The 69th running of the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps featured a handful of current and former star drivers from the Autobacs Super GT Series among its ranks, and there was a small Super GT presence on the top step of the podium at the end of the grueling race around the clock.
Christopher Haase, who drove for Audi Team Hitotsuyama as a third driver at the 2014 Suzuka 1000km, partnered second-generation drivers Marcus Winkelhock and Jules Gounon in the #25 Audi Sport Team Saintéloc R8 LMS as they took the overall victory by just eleven seconds, after completing 546 laps around the fabled 7 kilometer circuit in Belgium.
Amongst the Super GT regulars, GT500 star Katsumasa Chiyo scored a top-15 finish for Motul Team RJN in their #23 Nissan GT-R, while GT500 championship leader Andrea Caldarelli’s team crashed out while running at the front, and former GT300 champions Goodsmile Racing with Team UKYO fell just short of the halfway mark in their European racing debut.
Chiyo, along with his co-drivers – former GT300 race winner Lucas Ordoñez, and Alex Buncombe – survived two major brake issues and a puncture to convert a 10th place start into a 13th place finish for Motul Team RJN, five laps down from the #25 Audi.
For the second-year in a row, the NISMO-backed GT-Rs both finished the race – despite a frightening practice crash for the sister #22 GT-R, and subsequent fuel valve and gearbox issues during the main event itself – which went on to finish 30th out of 63 starters.
For Chiyo, it’s his best finish at the Spa 24 Hours, after finishing 15th in the 2015 race. It’s also another momentum-building result for Chiyo, who is still searching for his first GT500 race victory in Super GT – he finished 2nd at the most recent round at Sugo in a memorable finish in the #46 S Road Craftsports GT-R with Satoshi Motoyama.
The best of the full-time Super GT alumnus was two-time GT500 champion, and three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner André Lotterer, who partnered Marcel Fässler and Dries Vanthoor in the #5 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 LMS to an eleventh-place overall finish.
Former Suzuka 1000km winner Oliver Jarvis and EIcars Bentley TTO test driver Steven Kane joined Guy Smith in the #7 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental GT3, which finished fourteenth – as the #8 Bentley of Maxime Soulet, Vincent Abril, and Andy Soucek gritted it out to finish 2nd overall. It was a gutsy effort for the #7 crew as well, which drove more than half the race without its ABS or Traction Control available.
While these current and former drivers enjoyed success at Spa, some other Super GT stars and cars failed to see the chequered flag in this difficult enduro.
There was plenty of buzz around the debut of former GT300 champions Goodsmile Racing with Team UKYO, but the weekend started off in crisis after a practice crash for Kamui Kobayashi left the team in need of a new car.
Starting from the back of the grid, Kobayashi, Nobuteru Taniguchi, and Tatsuya Kataoka drove a steady race to try and claw their way through the field. Despite not having the fastest car in the field, the #00 Mercedes-AMG GT3 in its makeshift livery was slowly, steadily rising up into the midfield by the halfway mark of the race.
But a collision involving Kataoka and another Audi during the night-time phase left the Miku AMG with terminal damage, the team falling short of their ultimate goal of a finish – but still, a great effort under the circumstances for the first-year entrants at Spa, completing 230 laps and getting all three of their drivers some significant time at the wheel.
GSR will now return to Fuji Speedway this weekend, with Taniguchi and Kataoka picking back up in pursuit of their third GT300 championships for drivers and team. Kobayashi will join the Super GT circuit at the Suzuka 1000km on August 27 for Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh.
The race also turned sour for GT500 championship leader Andrea Caldarelli, reunited with his Lamborghini teammates Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart in the #63 Grasser Racing Team Huracán GT3. Starting from the front row, the #63 team ran up front for most of the race.
But 16 hours into the race, Engelhart crashed at Les Combes, forcing the team into an early retirement – they were one of a handful of permanent front-runners who saw an early end to their races.
Caldarelli will now refocus his efforts on the Super GT championship, where he and co-driver Kazuya Oshima currently lead the GT500 standings by four points for Lexus Team Wako’s LeMans.
D’station Racing rookie Sven Müller finished 29th overall in the #912 Porsche 911 GT3-R by Herberth Motorsports, while Audi Team Hitotsuyama driver Richard Lyons, and former GT500 champion Benoît Tréluyer both failed to see the chequered flag in their respective WRT Audi R8s – as did Christian Klien, Team Taisan SARD’s third driver for the Suzuka 1000km, in his #114 Emil Frey Jaguar XKR GT3.