Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup

Spa 24: Victory For Porsche And GPX Racing’s Christensen, Estre and Lietz. (28.07.19)

The 2019 Total 24 Hours of Spa was won by the #20 GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R driven by Michael Christensen, Richard Lietz and, taking the chequered flag in what was surely the drive of the race, Kevin Estre. Second across the line was the #998 ROWE Racing Porsche driven by Frédéric Makowiecki, Patrick Pilet and, driving the final stint, Nick Tandy, the British driver leaving nothing on the race track in his pursuit of Estre in the closing minutes.

Completing the overall top three was the #4 Audi Sport team Sainteloc Audi R8 LMS GT3 driven by Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Yelmer Buurman.

Class honours in the Silver category went to the #78 Barwell Motorsports Lamborghini Huracan GT3 driven by Jordan Witt, Sandy Mitchell and James Pull, the #78 car finishing ahead of the #90 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3 piloted by Nico Bastian, Timur Boguslavskiy and Felipe Fraga.

The Pro-Am Cup class was won by the #97 Oman Racing with TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 with the driver line-up of Ahmad Al Harthy, Charlie Eastwood, Salih Yoluc and Nicki Thiim.

Am Cup honours went to the #33 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari F488 GT3 driven by Christian Hook, Manuel Lauck, Alexander Mattschull and Hendrik Still.

The race entered the final six hours in Parc Fermé conditions, the torrential rain having forced the race director to pause on-track action until the weather had passed through. Racing resumed behind the Safety Car with five hours remaining.

The Safety Car pulled in at the end of a single lap and immediately Christian Engelhart in the leading #63 GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini pitted, allowing Christian Krognes in the #34 BMW to resume the lead, followed by Zaid Ashkanani in the #54 Dinamic Motorsport Porsche. The #63 car served its technical stop and rejoined in 21st place, Mirko Bortolotti driving.

With a number of cars still to serve technical stops, including the leading #34 BMW and the #64 Porsche, there was going to be a period of at least 30 minutes before the true order of the race could be established.

There was drama when René Rast in the #1 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi made contact with the #188 Am Cup Garage 59 Aston Martin driven by Chris Goodwin on the run down to the Eau Rouge, causing damage to the #188 car. Goodwin limped back to the pits and Rast continued in third overall, nearly 26 seconds behind the #54 Porsche.

Mikhail Aleshin, in the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari, had an incident coming out of Pouhon into Fagnes, and lost the back end, making contact with Ollie Jarvis in the #18 KCMG Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3. Aleshin got the #72 Ferrari back to the pits where it was pushed back into the garage.

A Full Course Yellow was called after Graham Davidson went off in the #27 Daiko Lazarus Lamborghini at the entrance to the Bus Stop Chicane. Both the #34 BMW and the #54 Porsche took the opportunity to pit, moving Rast in the #1 Audi into the lead, albeit under investigation for the incident with the #188 Aston Martin.

The Full Course Yellow turned into a Safety Car and green flag racing resumed with four hours and 17 minutes remaining, Rast in the #1 Audi quickly pulling out a gap of over 50 seconds to the #54 Porsche, now driven by Klaus Bachler. The rain began to fall more heavily and mist and spray continued to make conditions very difficult.

Bachler pitted the #54 Porsche from the lead after 283 laps, promoting Nicky Catsburg in the #43 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW into first place and Robin Frijns in the #1 Audi into second, over 53 seconds behind.

With three hours remaining, the #1 Audi Sport team WRT Audi, piloted by Robin Frijns, held the lead with the #4 BLACK FALCON driven by Yelmer Buurman in second, nearly one minute 40 seconds behind. The overall top three was completed by the #20 GPX Racing Porsche piloted by Richard Lietz.

There was drama when, with two hours 41 minutes remaining, the team manager of the leading #1 Audi was summonsed to the Stewards, presumably to hear the outcome of the investigation into Rast’s contact with Chris Goodwin’s #188 Aston Martin. Almost 30 minutes later, it was announced that the investigation was to be re-opened, the #1 car now with a 5.902 second lead over Yelmer Buurman in the #4 Mercedes.

With a little over two hours remaining, Kevin Estre in the #20 Porsche was putting Nico Muller in the #1 Audi under pressure, which caused Muller to spin and make contact with the barrier at Turn 6, damaging the rear of the #1 entry. Müller continued and managed to maintain third position, behind Estre in the #20 car and Maro Engel in the #4 BLACK FALCON Mercedes.

As the race entered the final 60 minutes, Kevin Estre, arguably Driver of the Day in the #20 GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, led the field with a gap of nearly five seconds over the #25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc Audi driven by Christopher Haase. Nick Tandy, at the wheel of the #998 ROWE Racing Porsche, completed the top three overall positions.

Rain started falling again as less than 60 seconds covered the top five on track but the weather did not deter Estre from starting to pull out a bigger gap to Haase in the #25 Audi, despite lap times increasing by ten seconds.

At that stage of the race, Estre was in dominating form and, after 350 laps, had increased his lead to nearly 34 seconds ahead of Nick Tandy in the #998 Porsche. However Tandy had no intention of hanging back and had pulled the gap back to less than 30 seconds within three laps.

Estre had a scare when contact was made with Shae Davis in the #17 Team WRT Silver Cup Audi. Estre appeared to escape undamaged but the gap to Tandy was still dropping and with 25 minutes to go, Estre’s lead had dropped to less than 20 seconds.

A Full Course Yellow was called after the leader had completed 356 laps after the #16 Modena Motorsports Porsche had a big accident at Turn 9 with Benny Simonsen at the wheel. With the damage to the barrier and debris on the circuit, there were questions as to whether racing could resume with 20 minutes remaining. The Safety Car was called on again and the gap between the #20 and #998 cars fell to 10 seconds.

At the restart Tandy was stuck in traffic and although the gap to Estre was tantalisingly close, the British driver had a lot of work to do before he could challenge for the lead.

Unfortunately the Safety Car was called on again after contact the #54 Porsche with Klaus Bachler at the wheel and the #1 Audi driven by Rene Rast at Pouhon. Tandy drove to his limit at the restart but Estre was able to keep his lead and crossed the line to take the chequered flag 3.347 seconds ahead of the #998 Porsche.

Kevin Estre was delighted and relieved to take the chequered flag and win the 2019 Total 24 Hours of Spa.

“It was a crazy race, really a tough one,” said the French driver. “We’ve been through all the conditions. The last stint (we had) Two Safety Cars, two Full Course Yellows and it was raining the whole time. We survived this one with a few scratches but everything was good. The car was mega! Thank you to GPX and to Porsche who gave us a mega car in all conditions.”

The next round of the 2019 Blancpain GT Series will be held at the Nürburgring on August 30 – September 1.