TopGear.com at the Spa 24hr race

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49-year-old German tin-top legend Bernd Schneider came out of retirement again this weekend, for his third 24-hour race this year. And what do you know? For the third time this year he won, hammering his HTP Motorsports GT3 SLS through a lairy 24 hours and an epic battle with the leading Manthey 911 GT3, only resolved when the Porcshe boobed during one of the many safety car periods and was penalised a couple of laps. And even that didn’t stop the 911 finishing on the lead lap, which to these eyes at least is a sure sign of a good 24-hour race.

The Spa 24hrs is undoubtedly that, or at least this year’s – with a final entry of 65 cars and rumoured at one stage to be close to 80 cars – promised to be so. In the sunshine of late Saturday afternoon, with a SMP Racing 458 Italia and the Beechdean AMR Vantage GT3 leading a huge field of Astons and Ferraris, SLS and 911s, McLaren 12Cs, Audi R8 LMS Ultras, Nismo GT-R GT3s, BMW Z4s and just the one Lamborghini Gallardo. It’s everyone’s Gran Turismo dream made real, isn’t it? The world’s best supercars and best still-in-use racing circuit.

Spa suits all the different moods of a 24-hour race, the frantic first hour of which saw the Beechdean Aston going wheel-to-wheel (literally) with one of the three Marc VDS BMW Z4s. The Z4 is a fantastic looking thing but sadly the only car you can’t actually buy a road-going version of, what with its V8 engine. It looks great, sounds great and is as fast as anything in the SRO-sanctioned Blancpain Endurance Series that constantly manages the relative performance of the cars.

Listen closely and you might have heard some of the waxy faced old locals explaining to their grandkids how a BMW Z4 could take the fight to a V12 Aston and well away from the Ferraris and McLarens, but there was no denying both cars, in the hands of ‘pro’ drivers (the Blancpain series has categories for all pros, pro’-am and ‘gentlemen’ teams), put on one hell of show. Was a shame to break it up really with a suspended penalty from qualifying for the gorgeous Aston after an hour.

By then the HTP SLS and Manthey 911 had already begun to show their speed and when one-by-one the Marc VDS Z4s showed they didn’t have the substance to match the show and dropped out, the battle for the win was always going to be between Merc and Porsche.

All night long, as Spa stayed largely dry and the smoke from the campfires of something like 60,000 hardcore fans started to drift through the trees, Schneider and pro teammates Max Buhk and Max Götz matched Manthey’s team of Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet lap for lap, even over longer stops for brake changes. It really was cracking stuff, enough to keep you glued. LED panels on the car’s screens (largely) kept you up to date with the order in each class so circuit walks were not only in order but essential; GT3s in the dark of a summer’s evening? C’mon…

In the Pro-Am class Brit Duncan Cameron, Irishman Matt Griffin with Alex Mortimer and Tony Vilander in their AF Corse 458 triumphed after yet another race-long battle, with an SMP-entered Ferrari piloted by no less than ex-Ferrari F1 driver Mika Salo. Ferrari also took the all-amateur drivers ‘Gentleman’s Trophy’ with a SOFREV ASP-entered 458.

There’s just the one race left for the SRO/Blanpain GT3s (other GT racing series are available) and that’s at the 1000km race at the ‘new’ Nürburgring in September. Will Bernd be back? Possibly not, he’s already won at the 24 Hours at the old Ring this year and you know, if you’re going to go to the effort of digging out your lid and fireproofs it’s got to be worth it, hasn’t it?

 

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