The calendar's other 24-hour showdown The Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hours is FIA GT racing's equivalent to what the Le Mans 24 Hours is to endurance racing, the great annual highlight of the season. The legendary Belgian venue has hosted a 24-hour ...
The calendar's other 24-hour showdown
The Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hours is FIA GT racing's equivalent to what the Le Mans 24 Hours is to endurance racing, the great annual highlight of the season. The legendary Belgian venue has hosted a 24-hour round of the FIA GT Championship since 2001. Less than two months after its 11th success at Le Mans, Michelin will once again be out to showcase the durability, consistency, versatility and performance of its tyres as it bids to win both the GT1 and GT2 categories.
"It's difficult to sum up Spa in just a few words. It's a magnificent circuit, a legendary race, the Belgians are so enthusiastic, there's the cocktail of hot and wet weather in the Ardennes Hills and there's also the delight of muscles and chips on the main square in Malmedy," lists Matthieu Bonardel, Manager of Michelin Competition's four -wheel activities.
FIA GT racing's only endurance contest takes place at one of the world's finest circuits, which features the celebrated Eau Rouge turn, and which often marks a turning point in the championship. Indeed, with the exception of 2003 and 2007, the winners at Spa-Francorchamps have gone on to take the crown at the end of the year. The teams consequently prepare extremely carefully for this summer fixture, and the build-up notably includes a major test at the Belgian venue a month before the race itself.
Three days after the fourth round of the series at Oschersleben on July 5-6, 31 teams gathered at Spa-Francorchamps for a day of testing which took place in overcast weather and damp, drying conditions. The day gave Michelin runners a chance to sample the different tyre ranges available to them (slicks, intermediates, rain) and saw them claim the top seven GT1 times and the five best laps in the GT2 category.
"We profited from the day to get in some thorough testing," says Matthieu Bonardel. "We also dominated the GT category last May at the Le Mans Series round held here. That took place in glorious spring weather, so we are ready for any conditions. They can shift very quickly in this region, and frequently do during the 24-hour race, although the FIA GT regulations are very restrictive and only permit a single type of rain tyre per car."
Spa's surface doesn't give great grip in the dry, but it is efficient in clearing away water, which actually results in good grip in the wet. "You often get slicks and intermediates lapping at the same time," observes Matthieu Bonardel. "In the dry, the trade off between wear and grip doesn't favour double stinting on hard compounds. Most teams consequently run a strategy of single stints with soft compounds."
Targeting GT1 and GT2 success
In addition to its GT1 victory in 2007 with the Corvette C6.R of Deletraz/Hezemans/Gollin/Fassler, Michelin qualified in pole-position in GT2 but failed to see that converted into a win on the Sunday afternoon. This time round, the French tyre firm's objective is to win both categories, just as it has done in the first four rounds of the 2008 FIA GT Championship.
The No.6 Phoenix Racing Corvette/Michelin which took the spoils in last year's race also posted the fastest time in testing with its magic foursome of Deletraz/Hezemans/Gollin/Fassler who total 232 FIA GT starts, 28 wins and 75 podiums between them! On home ground, the Corvette C6.R/Michelin of the Belgium-based SRT team (Bouchut/Maassen/Soulet/Pillon) has to be considered a potential winner, too.
Vitaphone will be looking to return to its winning ways at Spa and above all secure its first win of the season with its two Maserati MC12/Michelins. For that, the No.1 car's usual line-up of Bartels/Bertolini, who currently top the Drivers' standings, will be joined by choice reinforcements in the persons of Stephane Sarrazin and Eric Van de Poele. Also worth following will be the Larbre Competition Saleen/Michelin, as well as the Jetalliance and Gigawave Aston Martin/Michelins. In GT2, AF Corse/Michelin has dominated the early part of the year with a score of three wins, but the Ferrari F430/Michelins will be out for revenge over Porsche at Spa-Francorchamps.
Matthieu Bonardel (Four-wheel Activities Programme Manager, Michelin Competitio n):
"This is one of the finest circuits visited by the championship. It is 7km in length but has few straights. Instead there are plenty of fast right- and left-hand corners and it is quite hard-wearing for the front tyres. On the other hand, the rears don't suffer much at all."
Approximately 3,500 tyres will be trucked to Spa in 10 semi-trailers. A staff of 13 Michelin technicians and developers will be in attendance to advise and help the firm's partner teams throughout the 24-hour race.