Spa 24h: Vitaphone and BMS Scuderia Italia take Dominant Victories

The Vitaphone team celebrates as their winning car crosses the line

Once again, Vitaphone Racing proved that the Total 24 Hours of Spa is one of their true strengths as they took their third win in four years. In a race with a surprisingly high attrition rate, once the two Vitaphone Maserati MC12 cars hit the front just before the six-hour mark, no other car led the race.

When the chequered flag fell it was the nr 1 car of Stéphane Sarrazin, Eric Van de Poele and FIA GT Championship leaders Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels that took the victory ahead of the nr 2 car of Miguel Ramos, Alexandre Negrão, Stéphane Lemeret and Alessandro Pier Guidi; the nr 10 Gigawave Aston Martin DB9 crew of Philipp Peter, Allan Simonsen, Darren Turner and Andrew Thompson was third.

The nr 77 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari F430 of Matteo Malucelli, Paolo Ruberti, Joel Camathias and Davide Rigon claimed the honours in GT2 ahead of the nr 61 Prospeed Competition Porsche 997 GT3 RS of Emmanuel Collard, Richard Westbrook and Marc Lieb and the nr 50 AF Corse Ferrari of Jaime Melo, Mika Salo and GT2 Championship leaders Toni Vilander and Gianmaria Bruni. G3 was claimed by the nr 123 Mühlner Motorsport Porsche 997 GT3 Cup S team of Heinz Josef Bermes, Mark Thomas, Marc Basseng and Jean Francois Hemroule.

The JMB Team, like the rest dealt well with the changing conditions

The first six hours of the Total 24 Hours of Spa provided some tremendous racing, with the eventual outcome impossible to predict; but once the two Vitaphone Maserati MC12 cars had established themselves at the head of the field, it soon became a battle over who would finish third. In the early hours there were six cars which seemed to have the speed to be in with a chance, although the nr 6 Phoenix Carsport Corvette Z.06 of Hezemans, Fässler, Deletraz and Gollin stretched out a lead of over a minute over the nr 33 Jetalliance Aston Martin of Wendlinger, Sharp, Müller and Lichtner-Hoyer. But then a safety car came out just before the six-hour point, when the first points were awarded – and the nr 6 car pitted, handing the top two positions to Vitaphone.

After that, things started to go wrong for the Maserati’s competitors. First the nr 5 Phoenix Corvette caught fire and went out of the race; then the nr 33 Jetalliance Aston Martin crashed out of the race – and as it did so it hit the nr 6 Phoenix Corvette, costing it seven laps in repairs. Later in the night the nr 8 IPB Spartak Lamborghini Murcielago lost a lot of time to a gearbox change. The nr 10 Gigawave Aston Martin had a near-faultless race – but it simply lacked the pace of the Maseratis. About the only problem of note which hit the Vitaphone squad was a puncture for the nr 2 car. Once they took the lead just before the six-hour mark, no other car led a single one of the remaining 436 laps. What’s more, three Maseratis finished in the top four – the nr 15 JMB Racing Maserati MC12 of Aucott, Ferté and Daoudi ran a solid, consistent race, avoided the problems which hit their rivals, and the result was the best finish the driver line-up has achieved in the FIA GT Championship.

“It’s difficult to find the words to describe this victory – I think the team did a really good job, we did not make a mistake during the whole week,” said Michael Bartels. “We’ve won before, but I think this victory is worth more. All our drivers are happy, we had a strong competition internally when the other competitors were behind us. This year has really been perfect from the first second onwards.”

This was also Eric van de Poele's fifth win in the 24 Hours of Spa - a historic first.

Only six GT1 cars were classified. The nr 8 IPB Spartak Lamborghini Murciélago was fifth, while the nr 6 Phoenix Carsport Corvette was classified sixth after a fire took it out of contention.

BMS Scuderia Italia continued their great 24 hour form by taking the GT2 win

In GT2 the first half of the race saw a battle between the nr 77 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari and nr 61 Prospeed Porsche cars; it took until after the halfway point for the Ferrari to manage to pull sufficiently clear to retain the lead when it pitted. There was little to choose between the two, but the Ferrari had just enough in hand to ease away. Behind those two came a succession of challengers, who fell away; the nr 51 AF Corse Ferrari crashed out at Blanchimont, the nr 56 CR Scuderia Ferrari needed a new radiator and the nr 76 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche needed a new gearbox. So the final step on the podium was eventually taken by the nr 50 AF Corse Ferrari.

“This is my second Spa win in a row, so I’m very happy - last year I won in a Porsche, this year it’s a Ferrari,” said Matteo Malucelli. Apart from a small spin at La Source the car was perfect. This was very important for our championship challenge – we’re now in second position, but it will be very difficult to catch Vilander and Bruni.”

CR Scuderia were fourth and sixth in their first-ever 24-hour race, sandwiching the Kessel Racing Ferrari, with the IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche and the Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari taking the final points. The nr 75 Juniper Racing Porsche, the first FIA GT team from Australia, was classified just outside the points after a fine performance.

G3 provided a fascinating battle between a variety of cars, although by the end it was a straight fight between Ferrari and Porsche. The win went to the nr 123 Mühlner Motorsport Porsche, ahead of the sister nr 124 car of Van Splunteren, Khan, Voerman and Huisman, with third going to the nr 112 AS Events Ferrari F430 GT3 of Jakubowski, Campbell, Barde and Zangarelli. The nr 160 Prospeed Competition Porsche spent most of the race in the top three, having led in the early hours, but late-race problems dropped it to fourth. The nr 122 Team Eurotech Ascari KZ1R also ran in the top three during the early hours, but lost time with overheating during the night, and retired when the engine finally expired at around 8am on Sunday morning.

Weather at Spa is notoriously unpredictable – it can be raining at one end of the 7.004km circuit, dry at the other. This year was no exception, with the unpredictability being over how much rain would fall. There were hours on end when conditions varied continually between being completely dry, light drizzle and full-on rain; during these times it was almost impossible for teams to judge whether slick or intermediate tyres were the right choice.

To complicate matters, there were three safety car periods – the first triggered when the nr 5 Phoenix Corvette caught fire, the third – which lasted more than 30 minutes – was to allow the barriers at Blanchimont to be repaired after the nr 51 AF Corse Ferrari had crashed.

Night time at Spa...

Scoring maximum points has given Bartels and Bertolini a commanding lead in the GT1 Drivers’ Championship – on 44 points, they are 13 points clear of team-mates Ramos and Negrão, with Hezemans and Gollin third on 29.5 points. Similarly in the Teams’ table Vitaphone has pulled well clear, more than 30 points ahead of Phoenix Carsport Racing; Jetalliance Racing are a huge 40 points off the lead. Vilander and Bruni still head the GT2 Drivers’ Championship, although their lead over Ruberti and Malucelli has come down a little to 14 points; Rigon and Camathias are four points further in arrears. AF Corse still lead the GT2 Teams’ Championship, 29 points clear of BMS Scuderia Italia; CR Scuderia remain third, some 43.5 points behind AF Corse.

The next round of the FIA GT Championship is at Bucharest on 23rd and 24th August, where the city circuita will present a very different challenge to that posed by the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

The results are provisional only as to the results of anti-doping tests

The GT2 results are still provisional pending the appeal lodged by Prospeed concerning their exclusion from Adria