Spa: Round four preview

Since 2001, the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa has been the highlight of the FIA GT Championship. Not only is it the event which attracts the most spectators, with packed grandstands and over 124,000 visitors in 2005, but it also has a significant ...

Since 2001, the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa has been the highlight of the FIA GT Championship.

Not only is it the event which attracts the most spectators, with packed grandstands and over 124,000 visitors in 2005, but it also has a significant effect on the overall Championship.

With double points on offer, due to the strenuous nature of the event, the overall winning team at Spa has, over the past five years, always gone on to collect the Teams title at the FIA's prestigious award ceremony in Monaco. No wonder that creating the perfect line-up for the 24-hour race has become a key point in any team's Championship hopes!

This year, the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa will take place earlier in the calendar than ever before. With just three races having taken place prior to the event, the classifications are closer than usual, and there is more room for surprises. However, it also means there are more races later in the season for teams to catch up, so it will be very interesting to see if the 'Spa Rule' still holds true.

The race meeting will start on Wednesday July 26th, with the parade from Spa to the Circuit, continuing with free practice and night qualifying on the Thursday, final qualifying on the Friday. The 24-hours of competition get underway on Saturday July 29th at 16:00, while on Sunday afternoon the winners will step onto the podium. Support events will include two rounds of the FIA GT3 European Championship - a number of cars going on to compete in the 24-hour race - two rounds of the World Series by Renault 3.5, two rounds of the Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series and one race from the Trofeo Audemars Piguet Maserati Europa. So, will Vitaphone retain the Spa advantage ? With the challenging circuit and its notoriously variable climate, anything could happen...

WHAT THE DRIVERS THINK...

"My home track and obviously my favorite one. Many drivers think it is one of the best in the world and I am one of them. Eau Rouge is the biggest challenge. If you see the cars going through there it's amazing. Also the feeling you get when you take it almost perfectly is indescribable. In a formula car it's easy flat out, but in a powerful GT1 I don't think anybody has ever succeeded. Double Gauche is another very fast and challenging corner, while the famous Blanchimont is "almost" flat-out in a good qualifying lap. To find a good set-up, you have to know the track very well, be aware of the variable weather conditions and be alert at all time. After winning the Zolder 24 Hours four times, my objective is to win Spa. We will prepare this race very thoroughly !" Anthony Kumpen, GLPK Carsport Corvette C6-R

"Spa is the most beautiful circuit in the world, and it's a shame that F1 is not going there anymore. It's still an old- style circuit, where a driver can make a huge difference and show not only his skill but his heart as well!" Andrea Piccini, Phoenix Racing Aston Martin DBR9

TWICE ROUND THE CLOCK A HE MOST BEAUTIFUL CIRCUI T

The Proximus 24 Hours of Spa ... not only the most important showcase for the FIA GT Championship, but also a significant test for man and machine.

24 hours of solid racing around one of the most challenging and exhilirating tracks in the world, the one so many drivers name as their favourite track.

The teams and drivers face the equivalent of eight normal FIA GT races, not including free practice and qualifying, as well as having to contend with Spa's particular brand of weather conditions, which could bring sunshine or showers ... or a combination of both !

Rarely has the field looked quite so open coming into the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa.

All of the cars in the GT1 category will be aiming to claim the overall victory, and it would be very hard to pinpoint the future winner. Vitaphone, whose Maserati MC12 was victorious in 2005, is on a high, having won two races so far this season, and holding the lead in the classifications. But the four Aston Martin DBR9 cars are all keen to win, and all have high-quality line-ups. There are also a record number of Corvettes taking part. As well as GLPK's full-season entry, PSI Experience will race a C6, with 2001 winner Jean-Philippe Belloc among the drivers, while two C5R cars will be raced by Renstal Excelcior and PSI Experience. Last, but definitely not least, the Zakspeed Saleen, already victorious in Brno, and whose drivers are lying second in the Classification.

GT2 is equally competitive. Porsche has had a quasi-monopoly in the class in recent years, and the Stuttgart-based marque has won the N-GT / GT2 class every year.

But this year, the Ferrari 430 GT2 has won all three races to date, and no fewer than eight of the cars will compete in the category. As well as regulars AF Corse, Scuderia Ecosse and JMB GruppeM (all having claimed a win in2006), GPC Sport returns to the Championship with a powerful line-up including reigning Champion Gabriele Gardel, while Spanish team RSV Motorsport's drivers include Michel Ligonnet, a frequent competitor in early years of the Championship. However, there are still plenty of Porsches to defend the brand's honour. Ebimotors drivers Collard and Riccitelli are currently leading the Drivers Championship, and with 2003 overall winner Romain Dumas joining the line-up, anything could happen. Renauer, Team Felbermayr, AB Motorsport, Autoracing Club Bratislava and Ice Pol Racing enter the other Porsches.

Last but not least, Spyker Squadron returns with its Spyker C8 Spyder, which took a podium finish at Dubai last season. Belgian Racing, with its Gillet Vertigo, has had a solitary time in the G2 class this year.

That will all change at Spa, where they will face some serious competition. Manthey Racing will race the new Porsche 997 GT2 car, with a quality line-up including four FIA GT Champions : Marc Lieb, Pedro Lamy, Lucas Luhr, and Sascha Maassen. Race Alliance Motorsport will enter a BMW M3 instead of its usual Porsche 996 GT3 RSR, in collaboration with Duller Motorsport. JMB Racing plans to enter a Ferrari 360 Modena for drivers including bike star Didier de Radigues. Red Racing's Chrysler Viper and Prospeed's Porsche make up a varied and competitive class. Last but definitely not least, G3 has seen a revival this year. Four Dodge Viper Competition Coupe cars are due to compete, including two from Pouchelon Racing, one from Belgian team Signa Racing, and one from Pilotage Passion from France. BMS Scuderia Italia enters one of its Aston Martin DBRS9 cars. Not forgetting the usual Porsche Cup cars, including entries from First Motorsport, GPR Racing Pro, Jean Charles Levy and Prospeed Competition - where one of the drivers will be rally star Francois Duval, making his endurance debut in a Porsche 997 GT3 Cup. At least 44 cars, 24 hours of racing, around 150 drivers : the perfect recipe for a great weekend of exciting motorsport !

-fia-

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Series Blancpain Sprint
Teams AF Corse , Prospeed Competition , Team Felbermayr , Phoenix Racing , Team Zakspeed