The biggest GT3 sportscar race in the world took place this past weekend in Belgium, with the Spa 24 Hour at the famed circuit that’s widely considered to be one of the most challenging in all of Europe. The Spa 24 Hour is unique in that the entry is limited to GT3-spec cars, with no faster prototypes or slower GT4-spec cars in the field.

There were 63 GT3 cars on the Spa entry and six of them were M4 GT3 cars, with two entries apiece from ROWE Racing and BMW M Team WRT, as well as single entries from Century Motorsport and OQ by Oman Racing. The ROWE and WRT entries had all works drivers in them, and the pros were supporting the other two teams as well, with Jens Klingmann in the OQ by Oman Racing entry and Connor De Phillippi in the Century Motorsport car.

As we have seen throughout the year, the M4 GT3s weren’t among the quickest cars in qualifying. The only two BMWs that made it into the “Superpole” qualifying round for the top twenty cars were the #998 ROWE Racing car that Max Hesse qualified fifteenth, and the #98 ROWE entry that Marco Wittmann qualified sixteenth. The fastest BMW lap in qualifying by Hesse was over a second off the pole time of a Lamborghini. With the performance in qualifying, the series rule makers gave the BMWs a 10kg weight break before the race, as well as a 2mm reduction in minimum front ride height.

Max Hesse, Augusto Farfus and Dan Harper finished sixth.

As often happens at Spa, rain impacted the race, with heavy rain and thunder arriving around seven hours in. Through all the weather and wrecks, BMW had one or two cars in the top five for most of the race. At the halfway point of the race, the WRT #32 M4 GT3 of Sheldon van Der Linde, Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts was in the lead but dropped to third later in the race with a 30-second time penalty for a full-course yellow infringement. They stayed in third to the end to get on the podium behind the winning Aston Martin and the second place Ferrari.

The #32 M4 GT3 of Sheldon van der Linde, Charles Weerts and Dries Vanthoor finished on the podium in third.

Other BMWs had issues and penalties that impacted their races. The #46 WRT entry of Valentino Rossi, Maxime Martin and Rafaelle Marciello was in third at the four-hour mark and in third with nine hours to go, despite being penalized around the halfway point for contact with a Ferrari. That car could have been there at the end if not for an accident in the final five hours which resulted in a pit stop to replace the nose of the car that took it out of the running. Augusto Farfus was in the lead in the #998 car with four hours to go but suffered a tire puncture to come in for a pit stop earlier than planned, which then caused driver Max Hesse to pit again to avoid a penalty for maximum stint duration (Spa 24 Hour rules have maximum drive times for each of the drivers). They finished sixth.

The #46 car of Maxime Martin, Valentino Rossi and Rafaelle Marciello had an accident take it out of the running.

The #98 car of Nick Yelloly, Marco Wittmann and Philipp Eng spent a lot of time in the pits trying to fix a water pressure issue and ultimately retired the car after just three hours. In the Bronze class, the #991 Century Motorsport car driven by De Phillippi, Darren Leung and Toby Sowery finished ninth in class after having issues with the car all weekend. The #30 M4 GT3 of OQ by Oman Racing driven by Klingmann, Sam De Haan and Ahmad Al Harthy retired due to a technical issue.

The podium for the #32 BMW means that an M4 GT3 was on the podium in all three major 24-hour endurance races in June, after finishing third at the Nürburgring 24 Hour and second at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. “It was a tough race for us,” said Dries Vanthoor. “We weren’t the fastest, but we drove a clean race and made few mistakes. We can be very happy about that. In the end, I gave it my all. Nothing more was possible. I’m glad to be on the podium. It’s a well-deserved third place for our team.”

The Spa 24 Hour is part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge series, which earlier in the year had included the Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia and the Nürburgring 24 Hour in Germany. The final round of that four-round championship will be the Indianapolis 8 Hour at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. BMW is in contention for the championship but it’s uncertain yet if they will send over the European ROWE and WRT teams to compete in the finale. —David Haueter

[Photos by Gruppe C Photography]




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