Vitaphone Maseratis in control halfway through Spa 24H

Call it lucky or call it smart, but Vitaphone Racing's two Maserati MC12s continue to show the way in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, as the twice-around-the-clock test of endurance reaches the halfway point. The German team's No. 1 entry of Andrea ...

Call it lucky or call it smart, but Vitaphone Racing's two Maserati MC12s continue to show the way in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, as the twice-around-the-clock test of endurance reaches the halfway point. The German team's No. 1 entry of Andrea Bertolini, Michael Bartels, Stephane Sarrazin and Eric van de Poele now holds a one-lap lead over the sister No. 2 car of Xandi Negrao, Miguel Ramos Stephane Lemeret and Alessandro Pier Guidi, with no other GT1 cars in sight to mount a challenge to the two Italian supercars.

Both Vitaphone machines have been out front since the end of hour five, watching its competition fall by the wayside. First, it was the No. 5 Phoenix Carsport Corvette C6.R that caught fire, bringing out the first safety car period of the race. Then, just 30 minutes later, the team's No. 6 entry, which led the majority of the opening five hours, suffered heavy nose damage after getting collected in a high-speed incident with the No. 33 Jetalliance Aston Martin DBR9 on the Kemmel Straight. Mike Hezemans was battling Karl Wendlinger for fourth place when the Aston Martin snapped sideways, spinning and coming across the track and sideswiping Hezemans' Corvette.

"I lost the car under braking - I braked and it just turned through 180 degrees," Wendlinger explained. "I must have just hit a damp patch on the track - nothing broke on the car to make it do that."

It was the end of the day for the Jetallaince crew, but Hezemans limped his Corvette back to the pits for repairs. The German team made quick repairs to the front end and got the car back on track eight laps later, but dropping to 7th overall.

After the two-car GT1 pileup, things started to settle into a groove for the leading machines, with the Vitaphone cars only suffering a few minor problems. The biggest came at the 10-hour mark when leader Pier Guidi had a tire puncture, forcing the Italian to limp his No. 2 Maserati back nearly around the entire 7.004-km Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Luckily, he only lost one minute to the sister car, which took over the lead and hasn't looked back since.

Like seen at the six-hour mark, both Vitaphone Maseratis scored half points for the championship, by running 1-2 with 12 hours complete. In past years, these extra points awarded by the Series have proven to be crucial in deciding the championship, and team owner/driver Michael Bartels is glad to take full potential of the offerings.

"Our target is to get as many points as possible, this is the most important race in the championship because of the double points here," Bartels said.

The No. 10 Gigawave Motorsport Aston Martin DBR9 has settled into third place overall, three laps adrift from the leading Maserati. The quartet of Darren Turner, Allan Simonsen, Philipp Peter and Andrew Thompson are two further laps ahead of the fourth placed Lamborghini Murcielago of IPB Spartak Racing. The No. 6 Phoenix Carsport Racing Corvette has charged back up to fifth, now only seven laps behind the leaders and continuing to gain lost ground back.

In GT2, the face of the race has been turned upside down thanks to a number of contending cars hitting trouble. First, it was the No. 76 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche 997 GT3 RSR that spent 120 minutes in the garage rebuilding its gearbox. Then it was the No. 60 Prospeed Porsche of that stopped on track with apparent driveshaft failure. And just before the 2:00 a.m. mark, the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F430 GT in the hands of Christian Montanari slammed into the wall on track, bringing out a lengthy safety car period. Montanari was uninjured, but the once race-contending car was retired while the track crew went to work making repairs to the barrier.

The No. 77 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari of Matteo Malucelli, Paolo Ruberti, Joel Camathias and Davide Rigon show the way, holding a one-lap lead over the second-placed No. 61 Prospeed Competition Porsche of Emmanuel Collard, Richard Westbrook and Marc Lieb. AF Corse's sister No. 50 machine, like its team car, hasn't had a trouble-free race either, as it has been in and out of the pits with various problems, dropping five laps behind the leading cars, in third. The top six GT2 cars currently run seventh to 12th overall, thanks to the demise of many of the faster GT1 entries.

The G2 category has been a battle of last man standing, as the only two cars competing in this class have run into trouble. The No. 102 Porsche 996 Bi-Turbo has now taken over class lead, but is in 33rd overall and just one position ahead of the No. 101 Belgian Racing Gillet Vertigo. In G3, the No. 112 Ferrari 430 GT3 shows the way, running in a fine 13th place overall.

Weather conditions continue to fluctuate around the Ardennes, with heavy showers at times causing teams to pit for wet weather tires. But as it stands now, the track is near dry and cars are on slicks, charging through the night and hoping to see dawn in just a few short hours.

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Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Joel Camathias , Karl Wendlinger , Darren Turner , Emmanuel Collard , Eric van de Poele , Michael Bartels , Davide Rigon , Andrew Thompson , Mike Hezemans , Marc Lieb , Miguel Ramos , Andrea Bertolini , Allan Simonsen , Matteo Malucelli , Paolo Ruberti , Stéphane Lemeret , Philipp Peter , Alessandro Pier Guidi , Richard Westbrook
Teams AF Corse , Prospeed Competition