There’s this idea, that when the green flag drops at an endurance race, there won’t be any pauses or rest until the very end. In reality though, everyone takes a break – at least for a moment or two.
I managed to grab around three hours of sleep at my hotel after I left the track in the early hours of Sunday morning, but the sounds of cars at full noise reverberating through the woods was the wake-up call I needed on my return for the second half of the 2022 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say my whole body was already aching before the race even started, so my pace was definitely a little slower for the final 12 hours.
For something a little bit different, I recorded some ambient sounds of the race, so if you’d like to feel like you’re amongst the action while you scroll through this post, hit the play button above.
By this stage I had walked 35 miles, a decent hike distance, and the previous day and night were all but a blur to me. The atmosphere was different though; the damp morning air felt refreshing, and even though cars were attacking the track just as hard as they had right at the race start, there was a sense of calm about the place. Of course, that had a lot to do with a lack of spectators at this hour.
While the grandstands were as empty as they were during the pre-race practice sessions, the pits were still alive, even if there was a sense of tiredness about the place. For some teams it had been a very long night repairing car damage or chasing mechanical problems.
I came hunting for speed and the sunrise at the circuit’s first turn – La Source – from where the final chicane is also visible. The rising sun wasn’t able to push through the clouds, but even in these conditions the light was nice.
Before long, one of the Audi teams suffered a nasty hit from another car, and the race went under a ‘full course yellow’ with no overtaking.
That of course meant that the field bunched right up, and although most teams were on different laps, when the green light came on again the racing was feisty.
At this point, just 53 cars from the 66 starters were still racing. The Rowe Racing BMW M4 GT3 #98 car driven by Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus and Nicholas Yelloly had led the race for much of Saturday, and on Sunday morning was still in first.
BMW is the most successful manufacturer in this race’s history with 24 overall wins, and it felt like another was in the bag. But last year’s winner, Ferrari, run by the Iron Lynx squad, were also in contention, as were a couple of other teams.
Funnily enough, the sun finally broke through the clouds just after I left my position, but by this time it was already high in the sky.
I decided to enjoy some more pit action, and see how everyone was waking up for another day of racing.
Fans were returning to the track, and the atmosphere quickly became festive again.
The pink Ferrari 488 GT3 of Doriane Pin, Rahel Frey, Sarah Bovy and Michelle Gatting was poised to win in the ‘Gold’ category, and ultimately the all-female crew succeeded. Two more ladies, Samantha Tan for BMW and Reema Juffali of the #20 SPS Mercedes-AMG team were also competing in this year’s race, not to mention a large number of female race engineers and team staff. It really feels like the motorsport world has now changed for the better.
I thought that by this point in the race, many teams would be trying to drive with caution to ensure they made it across the finish line, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The racing wasn’t getting any less interesting, with many drivers still battling in close proximity and bouncing over the red and yellow kerbs.
A heartbreaking moment came just 1 hour and 53 minutes before the race end, when the Rowe Racing M4 suffered a puncture and lost the lead. It looked like a BMW wouldn’t bring a gift for BMW M’s 50th anniversary.
By this stage, the closest rival was the #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 car of Raffaele Marciello, Daniel Juncadell and Jules Gounon. Their weekend wasn’t perfect; the car experienced two spins and a big scuffle with an Aston Martin, but in the end nothing could stop Mercedes and AMG Team AKKODIS ASP from taking the overall victory. After 536 laps of racing, Mercedes took their first win at this race since 2013.
The TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa is special in endurance racing, as it’s strictly contested between GT3 machinery. While the 24 Hours of Le Mans includes different prototype classes, the Belgian event focuses on production-based cars that everyone can relate to. Add that to the unique sense of history, and all the challenges that the modern-day Spa-Francorchamps presents to manufacturers since adopting GT rules for this race in 2001, and you can see why so many people keep coming back year after year to watch it. After so long, I’m glad I finally got to experience it for myself too.