Spa 24: Hour 18 race report

By 10:00, 18 hours of racing had taken place at Spa, and the rain had ceased, letting the sun shine over the track at last. 27 cars were still running, just over half those which started the race. They were still led by the nr 50 Freisinger ...

By 10:00, 18 hours of racing had taken place at Spa, and the rain had ceased, letting the sun shine over the track at last. 27 cars were still running, just over half those which started the race. They were still led by the nr 50 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche of Ortelli, Lieb and Dumas, which had completed 346 laps. But with the better weather and drier track, the usual speed difference between the GT and N-GT cars re-established itself, with the nr 1 Larbre car, having closed back to within two minutes of the leader, and lapping around 5 seconds faster than the Porsche 996 GT3-RS which has led for so long at Spa.

Behind the leading GT car, the nr 1 Larbre Viper, the end of the 18th hour saw the pole-setting nr 22 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello of Gollin, Cappellari, Bryner and Calderari second, with the nr 15 Lister Storm of Piccini, Sterckx, Lancieri and Pickering third. In N-GT, the nr 72 Seikel Porsche of Rosa, Caffi, Chiesa and Drudi was second, with the Czech-entered MENX Ferrari 360 Modena third for Pergl, Janis and Schroeder. The nr 126 Zakspeed car leads the National GT class, with the nr 110 Almeras Frères Porsche Cup car leading the Single-Make class

After the rain had slowed overnight, the rain intensified once more shortly after the 12-hour point, with cars having to move back from intermediates to rain tyres, with even heavier storms being forecast for later in the race.

Just after 04:00, there was a big crash for the nr 11 Roos Optima Chrysler Viper, with Peter Snowdon at the wheel. "I was on my out-lap, the car was perfect, but when I got to the Bus Stop Chicane, I came down to second gear and flipped round, straight into the barriers. I don't know what happened --" Snowdon said. The car was in the pits for an hour, when the team made repairs to the front and the rear, rejoining and running smoothly, currently 7th and last of the surviving GT cars.

The nr 61 EMKA Racing Porsche, an early leader in the N-GT category, went into the gravel at 04:20, but was able to continue in the top ten.

At 05:30, the nr 9 JMB Ferrari 550 Maranello, which had been lying 3rd overall, had a long pit stop for repairs to the front suspension. "We changed something in the geometry in order to improve the handling due to the changing track conditions," Fabio Babini explained. Boris Derichebourg took the car back out.

The second Larbre Competition car, the nr 17 Chrysler Viper, ran into problems at 4:32, going into the gravel at Pouhon, but was able to rejoin eight minutes later. However, shortly after 06:00, the car was pushed behind the barriers at Les Combes, with Jean-Luc Blanchemain having diagnosed a starter problem. The car retired at 06:26.

The nr 77 RWS-Yukos Porsche, which had been running third in class, stopped at Les Combes when the engine failed, retiring shortly afterwards. "It didn 't sound good, and I was heading back for the pits, but it just let go and I couldn't get back. The team and I are all disappointed," Adam Jones said. "We'd got to third, and it was looking good, but it's a race of survival, and we didn't survive. It's a shame after getting through all the heavy rain - at one point it was like going through a car wash out there !"

By 06:00, the skies had lightened, but remained overcast and heavy with rain. With 14 hours completed, the nr 50 Freisinger Porsche 996 GT3-RS continued to lead, ahead of the nr 1 Larbre Competition Viper and the nr 24 Paul Belmondo Viper. Second in N-GT was the nr 72 Seikel Porsche, with the nr 57 MENX car third.

An hour later, it was starting to dry slightly, with the rain significantly lighter, and the nr 1 Viper began to close in on the leading nr 50 Freisinger Porsche, which had also lost some time due to lap at slightly reduced pace due to a slow puncture. By 07:30, there was only one minute separating the two leading cars. The nr 61 EMKA Porsche came in for a long pit stop due to gear-box problems, dropping down the time sheets before retiring at 08:20.

At approximately 08:10, while it had been catching the nr 50 Porsche as the track dried, the nr 1 Larbre Viper went into the gravel, having missed the braking point, just after the Bruxelles corner. The car kept going and rejoined, but the gap separating it from the lead car lengthened again to over a minute. However, with Patrick Huisman at the wheel, the nr 1 soon closed the gap again, lapping nearly three seconds faster than the leading Porsche, while some early morning sunshine on the pit-lane made a welcome change after all the rain. At the next pit stops, the nr 1 Larbre Viper put slick tyres on, as did the leading G2 Zakspeed Viper. The nr 15 Lister Storm, 4th in class and 6th overall, did likewise on its next stop, when Andrea Piccini took over the car from David Sterckx. "Three quarters of the track are dry now," he said. "Slicks are the best choice."

Just before 09:00, the nr 24 Paul Belmondo Racing Viper, lying 3rd overall, was pushed into the garage, in order to have the gearbox changed, emerging at 09:30 with new brake discs and pads.

At 09:15, Bouchut in the nr 1 Larbre Competition Viper, in second place, made a slow return to the pits with some part of the underneath loose and rubbing on the ground. The team put new slick tyres on while removing the loose section.

Half an hour later, at 09:45, the nr 9 JMB Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello, which had been lying fourth in the GT classification, stopped on its way into the pit lane, finally reaching the garage and retiring with a broken engine. However, to have run in the top group for over 17 hours at Spa has been an excellent achievement for the car, which has struggled to reach the end of the three-hour races earlier this season. "Everything was going well but I had a problem after Blanchimont and I stopped the engine because I did not want to risk it," Babini said.

Six hours of running remain in this 2003 edition of the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa.


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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Andrea Piccini , Patrick Huisman , Boris Derichebourg , Paul Belmondo , Fabio Babini , Jean-Luc Blanchemain , David Sterckx , Adam Jones , Peter Snowdon
Teams Larbre Competition , Team Zakspeed