised faces if BMW earned its 25th overall triumph in 2021.
While Ferrari has been the leading brand when it comes to class wins over the past decade, an overall victory has eluded the Italian marque since 2004. This year, newcomer Iron Lynx will carry the Prancing Horse into battle for the first time, but there's plenty of experience at the Italian squad; indeed, 2012 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa winner Andrea Piccini is the man calling the shots from the pit wall.
It should also be remembered that Ferrari machinery ran well last year, leading more laps than any other brand, so there is real hope of ending the marque's 17-year wait for an overall win. The #51 crew of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Côme Ledogar and Nicklas Nielsen looks to be ready to lead the charge, while the #71 line-up could also be a contender, combining Spa veteran Davide Rigon with talented first-timers Antonio Fuoco and Callum Ilott.
McLaren has only one shot at glory, but British squad JOTA knows how to hit the target. Though a new addition to the full-season Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS grid, the team is vastly experienced and will benefit from the all-factory line-up of Rob Bell, Ben Barnicoat and Ollie Wilkinson. The first objective will be to better the previous best result for a McLaren – ninth in 2012 – and push further forwards should the race play out in their favour.
Aston Martin will also be represented by a single Pro entry, though this is a true one-off effort that will only run at Spa. Established partner squad Garage 59 will run the #95 machine, while leading works drivers Nicki Thiim, Marco Sorensen and Ross Gunn will share the wheel. There's no doubt about the fact that having one bullet in the chamber makes an Aston victory less likely than some of its rivals. But despite being a one-off effort this crew has vast experience of Spa. Should they emerge on top come Sunday afternoon, few will be surprised.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that any of the Pro crews could climb the podium at the conclusion of the race. As to who will take victory, it remains impossible to call. To find out, fans can follow all of the action via a host of online options. As usual, the event's live coverage will consist of free-to-view, non-geo-blocked streams featuring both French and English commentary options. These will be available through the usual variety of platforms, including the event's official website and Facebook page and on the GT World YouTube channels.