We’re in the build-up to this weekend’s running of the Spa 24 Hours – the next stop in the marathon of round-the-clock races held over the summer. Almost 70 cars from 12 marques will be taking part in what is also the fourth round of the 2012 Blancpain Endurance Series. The Speedhunters team will be out in force at the race, and we’ll have a full preview up in the coming days. The race has a rich heritage: it’s just a year younger than its French cousin, Le Mans, with the first race held on roads around the Ardennes forests in 1924. The 24 Hours was held regularly up until the Second World War, and after a post-war stutter the it was rekindled in the early ’60s as a regular event, still held over the track’s original long lap.
The old 14km lap of Spa was epic in every sense: lethally fast, totally unprotected pubic roads. Here we can go on-board with Lucien Bianchi’s Aston Martin DB4 in 1962.
BMW have found Spa to be a happy hunting ground: starting off with 2000s in the ’60s, CSLs, M3s and 320s have all visited the top step. It’s now down to the Z4 to uphold their honour. Here’s a lap of the modern track on board a vintage 2002 Ti.
Looking back to the enormous grid of ’71, the track looks like a narrow mountain pass compared to the relatively large run-off demanded of Spa by modern F1 regulations. Lined with armco right at the sides of the track, the track snakes through the trees. Capris, Camaros, Alfas, BMWs and Escorts three-wheel their way round the original long version of the circuit, where in some areas just marker post define the edge – hardly likely to save a spinning car…
Into the ’80s, Group A tourers were kings of Spa. BMW 635s battled the Bastos Rover SD1s – and perhaps surprisingly the super-fast Volvo 240 Turbos. Check out the immensely long original Bus Stop chicane. After Rover had made the early running, by daybreak all three factory SD1s were out – BMW swept to first and second, with the Volvos close behind.
There are a series of Japanese-language reviews of the 24 covering 1984-1992: here’s the first one. The images are incredible, highlighting the breadth of cars and drivers that have taken part over the years. The big Jaguar XJS, victorious in 1984, gave way to a straight run by BMW, interrupted only by the RS500 win in 1989.
Skylines were regularly entered at Spa during the ’90s, winning overall in 1991 by a margin of 21 laps from the chasing Porsches and BMWs. David Brabham was at the wheel that year; a second Skyline finished sixth, winning its class.
Here’s another clip, from the following year, this time with a Skyline tackling the hordes of BMWs at the standing start by taking to the grass on the run down to Eau Rouge. Risky!
That year Steve Soper was victorious in an E30 M3, in one of the closest finishes recorded at the 24 Hours. Just look at their aggressive entry into the Bus Stop chicane, and the abandoned cars littering the straight before La Source.
After a final pair of races with touring cars as the main draw, both won by Peugeot 306 GTIs, the race became part of the FIA GT Championship and the fire-breathing GT1 racers took dominion. Here’s a clip from the 2006 race, showing the Saleens, Maseratis, Astons, Corvettes burning through the back-markers.
Finally, bringing us up to date is a video from the WRT Audi team: we’ll be following their six drivers and pair of Audi R8 LMS this weekend. This is the final part of their race diary video from 2011, taking us through to the flag at last year’s hard-fought running of the 24 Hours.