Audi vs. BMW in the opening hours of the Total 24 Hours of Spa
During the first couple of hours of the 2014 Total 24 Hours of Spa the fight for the lead quickly developed into a duel between the Audi and BMW teams.
At 19:00 the whole of the top-5 was in the hands of these two German brands. Meanwhile, some of the candidates for the win experienced their first problems of the race.
It was in front of packed grandstands and under a glorious sunshine that the 66th edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa got underway. Polesitter Laurens Vanthoor and his #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi had no problems to hold on to the lead, in front of Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #50 AF Corse Ferrari, who safely stormed up the Raidillon this time.
During the first hour, the cars running in front held on to their positions. The first notable incident befell the #8 M-Sport Bentley, with Antoine Leclerc at the wheel. After contact with another car the Bentley had to come into the pitlane with steering damage. After half an hour the #99 ART Grand Prix McLaren of Kévin Estre slowed down notably, and the Frenchman came to a complete stop at the entry of the pitlane. Because the McLaren was in a dangerous place, it was pushed inside the pitlane, where Estre started the repairs himself. It was not until the mechanics arrived - who had to climb all the way from the penultimate box in the endurance pitlane – that the car got going again. The other car of the team, the #98 ART Grand Prix McLaren in the hands of Alvaro Parente, also lost a lap due to a puncture.
95 minutes into the race the safety car was deployed, when Vyacheslav Maleev crashed the #100 SMP Racing Russian Bears Ferrari at the Raidillon corner. The Russian driver was fine, the car was the first retirement of the race. Unfortunately, it was quickly followed by the #150 Wochenspiegel Team Manthey Porsche, that retired with a damaged engine.
After an eleven minute safety car-intervention, the race was restarted, only to be neutralized again for 25 minutes due to a crash of Mullen in the #101 Von Ryan Racing McLaren. And as if that was not enough two separate incidents at the restart caused another intervention of the safety car. Karim Ojjeh lost the #15 Boutsen Ginion McLaren at Raidillon, while Jörg Müller in the #66 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS BMW hit the back of the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari at La Source corner. The Marc VDS car, which at one point was leading the race, managed to get back into the pitlane, where the heavily damaged front right corner could be repaired. Six cars were lost in the process.
The third restart was also the scene of several incidents at the Raidillon corner, with the #16 Boutsen Ginion McLaren, the #50 AF Corse Ferrari, the #107 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin and the #458 GT Corse by Rinaldi Ferrari. Xavier Maassen in the #85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes hit one of the spinning cars, managed to get the car back to pitlane on three wheels, only to retire the car.
The #50 AF Corse Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi was the first leader in Pro-Am, but once the first driver changeovers had passed, the car dropped to fifth in the category. At 19:00 the #93 Pro GT by Almeras Porsche had taken the lead of the category, running in 7th overall, less than a second ahead of the #90 Scuderia Villorba Corse Ferrari. Third was in hands of the #79 Ecurie Ecosse BMW, who had started the race from 15th overall.
Partly due to the long safety car interventions the #51 AF Corse Ferrari managed to take the lead of the class, and even ran inside the top-20. The #350 Duqueine Engineering Ferrari was in second position, the #49 AF Corse Ferrari in third, all cars still in the same lap.
Jérôme D'Ambrosio (#8 M-Sport Bentley): “Antoine was a victim of contact with another car, which caused damage at the steering of our Bentley. The crew managed to repair the car, but we lost some five laps. It will be long race, for sure.”
Nicolas Lapierre (#98 ART Grand Prix McLaren): “The guys did some fantastic work in repairing the car after the heavy crash during free practice. The car seems to go very well, but we were a bit unfortunate when we were hit by a puncture early on. But I am very happy that we are back in the game.”
Xavier Maassen (#85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes): “At the third restart, I saw some smoke on top of the Raidillon corner, and I slowed down immediately. But then I was surprised by a car, that had come to a halt in the middle of the track. It was impossible to avoid contact. I am gutted, because we really had a shot at a good result here.”
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