The event across 27 and 27 July will see almost half of that starting field competing in the top-tier Pro class, with 35 entrants gunning for overall honours at the annual endurance classic. However with 10 different teams having won the past 10 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup races, there is no clear favourite to pinpoint for top honours.
The current winning form of crews in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup does offer plenty of contenders. Dinamic Motorsport gave Porsche its first victory in six years with a masterful wet weather display at Monza, while the SMP Racing Ferrari crew produced an assured drive through the field to capture overall honours at Silverstone. Then, at the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000kms, Bentley Team M-Sport produced a display of rare dominance to seal the win. With momentum on their side, all three brands are looking strong.
The SMP Ferrari crew currently top the Endurance Cup drivers’ standings and will be joined in the Ardennes by additional efforts from AF Corse and Intercontinental GT Challenge squad HubAuto Corsa. The AF Corse line-up of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Sam Bird comes with considerable pedigree, while HubAuto Corsa is on a roll having clinched victory at the California 8 Hours.
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The British marque Bentley celebrates it centenary this year and will take four factory-backed cars to Spa as it seeks to clinch its very first victory in the Ardennes. And they have plenty of talent among its crews including past race winners Jules Gounon (2017) and Markus Palttala (2015).
Despite not recording a win to date in 2019, the Lamborghini squad Orange1 FFF Racing heads the Endurance Cup teams’ standings ahead of the 24 Hours. Strong results for the Italian marque come as no surprise, though the form of Chinese-run FFF outfit – a newcomer to the series this year – has been impressive. They will launch a two-car attack this term, while Grasser Racing will add a third Huracan GT3 to the grid. Could then this be the year that Lamborghini finally take its first Spa win?
As with many major events, the form guide tends to go out the window – especially at Spa – and with this year’s grid is so full every brand launching a Pro class entry can feasibly be classed as a contender.
It is now 10 years since Chevrolet captured Spa victory in 2009, and the last time the winners’ trophy went to a brand outside Germany. 2010 saw Porsche take its most recent win and kick off the German dominance. Since 2011’s first year of the Blancpain GT Series, three brands have been in command: BMW, Audi and Mercedes-AMG.
Given the importance of their immense experience, this trio can be classed as very serious contenders for overall honours once again in 2019, especially as all three have sanctioned factory-backed efforts to ensure that they are fighting at the very front.
BMW has a record 24 overall wins, including three of the past four, and triumphed last year thanks to Walkenhorst Motorsport. A pair of factory-backed entries will compete this season as part of BMW’s quest on the Intercontinental GT Challenge. The Walkenhorst outfit is back to defend its win, while Team Schnitzer will contest the 24 Hours for the first time since the passing of its hugely successful and much-loved boss Charly Lamm. Should a win prevail, a Schnitzer-BMW victory would be a hugely emotional outcome.
Audi is the most successful brand of the race’s GT era with four wins and is always a leading contender for victory in the Ardennes. The Ingolstadt marque has been represented on the overall podium every year since 2011 which is an incredible feat in such a competitive era. And there is a good chance this run will continue in 2019, with three factory-backed cars ready to chase outright honours in the Ardennes. There are no fewer than five Total 24 Hours of Spa wins among them, with two each for Rene Rast (#1 Audi Sport Team WRT) and Markus Winkelhock (#25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc) and one for Christopher Haase (#25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc).
Mercedes-AMG enjoyed an enormously successful 2018 season, clinching titles in Intercontinental GT Challenge, the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup and the Sprint Cup. Its most recent Spa win came in 2013, since when it has been a regular podium finisher. There will be five AMG GT3s among the Pro field this year. In particular, the #4 Black Falcon and #88 AKKA ASP crews are extremely strong, while the #999 GruppeM line-up features a pair of former race winners in Maxi Buhk and Maxi Goetz. With a new car coming for 2020, this will be a golden opportunity for the current-generation AMG GT3 to sign off in style.
Three more brands will be represented in the Pro class at Spa and while they may not be regarded as one of the favourites, they still could feature in the final shake-up.
A victory for Aston Martin is certainly possible given that the brand has launched a new car this year and will arrive with a trio of Vantage AMR GT3 machines, two of which will be run by R-Motorsport. The Swiss squad comes with an impressive driver line-up in both its #62 and #76 machines, with local superstar and 2016 race winner Maxime Martin among them. Martin bagged overall pole for last year’s race and the 2019-spec Vantage has looked faster with each passing round. The other Aston comes from brand newcomer Garage 59. There is no shortage of talent here either, both in the cockpit and behind the scenes, meaning between its two Pro squads the British brand has a realistic hope of a first Spa win since 1948.
A pair of Japanese marques complete the contenders for Pro class honours this term. Nissan is represented by a brace of cars as part of its Intercontinental GT Challenge programme. They will be run by Hong Kong squad KCMG, whose pedigree on the international stage places them among Asia’s leading competitors. There is also plenty of driving talent, including 2015 Endurance Cup champion Katsumasa Chiyo in the #35 GT-R NISMO and the hugely experienced Oliver Jarvis in the #18 machine.
Honda ran in the Pro-Am class last year, but for 2019 steps up to the top tier as part of its Intercontinental GT Challenge campaign. With a stellar driver line-up led by local favourite Bertrand Baguette, Honda’s #30 machine looks strong with the brand’s only potential weakness against the competition being that it must rely on one car.
The class structure at Spa is almost identical to the one used in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup. The exception this year is ‘Juliet’, an additional entrant that will compete as a guest. Carrying #53, the car is in fact a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup MR – though it has been modified to resemble a very famous Volkswagen Beetle. It will compete in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Herbiefilm and to raise funds for charity. While Juliet will run for a worthy cause, the rest of the field has its sights firmly set on victory.
Now in its second year as part of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the Silver Cup has gone from strength to strength over the past 18 months and a 12-car grid will compete for class honours this term in what is now seen as a final step before reaching the top tier.
The Pro-Am class has been a crucial element of the Total 24 Hours of Spa since the creation of the Blancpain GT Series in 2011. For a number of years it attracted the biggest grids at the race, while its leading contenders regularly logged top-five overall finishes. It remains an important part of the event and this time around will see 11 cars competing for victory this year.
The Am Cup completes the class structure at this year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa, with its 13-car grid the biggest outside the top-tier.
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