ROWE Racing gave BMW Motorsport its second consecutive victory in the 24 Hours of Spa today. In its debut at the Belgian circuit the BMW M6 GT3, driven by Alexander Sims, Maxime Martin and Philipp Eng, finished the race in first place. It was the 23rd overall victory of BMW in the Belgian Ardennes classic.
Last year Nick Catsburg, Lucas Luhr and Markus Palttala won the 67th running of the event in their BMW Z4 GT3, but given the performance of the new BMW M6 GT3 so far this season not many people had expected the car to win the first time out at Spa-Francorchamps. But defying all odds Sims, Martin and Eng fought hard to claim a well-deserved victory for ROWE Racing and BMW.
After the free practice and qualifying sessions everyone was expecting a fight between Audi and Mercedes, while the exclusion of the six Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars from Super Pole left a sour taste. Some called Mercedes-AMG cheaters, others said it was all down to certain people at Audi and during the race drivers from both manufacturers continued to battle on social media.
It was perhaps telling for this year’s edition that the fights were on Twitter, rather than on the track for most of the race. For hours nothing happened, other than the occasional lead change as a result of a pit stop. The No. 99 BMW M6 GT3 steadily moved forward, taking advantage of full course yellows and safety car periods to move up the field. ROWE Racing took its mandatory 5-minute stop during a yellow flag period and battled for the lead of the race for the remainder of the race.
In the final hour the rival Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 was hit with another penalty, one of four this race, and a slow pit stop. Treacherous weather conditions in the final half an hour were handled well by Sims, who brought the M6 GT3 home to claim victory for BMW.
The pre-race controversy regarding the illegal Mercedes-AMG GT3 seemed to have been forgotten after the race, even though one of the cars that lost its super pole time and served a five-minute penalty eventually managed to claim second place. The No. 88 AMG – Team AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Felix Rosenqvist, Renger van der Zande and Tristan Vautier dropped down the order after its penalty, though the loss of ground was limited as a result of an early Full Course Yellow.
When heavy rain hit the track Maximilian Götz was in second place with the No. 86 AMG – Team HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3, but an unsafe release during the stop to change to wets meant the German had to come in once more to serve a drive-through. He lost several positions, but fortunately for Mercedes-AMG Rosenqvist was able to move into second place instead. ?
Mercedes-AMGs handling of the Super Pole exclusion will probably be the subject of a number of discussions in the weeks to come. The German manufacturer stated: “There are varying opinions about the interpretation of the homologation. After thorough investigation of the complaints, we decided to submit a protest. Unfortunately, however, this was not accepted anymore as the deadline had passed.” Other sources report that Mercedes-AMG gambled and lost, stating the German manufacturer had been lucky not to have been thrown out of the event before the race.
The second pre-race favorite, Audi, only managed to claim third place. The No. 28 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi R8 LMS started from pole and René Rast and WRT teammate Robin Frijns were strong in the first hours of the race, but dropped down the order during the various cautions. Rast lost time after getting involved in an accident, but strong stints from Rast and teammates Laurens Vanthoor and Nico Müller meant the No. 28 slowly moved back to the front. When the rain hit Spa in the final 30 minutes, Vanthoor managed to grab third place again and secured another podium finish for WRT.