Rowe Racing takes the flag at Spa 24 Hour, focus now shifts to Kyalami 9 Hour
SPA FRANCORCHAMPS - Nick Tandy completed the final lap with a broken gearbox to claim Total 24 Hours of Spa and Intercontinental GT Challenge victories for Porsche alongside ROWE Racing co-drivers Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor this weekend.
The sick 911 GT3 R somehow made it around the 527th tour to beat Audi Sport Team Attempto Racing’s Frederic Vervisch, Patric Niederhauser and Mattia Drudi by 4.6s, while Matteo Cairoli’s late pass on Alessandro Pier Guidi sealed third place overall for Dinamic Motorsport’s Porsche.
GPX Racing’s Matt Campbell, Mathieu Jaminet and Patrick Pilet completed the Intercontinental rostrum in fourth overall after also passing AF Corse’s Ferrari late on.
Tense finish, tense race
Nick Tandy was part of the ROWE entry that finished second overall behind GPX last season, but the Englishman was able to go one better a year and 92 days later by nursing his sick-sounding Porsche around the final lap-and-a-half. Incredibly, the oil that flowed from its damaged gearbox casing combined with the already wet track surface to create an unintentional slick that kept the chasing pack headed by Patric Niederhauser at bay.
It was also a race that ROWE first led on merit at the start of the final hour after Audi, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Mercedes-AMG all spent time at the front.
Raffaele Marciello converted pole position into an early lead but was hauled in by the rapid-starting Dennis Lind who moved Orange 1 FFF Racing’s Huracan from eighth to second during the first two hours.
A quicker pitstop then helped Marco Mapelli jump ahead of Felipe Fraga, and it was the Huracan that led for the next two hours before AKKA ASP’s Mercedes-AMG re-took the advantage before quarter-distance. Alternative strategies aside, it would remain out front until the 11th hour when James Calado – whose Ferrari had maintained a presence inside the top-five since the start – passed Fraga into Les Combes.
Damage caused by a left-front brake failure ended AKKA’s hopes soon after, which left Alessandro Pier Guidi and AF Corse co-driver Nicklas Nielsen out front until daybreak when a series of accidents and subsequent Safety Car periods brought others back into contention.
Indeed, Audi’s indifferent day was about to be revived by the incidents that accounted for Dennis Lind’s victory-contending Lamborghini and Martin Tomczyk’s BMW. Both its #66 and #25 entries minimised the time lost in their longer, mandatory technical pitstops by stopping during Safety Car periods to vault into contention.
The net result was Christopher Hasse leading Mattia Drudi as the race entered its final third. But subsequent pitstops, at which Winkelhock and Vervisch climbed aboard their respective Sainteloc and Attempto R8s, set up a particularly entertaining hour in which bursts of rain helped or hindered the wet and slick-shod Audis.
The pair repeatedly traded the lead while being caught by AF Corse and SMP’s Ferraris until Vervisch’s decision to fit wets left Attempto 1m25s clear when the intermittent localised drizzle turned to circuit-wide rain.
However, his hard-earned advantage was soon eroded by another Full Course Yellow and Safety Car period that allowed the chasing pack, which also included ROWE’s #98 Porsche and HRT’s Mercedes-AMG, to negate the time lost making another pitstop. Further caution periods thereafter continued to jumble the top-six as teams timed their stops to re-set stint lengths and play with strategies as the final hour approached.
Rain came to play
The rain that set in at around lunchtime had allowed ROWE’s Porsche to become a serious contender in the hands of Tandy who reeled in and passed both factory Ferraris before setting his sights on the Audis. Time saved changing just two tyres at the third-from last stop, only refuelling at the penultimate visit, and Tandy driving through to re-set his stint length as the race ticked into its final 65 minutes left the Porsche out front when it mattered.
38 minutes remained when the Safety Car withdrew for the final time. Niederhauser, who’d taken over from Vervisch, did well to stick with Tandy initially and even got within two seconds at one stage before the Porsche reasserted its authority.
From there victory appeared assured. But with less than two laps remaining onboard footage suggested things were far from well with the 911, which had developed a distinct grinding sound.
“Halfway through the penultimate lap I had a small lock-up into Turn 8, and when I exited the corner, I heard this loud knocking noise,” said Tandy. “I thought a driveshaft joining had broken, but the car was still running. Apparently, the gearbox casing was broken as well, and unfortunately for our competitors, we coated the track with oil. We can only apologise for this, but it kind of saved us.
“I had to drive the last lap and a half without pushing, and I had to coast through the corners in order not to cause more damage. But in the end, to win this with [Vanthoor and Bamber], it is an incredible feeling. And to be able to share this with all the team at ROWE… they have been so good this week, and I’m so happy that they could win Spa and Nürburgring in the same year.”
Tough day for all
Track conditions made it impossible for Niederhauser or anyone else to take advantage of the ailing Porsche. Instead, the Swiss came home 28s ahead of Cairoli, Sven Mueller and Christian Engelhart whose Dinamic Porsche, which wasn’t nominated to score Intercontinental points, enjoyed a trouble-free run to third overall.
GPX’s #12 911 remained a top-six contender throughout and duly collected points for third in Intercontinental, as well as fourth place overall ahead of AF Corse’s Ferrari featuring Calado, Pier Guidi and Nicklas Nielsen. The 488 spent most of the early hours out front before slipping back towards the finish.
The Sainteloc Audi that led with six hours remaining would likely have finished on the podium without the afternoon’s rain and Safety Car periods. Instead, Marcus Winkelhock, Dorian Boccolacci and Christopher Haase banked solid Intercontinental points in sixth overall after finishing ahead of HRT’s Mercedes-AMG shared by Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Vince Abril.
Frikadelli Racing ensured three cars – the maximum number permitted – scored Intercontinental points for Porsche, while Team Honda Racing and Bentley also featured in the overall top-10 after a topsy-turvy 24 hours in which each had the pace to finish inside the top-six.
Following the highs of Indianapolis, erstwhile championship leaders BMW endured a challenging Total 24 Hours of Spa where neither of Walkenhorst’s Pro entries finished.
The result has helped Porsche turn a 10-point deficit into a 29-point Manufacturers’ Championship lead over Mercedes-AMG, while race winners Bamber and Vanthoor top the Drivers’ standings by one point from Porsche factory colleagues Campbell, Jaminet and Pilet.
The Kyalami 9 Hour hosts this season’s Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli championship showdown on December 10-12.