The 2022 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa Roundup

5 Aout 2022

Perhaps, a few days after the chequered flag, it has now sunk in for the Akkodis ASP team: at last, they are TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa winners. The French squad put Mercedes-AMG back on top with as dominant a performance as we have seen in some time, running among the lead pack for the entire race and ultimately winning by half a minute.

Anyone who has followed the event in recent years will appreciate the effort and commitment that went into this victory at Spa. Not just the drivers, but the people who work behind the scenes, the ones who poured out of the Akkodis ASP garage to greet the winning #88 car on Sunday afternoon. They had waited for this.

Class victories are a fitting reward, too. Team WRT gave Audi something to celebrate at an otherwise disappointing edition for the Ingolstadt marque by winning the Silver Cup. The all-female Iron Dames crew became the very first Gold Cup winners, while AF Corse reaffirmed its dominance in Pro-Am and SPS automotive performance won the Bronze Cup battle. These are the stories and stats from an enthralling edition of the Belgian endurance classic. 

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When he climbed on top of the #88 Mercedes-AMG and threw his arms in the air, it was as if a weight had been lifted from Raffaele Marciello. Regarded by many as the fastest GT driver in the world, he was still without a victory in one of the sport's blue riband events. This was the ideal way to reaffirm his status. 

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At the age of 27, Jules Gounon's resumé already includes two overall wins at both the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa and the LIQUI MOLY Bathurst 12 Hour. The man who first announced himself by winning at Spa in 2017 is now established as one of the biggest talents in global endurance racing.

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Dani Juncadella would be the star of many line-ups, but he is sometimes cast in the supporting role alongside Marciello and Gounon. However the Spaniard’s calm approach and a brilliant turn of speed were vital to this result. A long-standing member of the Akkodis ASP, squad, Juncadella was part of the team's first overall Fanatec Endurance win at Barcelona in 2017.   

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On Sunday morning there was no hint that GetSpeed might be a contender for victory, but by the afternoon they were a serious threat. The German squad maximised its stint times to perfection, but was ultimately lacking outright speed compared with its fellow Mercedes-AMG runner.

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This was clearly Mercedes-AMG's year, with the #55 GruppeM car hunting down the #71 Iron Lynx Ferrari for the final spot on the podium. Indeed, just a few laps more might have been enough for Maro Engel to maximise his fresher tyres and pass Antonio Fuoco for third.

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BMW showed enormous promise with its new M4 GT3. The #98 ROWE Racing car looked to be the fastest on the track during the night, leading the race and six and 12 hours. Warmer daytime temperatures stymied its advantage, but the crew of Catsburg/Farfus/Yelloly was on for a podium when a puncture led to a significant time loss.

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The sister #50 line-up of BMW juniors Dan Harper, Max Hesse and Neil Verhagen also delivered a brilliant race. All three were making their debuts in the event but, with the support of two-time winning squad ROWE, they looked like veterans. The #50 crew finished fifth, one spot ahead of the #98 car.

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JOTA is becoming a TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa specialist. For the second season in succession the #38 McLaren ran a near-perfect race, moving from 25th on the grid to eighth at the finish. The car was not the fastest, but strategy and good driving gave it a very respectable result. Marvin Kirchhöfer deserves particular praise for his work behind the wheel.

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Beechdean AMR finished 10th with its #95 Aston Martin, which was one of the many cars that looked to be a contender during the afternoon. A spin after contact with Gounon sent Nicki Thiim for a wild ride through Raidillon, but the Dane placed no blame on his rival afterwards. “It’s the dying hours, I’m not going to lift,” he said shortly after stepping from the car.

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This was another tough year for Lamborghini. After losing Super Pole for a technical infringement the #6 Orange1 K-PAX Racing entry moved to the lead during the fifth hour, only to be immediately pegged back by a puncture. It finished 11th, though this was better than the much-fancied #63 Lambo from Emil Frey Racing, which also lost time to a puncture and then suffered race-ending damage during the night.

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In terms of the overall result, 2022 was a disastrous race for Audi. The German marque lost two factory cars within the first hour as punctures caused major damage to the #12 Tresor by Car Collection and #66 Attempto Racing entries, both of which looked capable of fighting for at least a podium. 

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The #12 retired before the 100-lap mark, but the #66 was able to continue after a five-minute pit stop. This put the Attempto car two laps down, but it ran faultlessly thereafter, recovering to 12th at the finish and maintaining the two-lap deficit. This suggests that without its early drama, the #66 crew may have been a serious contender.

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Perhaps the biggest surprise of the race the absence of Team WRT from the lead battle. The #32 Audi slipped back early on and never looked to be heading for more than a finish towards the bottom of the top-10. Its race ended in unfortunate circumstances when Charles Weerts slowed to avoid a slowing car in front and was hit from behind by the sister #46.

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The latter was able to continue, however, ensuring that Valentino Rossi completed his maiden run at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa. While the car was classified in 17th, this experience will be vital when the Italian returns to the Ardennes next season. Speaking on Friday, Rossi expressed his intention to be back on the grid in 2023.

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While its Pro cars endured a race to forget, Audi enjoyed a much better weekend in the Silver Cup thanks to a one-two finish from Team WRT and Attempto Racing. The former took victory having led on and off during the night, giving the young crew of Thomas Neubauer, Benji Goethe and Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer their biggest win yet. 

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Neubauer was in tears when he pulled into park fermé, and remained in a state of shock after stepping from the car. The Frenchman has shown a great deal of promise since exploding on to the scene with a debut Fanatec Sprint win in 2019, but since that day he has rarely scored the results to match his speed.

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Perhaps the most significant victory of the day went to the Iron Dames crew, who took a commanding Gold Cup win with the #83 Ferrari. The squad led for the entire second half of the race with a big advantage to its nearest challenger. This was the first all-female crew to enter the race since 1997, when the trio of Rafanelli/Surer/Duez also won their class at the wheel of a BMW. 

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The result was particularly special for Sarah Bovy. The Belgian driver has been attending the race since childhood, her father Quirin having competed in 10 editions, and was making her fifth start. It was also momentous for 18-year-old Doriane Pin, who is barely two years out of karting. 

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AF Corse secured a second straight Pro-Am win and its sixth since 2011 thanks to the #52 Ferrari crew of Machiels/Bertolini/Costantini/Rovera. The experienced Bertolini passed the #188 Garage 59 McLaren for the lead on Sunday morning and the Italian squad was unchallenged after its biggest rival was eliminated in a crash.

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Machiels and Bertolini thus won Pro-Am for the third time on Sunday, giving them more class wins than any other drivers in the GT3 era. The longest-running driver partnership in the paddock, Machiels and Bertolini also won the race with AF Corse in 2012 and 2014.   

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The #24 Herberth Motorsport Porsche had led earlier in the race before contact with the #19 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini essentially ended its race. The car was especially fast in the hands of Belgian pro driver Alessio Picariello, who made significant progress during the early stages.

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SPS automotive performance won the Bronze Cup after a close fight with the #35 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW. German pairing Valentin Pierburg and Tim Müller were joined in the #20 Mercedes-AMG by George Kurtz, the CEO of incoming event sponsor CrowdStrike, and Saudi racer Reema Juffali.

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Juffali's class win ensured that five of the six female competitors on the grid secured a victory. The other was Samantha Tan, who took the chequered flag in her TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa debut at the wheel of the #28 BMW.

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The race was stopped once, during the night, when the #16 Earl Bamber Motorsport Porsche crashed heavily at Blanchimont. The car was badly damaged, though driver Matt Payne was checked at the medical centre and escaped without injury. Red flag conditions lasted for around an hour. 

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While in recent years Raidillon has been the sight of some major crashes, there were no accidents at the famous corner during the 74th edition. Nicki Thiim came closest to hitting the barriers after his contact with Jules Gounon, but changes to the layout appear to have achieved their objective. 

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Raffaele Marciello now owns the GT3 qualifying lap record for the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa having set a 2m16.375s during Super Pole. The fastest race lap was also beaten this year, with Alessio Rovera posting a 2m17.480s on his way to Pro-Am victory with AF Corse.

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Taking the fastest driver from each car, the top-29 in qualifying were covered by less than one second around the 7km Spa-Francorchamps circuit. The best time was set by Antonio Fuoco (#71 Iron Lynx Ferrari), who posted a 2m16.486s. 

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James Baldwin won the weekend’s Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series race at a canter, banking maximum Silver Cup teams' championship points for Garage 59, while Nicki Thiim finished second on the road to earn a full complement of Pro points for Beechdean AMR. As the reigning Mobileye GT World Challenge Europe Esports champion, Baldwin was strongly fancied to triumph and duly beat Thiim by 15 seconds. 

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As ever, Stéphane Ratel’s annual press conference delivered plenty of news. Perhaps the biggest was the announcement that TotalEnergies will conclude its 15-year spell as title sponsor of the 24 Hours following the 2022 edition. The multi-energy firm’s place will be taken by industry-leading cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, which joins ahead of the 75th running of the Belgian endurance classic on 28-30 July 2023.

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The weekend's opening SRO 30th GT Anniversary by Peter Auto race saw 2003 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa winner Stéphane Ortelli take overall victory in his Audi R8 LMS GT3 ultra. The Monegasque beat several GT1 cars, including the Maserati MC12 and Aston Martin DBR9. The quicker cars prevailed in the second contest, which was won by the DBR9 of Stuart Hall and Jordan Grogor.

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A grand total of 235 drivers from 36 nations played their part in this year’s TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa. A bumper 66-car field took the start, of which 43 were officially classified on Sunday afternoon. Eight cars finished on the lead lap, equalling the record for the post-2001 GT era, while the winning margin was 31.040 seconds, the biggest since 2016. 

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This year’s edition also saw a full complement of off-track entertainment, including huge crowds at Wednesday’s parade and a festival-like atmosphere at Saturday’s music concert. Indeed, the only tradition that was not reprised was the weather. While the event is legendary for its changeable conditions, Spa 2022 ran without a drop of rain and with plenty of sunshine. For the 73,000 fans who attended, it was the perfect welcome back to the biggest GT race in the world.

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