Stephen Errity, GT Correspondent
Andre Lotterer in the #6 Team Phoenix Audi R8 set the fastest lap of the race as the sun rose over the 2012 Spa 24 Hours. The all-star crew of himself, Marcel Fassler and Tom Kristensen continued to fight their way back from their big time loss early in the race. But at the head of the field, it was the #16 crew of Andrea Piccini, Frank Stippler and Rene Rast that were looking increasingly in control as the end of this year's Belgian marathon came in sight.
The #3 Marc VDS BMW's challenge was by now fading, as starter-motor problems lost it time during pitstops, despite the best efforts of Markus Palttala to set fast laps. This means the top BMW challenger is now the pole-winning Vita4One car of Greg Franchi, Mathias Lauda and pole-setter Frank Kechele. Interviewed early in the morning, the latter driver said: “The car is working really well now that it's dry. During the night, we weren't very quick on a damp track on wet-weather tyres, so we had to change to slicks early. But Greg and Mathias are doing good stints and we're hoping for a podium.” Their target in the final hours is the third-placed #2 WRT Audi R8 of Laurens Vanthoor, Edward Sandstrom and Marco Bonanomi.
Fellow BMW team DB Motorsport's race ended completely when Stephane Lemeret put the #36 car in the wall at turn seven, joining its sister #37 car in retirement. And another promising top-10 campaign ended when the #40 Sainteloc Racing Audi crashed out, while the #75 Prospeed Competition Porsche fell back due to needing brake and suspension work in the garage.
These problems saw the Reiter Lamborghini and Von Ryan Racing McLaren both regain top-10 placing they had previously lost, while the pair of Pro-Am class Ferrari 458s (the #50 and #51 AF Corse cars) continue to run solid, trouble-free races in sixth and seventh overall. In contrast, as the morning progressed, both the #71 Kessel Racing Ferrari and #107 Beechdean Racing Aston Martin lost wheels at high speed.
The combination of a safety car period to recover these cars, as well as a puncture for Piccini in the leading #16 Audi, gave Stephane Ortelli in the #1 WRT car a chance to challenge for the win. He briefly led outright, setting a new fastest lap of the race in the process. However, shortly after he handed the R8 over to his co-driver Christopher Haase, the German had an off-track moment at the Les Combes chicane due to an apparent brake problem, so the #1 car is now back in second place overall.
With the clock approaching 11am, the #6 Lotterer/Kristensen/Fassler car was up to an incredible eighth – its drivers having made up around four laps since Lotterer was hit by the Lapidus McLaren much earlier in the race. Whoever does win this year's Spa 24 Hours can only wonder if they would have been able to deal with that kind of pace, had the Le Mans winners not been taken out of contention so early on.