Testing times in Belgium pays off for a few at the Spa 24

Monday, July 29, 2019

The seventy first running of the Spa 24 Hour at the weekend again never failed to disappoint in terms of the racing spectacle that seventy odd current specification GT3 race cars thundering around the seven kilometre circuit would always create, although there was of course always disappointment for some whenever the track decided to snap back.

Seventy one years since the last outright win by an Aston Martin at the event, this years six car entry of the new generation Aston Martin Racing V8 Turbo Vantage GT3 was the biggest from the marque in recent years and would hopefully give all the three full Pro car entries their best chance yet. As well as these cars there were entries into the remaining Pro-Am, Silver Cup and Am classes so all bases were covered.

After the customary trip down to Spa Francorchamps town for the car and drivers parade, things on track didn't exactly get off to a good start for the #97 Oman Racing with TF Sport team in Pro-Am after Salih Yoluc suffered a sizeable front end accident in Free Practice that would otherwise write off their car. Thanks to the team also having already raced at the circuit on the previous weekend in the latest round of the British GT Championship, they at least retained a spare chassis at the track which they quickly changed over in time for that to be ready for Qualifying.

By the time the Qualifying process had panned out on Thursday and Friday, there would be top twenty starting positions for all three Pro cars plus either P3 or P4 starts in the Silver Cup, Pro-Am and Am classes. For the #97 Oman Racing car, that would convert into a pit lane start due to their chassis change after the commencement of officially timed track activities.

Race morning on Saturday also heralded the expected change in meteorological conditions at the circuit with the intense 40 deg C sunshine of Tuesday and Wednesday being replaced with persistent rainfall and much cooler air and track temperatures.

With the race starting behind the Safety Car, one of the first cars to fall was unfortunately the leading AMR Pro car of Jonny Adam in the #59 Garage 59 car that he shared with Come Ledogar and Andrew Watson. A seized from hub was the problem and despite the best of efforts from the crew time was ultimately called on that car still inside the first hour of racing and for the second race this year, two of their drivers would see no actual race mileage.

Throughout the constant stream of Full Course Yellow and other race control and intervention that followed as the race attested to gain momentum, the #59 car was soon followed by the (eventual) confirmed retirements of both the #62 Pro car from and #762 Silver Cup entries from R-Motorsport. The #62 suffered from race ending accident damage to the rear after Matt Parry spun out at Stavelot whilst the #762 suffered from similar effects after an accident induced by others. Three cars out even before nightfall - that would normally have been considered as something of a disaster had it not have been for the remaining three cars then having a race of the lives with the #76 in the top 10 overall and both the #97 and #188 leading their respective Pro-Am and Am classes respectively.

The ever changing track conditions made for some difficult strategy calls as first a dry line appeared with slicks being the tyre of choice) quickly followed with more rain and full wets again required as night fell and the track lit up with another magnificent firework display.

At the 1/3rd distance - the #76 R-Motorpsort car was up to P5 with Alex Lynn cycling through the three man line up of himself, Jake Dennis and Marvin Kirchhofer whilst Nicki Thiim, then aboard the #97 car had moved up to P17 overall with the car that started from the pit lane. The #188 Garage 59 Am class car of Chris Harris was sitting comfortably for the conditions in P2 with their battle with Barwell just ahead after great work from Alex West, Ross Gunn and Chris Goodwin.

Then, after fourteen hours of racing under almost a constant stream of rain, FCY's and Safety Car periods to clean up various smashes around the circuit during the early hours of Sunday morning, the race was finally red flagged by Race Control due to the existing and forecasted weather conditions that were then swamping the circuit. Lessons learned from previous years coming into force and there didn't appear to be too many voices of discontent with that decision.

With cars now returned to the pits and garages under Parc Ferme conditions, that gave time for many to catch some sleep and barrier repairs to be made with the race not expected to resume much before midday local time.

With the race left down to a three to hour hour sprint to the flag the only AMR's left in contention for a prize was the #97 Oman Racing car and the #188 Garage 59 car after the #76 R-Motorpsort car had lost large amounts of time during the night with an incorrectly fitted tyre and wheel. The car was still in the race but too far behind to have time to made amends.

Late disappointment however came to the #188 Garage 59 car after Goodwin was collected from the rear by another car damaging the Aston's rear suspension. Despite getting the car home and repaired, that lost time would lose them their hold on a class podium although it did credit Harris with his first ever Spa 24 race finish.

That left the #97 Oman Racing with TF Sport AMR Vantage to fly the flag for the marque as AMR factory driver Nicki Thiim nursed a two lap lead to take the Pro-Am class win at the chequered flag in something of a very bedraggled and battle scared race car.

In addition to the race win, the points haul earned by Yoluc, Charlie Eastwood and Ahmad Al Harthy at the 6,12 and 24hour marks elevates them into the overall class lead in the Championship with just the final round of the season at Barcelona outstanding.

Whilst it may not have been the overall race win that had been yearned for, a class win at the toughest GT3 race in the world is nothing to be sniffed at. For Garage 59 and R-Motorsport, they both have the depth and ability to pick themselves up from their hardships in Belgium to race again another day.

For others however, their next race is just this weekend at Brands Hatch for the penultimate round of the British GT Championship.

2019 busy busy busy still ...................!!!

Photo credits - Blancpain / TF Sport / Garage 59 / R-Motorsport
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