Marc VDS BMW wins 24 Hours of Spa
After coming up short on numerous occasions in recent years, BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS broke through to claim a monumental victory in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, giving BMW its first major endurance win for the Z4 GT3.
Nick Catsburg took the No. 46 BMW across the line one lap ahead of Nico Mueller's No. 2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT's entry, denying Audi a 24-hour repeat with its new R8 LMS, following an attrition-filled mixed-condition race.
Catsburg and co-drivers Lucas Luhr and Markus Palttala held control from the 19th hour, following a titanic four-way battle that included the team's sister No. 45 entry, which retired from the lead with a seized engine with less than six hours to go.
Heartbreak for the Belgian squad turned to jubilation, with the No. 46 car coming to life in the warmer, dry conditions, which included a starring drive by Catsburg, who bridged out nearly a 40-second lead over the Stephane Ortelli's WRT Audi.
It came following a drive-through penalty for overtaking under a yellow flag in the morning and rebounding from an incorrect tire choice during the rain-soaked opening stages, which put the VDS entry outside the top-30 by the third hour.
The win was the first for the Z4 GT3 since Schubert Motorsport's victory in the 2011 running of the 24 Hours of Dubai, and quite possibly the last for the German manufacturer's current-generation model.
It also marked the first 24 Hours of Spa victory for BMW since 1998 when it was run as a touring car race.
Mueller, Ortelli and pole-sitter Frank Stippler led home a double podium finish for Audi, with the No. 5 Phoenix entry of Christopher Mies, Nicki Thiim and Christian Mamerow inheriting third.
It came following the retirement of the No. 99 ROWE Racing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3, which led through the night and remained inside the top three, but dropped out with water pump failure in the final hour.
The ROWE entry took over the lead in the sixth hour following an accident by pre-race favorite Laurens Vanthoor, whose No. 1 WRT Audi lost five laps for repairs before encountering gearbox issues in the final stages.
All four new-generation Audis, however, took the checkered flag, including the No. 6 Phoenix entry which completed the top-five overall, and the wounded Vanthoor entry, which was 21st overall.
AF Corse scored a 1-2 result in the Pro Am Cup, with the No. 47 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Gianmaria Bruni, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Stephane Lemeret and Pasin Lathouras coming home an impressive fourth overall.
The No. 47 car held control from the early stages, following a collision by the then class-leading and class pole-sitting No. 11 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Andrea Piccini, which knocked it out of the race.
The incident brought out one of 10 safety car periods, totaling more than four hours of the attrition-filled race, which impacted a number of manufacturers' race bids.
Both of the debuting Lamborghini Huracán GT3s failed to finish, following an accident by Andrew Palmer and an oil pressure issue for the No. 63 car of Adrian Zaugg, triggered by a separate incident, also occurring overnight.
Only one of the four Bentley Continental GT3s made it to the end, with the No. 7 factory M-Sport entry recording its first-ever retirement after an accident by Andy Meyrick that sent the British driver to the hospital for observation.
It was also a challenging race for Nissan, with the MRS GT Racing Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 retiring early after a crash in the wet by Sean Walkinshaw, while various issues delayed both Nissan GT Academy Team RJN entries, including Pro Cup championship leaders Alex Buncombe, Wolfgang Reip and Katsumasa Chiyo.
The trio came home 15th overall and 8th in class, salvaging valuable points thanks to a series of late-race retirements.
Alex Zanardi, making his 24-hour debut alongside DTM aces Timo Glock and Bruno Spengler, was also forced to retire after their ROAL Motorsport-entered BMW ground to a halt on track with suspected engine failure in the final hour after running inside the top-10.
Am Cup class honors went to the No. 24 Team Parker Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra of Ian Loggie, Julian Westwood, Callum Macleod and Benny Simonsen with a 14th place overall finish.