Round two of this year’s 24H SERIES powered by Hankook takes us to the historic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. But alongside the fight for overall victory, what other stories will be worth paying attention to in the Ardennes?
Images – Nico Mombaerts / Petr Frýba
Amazingly, CREVENTIC signed off its European season opener in Mugello with not just a maiden outright winner – Haas RT – but with two 24H SERIES podium debutants as well: Saintéloc Junior Team and the Heart of Racing by SPS. And chances are quite high we will see all three among the frontrunners again this weekend.
Haas in particular will be keen for a strong performance on ‘home’ turf (though the team is Antiguan, its base of operations is in Belgium), as, no doubt, will Belgian compatriots Mathieu Detry, Frédéric Vervisch and Olivier Bertels, who will be joined once again by Stéphane Perrin. Moreover, following its outright win in Mugello, Haas RT has its top spot to protect in the GT European Trophy standings…
The Saintéloc Junior Team, despite leading the event outright and celebrating its first 24H SERIES podium in Mugello, was confident the #26 Audi R8 LMS could “clearly have finished closer to the winner” but for two unfortunately-timed Code 60s and an on-track collision that ‘earned’ the French team a time penalty. Young guns Erwan Bastard and Paul Evrard, who boasted just three GT3 starts between them heading into Mugello, will be keen for lightning to strike a second time in Spa alongside Dubai teammate Grégoire Demoustier, while Saintéloc will no doubt be keen to remedy the on-track collisions that dropped the Audi to 7th overall at last year’s Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS.
The Heart of Racing by SPS meanwhile, finished 3rd overall in Mugello, three laps off the lead, in a result that belies the #27 Mercedes’ true race pace. Indeed, after a moment in the gravel just 75 minutes into the 12-hour event, the American team at one point dropped as low as 24th overall, though Gray Newell, Roman de Angelis and team owner Ian James – back in action in Spa – recovered to finish on the overall podium, just two minutes adrift of 2nd-placed Saintéloc. Moreover, the Heart of Racing continues its collaboration with multi-time Hankook 24H DUBAI class winner SPS automotive at the Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, an event the German team started from pole position in 2018 en-route to 2nd overall. Another podium – if not a win – would be particularly fitting.
Hankook 12H MUGELLO – Overall GT podium
1. Haas RT (#21) - Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO II – 341 laps
2. Saintéloc Junior Team (#26) - Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO II – 339 laps
3. Heart of Racing by SPS (#27) – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – 338 laps
One name notable for its absence at CREVENTIC’s European season opener was Phoenix Racing. And given its performance last year, the reigning GT European Trophy winner will want to hit the ground running at Spa.
Last year’s Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS was the first of two outright wins – and the second of five consecutive outright podiums – for Phoenix, a result reigning GT3 ‘European’ Drivers’ champions Michael Doppelmayr, Pierre Kaffer and Elia Erhart – who will team with Swen Herberger in Spa – will look to emulate at the start of their title defense. Don’t forget, each team is permitted one ‘drop score’ at the end of the season, effectively negating Phoenix’s DNS at Mugello.
Alongside Phoenix’s championship aspirations, there are also a couple of event records up for grabs at Spa. Audi Sport for example currently shares the record for most outright podiums – three – at the Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS with Mercedes and Ferrari. A record that Phoenix – and/or Haas RT, the Saintéloc Junior Team, Juta Racing and Land Motorsport – could topple in Ingolstadt’s direction this weekend.
On top of that, a second event win on the bounce for Phoenix Racing would equal the achievement of 2019 Overall GT Teams’ champion Bohemia Energy racing with Scuderia Praha, which won outright in 2018 and 2019. And with Phoenix Racing having also finished 3rd at the 2018 edition, a win would make the reigning champion the most successful GT team at the Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS to-date.
Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS winners
2017 (TCE only) – LMS Racing powered by Bas Koeten
2018 – Bohemia Energy by Scuderia Praha – Ferrari 488 GT3
2019 – Bohemia Energy by Scuderia Praha – Ferrari 488 GT3
2022 – Phoenix Racing – Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO II
With JP Motorsport set to run a McLaren 720 GT3 on its series debut, five different manufacturers will be represented in the GT3 field alone at this year’s Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, with Woking going head-to-head with Mercedes-AMG, Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini.
A dark horse? Possibly. Though entering only its third year of competition, JP Motorsport has already established itself as a Pro/Am frontrunner in the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup, and while Woking’s 720S is not a 24H SERIES class winner just yet, its demonstrative pace was on show earlier this year in Dubai when fellow series newcomer 7TSIX took GT3-AM pole. Similarly, at the Hankook 24H DUBAI in 2021, Inception Racing by Optimum Motorsport’s 720S GT3 led 25 laps outright en-route to a top 10 finish, and took pole position one week later at the Hankook 6H ABU DHABI. Woking’s newest GT3 flagship clearly has the pace.
It begs the question then, can the McLaren spring a surprise, and join Mercedes-AMG Porsche, Audi and Ferrari (and SEAT) as an overall podium finisher at the Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS?
Discounting an extended test session for Herberth Motorsport in Mugello, the 2023 Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS will mark the first official start in the 24H SERIES for Porsche’s 992-generation 911 GT3 R.
Rather than focus on increased power (though the flat-six’s displacement has increased from 3,997cc to 4,194cc, with output given a 15bhp shove to 557bhp), development on the new 992 GT3 R instead focused on improved drivability. Auxiliary units like the alternator and the air conditioning system for example have been mounted further forward to ease pressure on the rear tyres, while aero upgrades like the “swan neck” mounted rear wing offer improved airflow. Should be a sight to see through the fearsome Eau Rouge!
The Porsche’s official series debut also marks the series return of Modena Motorsport, which has registered John Shen and Francis Tjia alongside Benny Simonsen and Mathias Beche. The Hong Kong outfit became a series staple after its debut in Dubai in 2014, even picking up class wins in A2 and TCR before making the jump to 991 for 2019. Fittingly, Modena’s last 24H SERIES entry to-date, at Spa, also ended with a class win!
Another team to have recently made the jump to GT3 with Porsche, reigning 991 ‘European’ Teams’ champion E2P Racing will be hoping for better luck in its second 24H SERIES start with the #90 991.2 GT3 R. The Spanish team, which fields Javier Morcillo, Antonio Sainero and reigning 991 ‘European’ Drivers’ champion Pablo Burguera, was forced to retire in Mugello after a puncture caused significant damage to the Porsche’s driveshaft.
An intriguing fight that could go down to the wire – for the second event in a row – is that between Buggyra ZM Racing and Atlas BX Motorsports for GT4 victory.
Granted, Buggyra ZM Racing, which has confirmed Aliyyah Koloc, David Vršecky and Adam Lacko for Spa, will be looking for improved fortunes. The Emirati team took its maiden 24H SERIES win in Abu Dhabi – overcoming a tense on-track battle with Simpson Motorsport to do so – but almost immediately lost five laps to a brake issue in Mugello, and was forced to retire just 15 minutes from home with suspected clutch problems. One assumes the Emirati team will want to kickstart its European title assault with victory in the Ardennes, a result that would also put to bed memories of an eventful debut at the same venue in 2022.
Hankook 12H MUGELLO class winner Atlas BX Motorsport meanwhile was able to fight back from a five-lap penalty in Mugello (‘earned’ when the South Korean team lost a right rear wheel at San Donato on the penultimate lap of ‘part one,’ requiring work overnight to remedy the damage) to take GT4 class victory. A second win on the trot for Steven Cho, Roelof Bruins and Jongkyum Kim, who will team with Taekeun Yang in Belgium, would also safeguard Atlas BX’s GT4 championship lead.
Fun fact, both Atlas BX and Buggyra will be running a Mercedes-AMG GT4 in Spa, a model that made its competitive debut at the inaugural Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS in 2017 and even finished on the outright podium!
Certainly one of the most compelling entries in GTX will be the returning VDS Racing Adventures. The Belgian team became a series fan favourite with its bespoke, fire-breathing MARC Focus V8, a GTC sports prototype built by MARC Cars Australia (formerly Racer Industries) that caused a stir on its debut at the Bathurst 12 Hours in 2014. One year later, MARC Cars came within a hair’s breadth of taking the 24H SERIES’ Overall Teams’ championship, and by 2018, long-time customer VDS had proven the MARC’s capabilities by securing that year’s SP2 Teams’ championship, as well as SP2 Drivers’ honours for Jose Closé and team owner, and namesake, Raphaël van der Straten.
The following season, VDS had made the jump to MARC’s newer, more powerful and more aerodynamic sports prototype – the Ford Mustang-inspired MARC II V8 – after taking a first category win with its new charger at the previous year’s Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS. There would, therefore, be no more fitting a series return for the Belgian team – back for its first series race since Dubai in 2020 with van der Straten alongside compatriots Nathan Vanspringel and Nick Geelen – than to repeat its 2018 class win on home turf.
Of course, that is easier said than done. Newly-crowned GTX Middle East Trophy winner Razoon - More Than Racing for example will want to hit the ground running on its first European start of the year, while Vortex V8 will look to prove its first GTX class win in Mugello was no fluke. Last year’s GTX runner-up RD Signs – Siauliai racing team will be similarly in the hunt for class victory after an early end to its 2022 event against the Raidillon barriers.
Amazingly, three overall series champions will compete for TCE honours this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps.
Wolf-Power Racing, which took the Overall TCE Teams’ in 2019, 2020 and 2021, makes its first European start of the season with reigning TCR Middle East Trophy winners Ivars Vallers and Jasmin Preisig (#121), and Marcus Menden and 2012 World Touring Car Champion Rob Huff (#117). Though a perennial TCE frontrunner for sure, the German team will want to finally secure a maiden win for its new Audi RS 3 LMS TCR after a slew of trying races: TCE pole at this year’s Hankook 24H DUBAI was thwarted by myriad electrical and drivetrain issues, while gearbox failure ended a seemingly easy run to the flag (also from pole) at Barcelona last year.
Of course, there’s the small matter of the returning Holmgaard Motorsport, which memorably took its first 24H SERIES win at last year’s Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, and RAIL EQUIP BY TOTCAR SPORT, keen to replicate its podium finish at last year’s event, to consider for the three-time champion…
Across in TCX, 2020 Overall GT Teams’ ‘Continents’ champion Sorg Rennsport – which has registered Seppi Stigler, Bernhard Wagner and Stefan Beyer as ‘SRS Team Sorg Rennsport’ – continues its TCE transition with a Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 CS. The German team will be eying its first class win since Mugello in 2020, but will first have to get past the returning BMW Team Van Der Horst, which makes its first 24H SERIES in four years, at Spa, with Roma Racing.
Finally, Hofor-Racing by Bonk Motorsport will hope to mirror its overall TCE podium in Mugello with another strong result. The #331 BMW M2 CS Racing, which will again be raced by Martin Kroll, Michael Mayer and Michael Bonk, took a comfortable ‘TC’ class win after an oil leak struck the sister #332 BMW in the closing stages, and, impressively, claimed the division’s runner-up spot just two laps adrift of TCE winner Primus Racing. Don’t be too surprised to see the Overall TCE Teams’ champion of 2018 pull off a similar, giant-killing performance at Spa.
This summer, for the very first time, CREVENTIC is set to host an endurance event on a street circuit at the Circuito Internacional de Vila Real in Portugal.
Having recently finalized details with Vila Real circuit management, CREVENTIC can now confirm that a split six-hour endurance race will be held at the Circuito Internacional de Vila Real across the 14-15-16 July weekend, one week on from the inaugural Hankook 12H ESTORIL on 7-8 July. The first-ever 6H VILA REAL will be run as a non-championship event with a view to Vila Real’s possible inclusion as a championship-round of the 24H SERIES powered by Hankook in the seasons to come.
You can check out further details on the event HERE
You can also check out this article in our magazine for the 2023 Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, available for download below.