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Spa 24 Hours: BMW takes first win since 2018

BMW claimed its first Spa 24 Hours victory since 2018 with the factory Rowe Racing entry shared by Nick Yelloly, Marco Wittmann and Philipp Eng.

They completed a third victory for the German team after its 2016 and ’20 wins with BMW and Porsche respectively in the double-points round of the GT World Challenge Europe by 11.1s over the second-placed Auto Sport Promotion Mercedes shared by Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Timur Boguslavskiy.

The winning BMW M4 GT4, which started from down in 26th position after missing out on a spot in the Superpole qualifying session, came out on top in a four-hour run to the flag from the last of nine safety cars to interrupt the third Endurance Cup round of the 2023 GTWCE campaign..

Yelloly was running at the front on a different fuel strategy to the chasing pack when the race was neutralised with a Full Course Yellow, the Rowe car maintaining its lead through the pitstops and the safety car that followed.

Wittmann was able to edge away from the Scherer Sport PHX Audi with Kelvin van der Linde at the wheel after the race went green.

He pulled more than 12s before the next round of pitstops began to put one hand on the trophy of the 75th anniversary running of the Spa enduro.

Marciello took up the chase of the BMW after the stops before he handed the lead ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 over to Gounon, who was unable to make inroads into the BMW’s advantage.

Gounon, who won the Spa GTWCE fixture last year with Marciello and Daniel Juncadella, came under pressure from Nicki Thiim in the Scherer Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II in the penultimate hour.

That allowed Eng to further extend the Rowe BMW’s advantage to more than 20s.

Eng, who became a three-time Spa winner after his previous triumph with Rowe in 2016 and his victory with Walkenhorst Motorsport in 2018, said: “It was such a rollercoaster, but we never give up in the chase of our dream, which is victory in the best GT3 race in the world.”

Gounon put some daylight between himself and the Audi prior to the final pitstops, only to face a renewed challenge from Thiim.

#88 Akkodis ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3: Raffaele Marciello, Timur Boguslavskiy, Jules Gounon

#88 Akkodis ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3: Raffaele Marciello, Timur Boguslavskiy, Jules Gounon

Photo by: SRO

The best-placed Audi, in which van der Linde and Thiim were joined by Luca Engstler, ended up just 1.1s behind the Merc to claim the final spot on the podium.

Porsche took fourth place with the Manthey EMA entry shared by Kevin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor and Julien Andlauer.

Estre was able to put pressure on Thiim in the closing stages, even though he had lost the rear diffuser on his 911 GT3 R.

The bodywork issue was the final instalment of a messy race for the EMA crew, which lost time with a series of penalties for track limits violations and two tyre-related issues.

Australian entrant EMA’s Porsche battled for much of the event for the honour of being the German manufacturer’s best-placed entry with the Rutronik Racing 911 shared by Thomas Preining, Dennis Olsen and Laurin Heinrich.

It took the finish in fifth position, 3.7s behind the EMA car.

Bike racing legend Valentino Rossi and team-mates Maxime Martin and Augusto Farfus ended up sixth in the best-placed of the WRT team’s BMW M4s, another car to endure a difficult race interrupted by penalties and bodywork damage.

The Belgian team lost a shot of victory just before the halfway stage with the sister car when Charles Weerts crashed out on the Kemmel Straight just together with factory driver Max Verhagen in the second of the Rowe entries.

An FCY, in which an 80kmph speed limit is enforced under virtual safety car conditions, had just been called and it appeared that Weerts was already slowing before Verhagen learnt of the caution.

#46 Team WRT, BMW M4 GT3: Valentino Rossi, Augusto Farfus, Maxime Martin

#46 Team WRT, BMW M4 GT3: Valentino Rossi, Augusto Farfus, Maxime Martin

Photo by: AG Photo

Weerts and team-mates Dries Vanthoor and Sheldon van der Linde had led at six-hours when the first batch of points at Spa were awarded.

The GetSpeed Mercedes crew of Lucas Auer, Luca Stolz and Fabian Schiller took seventh place ahead of the Comtoyou Audi shared by Christopher Haase, Frederic Vervisch and Gilles Magnus.

They moved ahead of the factory-backed Tresor Attempto R8 LMS driven by Ricardo Feller, Mattia Drudi and Dennis Marschall right at the end of the race.

Attempto had led the way at 12 hours when the second tranche of points was awarded and had been third after the final safety car, but the R8 dropped down the order in the closing stages before losing 30s at its final pitstop with a track limits penalty.

McLaren took 10th position and the victory in the Gold Cup class with the 720S GT3 Evo shared by Tom Gamble, Charlie Fagg, Dean Macdonald and Sam De Haan.

Ferrari’s bid to complete a clean sweep of victories in the major European 24-hour races after its Nurburgring and Le Mans victories was unsuccessful.

The best-placed of the factory AF Corse-run 296 GT3s finished 11th in the hands of Daniel Serra, Antonio Fuoco and Davide Rigon, one lap down on the winning BMW.

The sister car shared by Alessio Rovera, Robert Shwartzman and Nicklas Nielsen led early in the race before the first-named pitted with a puncture.

Fuel system problems dropped the car down the order before a recurrence of the issue resulted in its retirement.

Lamborghini salvaged something from a disastrous race with victory in the Silver Cup class for the Grasser Racing Team Huracan GT3 EVO2 shared by Clemens Schmid, Glenn van Berlo and Benjamin Hites.

It was one of only two of the 10 Huracans entered at Spa to finish the race.

Spa was also a round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, which links the major GT3 enduros around the world.

The Rowe car took a maximum score for BMW as one of the five cars that each manufacturer is allowed to nominate for points.

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