Dramatic race sees hourly lead changes, heavy rainfall and a suspenseful finish
Four Porsche 911 GT3 R race cars comprised the list of top 10 finishers at the 2020 edition of the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, held on October 24-25 in Belgium’s Ardennes region.
The Porsches were joined at the head of the GT3 class by two Audi R8 LMS GT3 cars and one entry each from Ferrari, Mercedes-AMG, Honda Acura and Bentley. Making up the GT3 grid were 55 cars entered by 11 different manufacturers.
The latest running of the famous endurance race saw more nighttime sessions than in previous years, and was marked by almost hourly lead changes and prolonged periods of heavy rainfall that caused 18 full-course yellow interruptions and 14 safety car phases.
When the checkered flag was waved exactly 24 hours and 38.7 seconds after the race was started, it was the 911 GT3 R of Rowe Racing team that crossed the finishing line first. The car, shared by Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor, completed 527 laps of the 7.004-kilometer-long Spa-Francorchamps circuit to cover a total distance of 3,691 kilometers.
Coming in second to the Rowe Racing Porsche was the R8 LMS GT3 of Audi Sport Team Attempto Racing, which finished 4.7 seconds behind. The 911 GT3 R of Dinamic Motorsport, with Matteo Cairoli, Sven Muller and Christian Engelhart alternatively on board, followed the winning 911 GT3 R some 28 seconds later to secure third place and complete the podium at this year’s 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
While the leading 911 GT3 R cars displayed incredible poise on the mostly soaking wet Belgian track—their drivers were able to take on much more curbing on exits than any of their competitors without losing control—the competition was anything but easy for the Rowe Racing crew. The team consistently ran among the top 10, but it started to challenge the leaders only at the 22nd hour mark when it managed to catch up with the battle between Attempto Racing, Audi Sport Team Sainteloc’s R8 LMS GT3 and the Ferrari 488 GT3 of AF Corse and SMP Racing.
In this scrap for the lead, it was the Attempto Racing’s R8 LMS GT3 which took control at the front amid increasingly heavy rainfall. With less than two hours left in the race, Attempto Racing’s Patric Niederhauser took over driving duties for the team while managing to retain a seven-second advantage over the Sainteloc R8 LMS GT3 of Dorian Boccolacci.
But Tandy in his 911 GT3 R was hitting his stride. With 90 minutes remaining he overtook the AF Corse Ferrari to move into third place, then began closing the gap to Boccolacci.
A full-course yellow period with 75 minutes left in the race allowed the frontrunners to take their pit stops. Crucially, the Rowe Porsche chose to stay on track and was therefore able to leapfrog both Audi Sport teams. A safety car period meant no passing was possible—despite this a Mercedes-AMG managed to spin out of control in front of the main grandstand—and so Tandy’s 911 GT3 R moved into first place. This means Rowe Racing took the lead at only the last hour of the race. And dominated from that point on.
The race was far from settled, however. Tandy, driving on older tires, had to defend hard at two separate restarts, not to mention having to contend with developing mechanical problems. At the last restart, with just over 35 minutes remaining, Niederhauser began running a faster pace in his R8 LMS GT3, eking out a few tenths out of Tandy’s Porsche sector by sector, and eventually coming to within just under two seconds of the leader.
More drama ensued during the final few laps. Tandy’s 911 GT3 R appeared to start coasting, its gearbox apparently stuck in a high gear. Onboard footage showed an alarming metallic clatter filling the car’s cabin. Plus, the car started spilling oil on the track. This made it difficult for Niederhauser’s R8 LMS GT3 to launch an attack, and so the top two runners held their position until the end of the race.
Behind them, the Dinamic Motorsport 911 GT3 R secured third place. Finishing a few seconds behind was the identical Porsche of the GPX Racing team, which had managed to put behind the challenge of the AF Corse Ferrari via a bold overtaking move near the entry to Spa-Francorchamps’ legendary Eau Rouge corner.
The R8 LMS GT3 of Audi Sport Team Sainteloc clinched sixth place, fending off the Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Team HRT and the 911 GT3 R of Frikadelli Racing Team—which finished in seventh and eighth places, respectively. Rounding out the top 10 were the Honda Acura NSX GT3 of Team Honda Racing and the Bentley Continental GT3 of K-Pax Racing.