The #51 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi was out front as the 2021 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa reached one-quarter distance, giving the Italian squad maximum points for the opening phase of the contest.
As the sun set over the Ardennes the race had been relatively calm for more than two hours, a stark contrast from the dramatic scenes that characterised the early portion of the twice-around-the-clock event.
After a clean start that saw all 58 cars complete the opening laps the race was neutralised after 22 minutes following an accident at Raidillon involving Jack Aitken (#114 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini), Kevin Estre (#21 Rutronik Racing Porsche), Franck Perera (#163 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini) and Davide Rigon (#71 Iron Lynx Ferrari).
All four drivers were immediately attended by track emergency staff. Perera and Estre were transferred to the medical centre and, following checks, released to rejoin their teams. Aitken and Rigon were taken to hospital for further assessment and are confirmed to have no life-threatening injuries.
After almost an hour of full-course yellow/safety car running poleman Raffaele Marciello (#88 Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA ASP) led the field back to green ahead of Mirko Bortolotti (#63 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini), but the complexion of the race changed almost immediately when a heavy rain shower drenched the circuit. After trying to survive on slick tyres, the leading duo ultimately had to duck in for wets.
Audi Sport Team WRT made a quick call to bring Nico Müller in for rain tyres, vaulting the #37 entry to the head of the order once everyone had stopped. At the three-hour mark the Audi still led, with Robin Frijns in for Müller, when the race was neutralised for a second time. On this occasion it was for a less serious incident as Tim Kohmann (#11 Kessel Racing Ferrari) made contact with the barriers exiting Speaker’s Corner. Though the German driver was able to rejoin, a brief full-course yellow/safety car period was required.
Several teams took the opportunity to visit the pits, though neither the #37 Audi nor the #88 Mercedes-AMG were among them. Both stopped under green flag conditions, dropping them down the order but not out of contention. This put the #63 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini out front for the first time, but by the five-hour mark Marco Mapelli was under considerable pressure from fellow countryman Pier Guidi. The Ferrari got a run as they headed for Les Combes and dived around the outside to take the lead, seemingly making contact with the rear of the Lamborghini in the process.
Andrea Caldarelli took the wheel from Mapelli at the next stop and, after slipping several seconds back, made significant gains on Pier Guidi as the six-hour mark approached. Nevertheless, it was #51 Iron Lynx car that bagged maximum Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup points for the first quarter of the race.
Martin Tomczyk was third in the #35 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW, followed the #38 JOTA McLaren and the #32 Audi Sport Team WRT. The latter was firmly in the hunt after a remarkable recovery from 55th on the grid, helped in part by the early safety car and rain. The #3 Schnabl Engineering Porsche was sixth, while the #37 Audi and #88 Mercedes-AMG remained together on-track, running off-sequence in seventh and eighth.
The final overall point at this stage of the race went to the #90 Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG, driven by Patrick Kujala, which also led the Silver Cup class. The #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini was out front in Pro-Am with Sandy Mitchell running 19th overall, while the #166 Hägeli by T2 Racing Porsche topped the Am Cup classification in the hands of Marc Basseng.