ROWE Racing leads at six-hour mark with new BMW M4 GT3

30 July 2022

ROWE Racing led the 2022 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa after six hours, giving the BMW squad a full complement of Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS points with its new M4 GT3. 

Dinamic Motorsport led the opening hour after Klaus Bachler blasted past pole-sitter Raffaele Marciello as the cars made the initial plunge into Eau Rouge. The Austrian remained at the head of the field until the first round of pit stops, but lost the lead early in he second hour. The #2 AMG Team GetSpeed car had leapfrogged its fellow Mercedes-AMG in the pits and Luca Stolz wasted no time in putting a move on Côme Ledogar in the #54 Porsche. 

The Dinamic car, now with Côme Ledogar at the wheel, dropped back to fourth as both the #88 and the #221 GPX Martini Racing Porsche made their way past. This remained the case until shortly after second series of pit stops, which came just before the two-hour mark.

The first retirement of the race came shortly after the 90-minute mark when the #26 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi made heavy contact with the barriers at the exit of Blanchimont. César Gazeau was at the wheel and managed to bring the car back to pits, but the damage was sufficient to end the French crew's race early. It wasn't long after that this that the race was neutralised for the first time and the landscape began to shift.

A safety car period marked the start of the third hour following an earlier incident involving the #188 Garage 59 McLaren and the #57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG, which left the latter beached in the gravel. There was a further incident before the track went green when the #93 Mercedes-AMG driven by Jonathan Hui made contact with the #9 Porsche of Antares Au, turning the Macanese driver around at La Source. The #93 subsequently received a drive-through for the collision. 

When the safety car peeled in there were more problems, with the #33 Audi and the #27 Lamborghini finding themselves in the gravel trap. After a few laps of green flag conditions the #97 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin of Théo Nouet was beached in the barriers at Les Combes. This required an immediate full-course yellow, but the #777 Al Manar by HRT Mercedes-AMG failed to slow and slammed into the rear of the #74 Allied Racing Porsche, eliminating the Silver Cup leader from the race. 

Amid all of this a number of cars went off strategy. The best of them was the #55 AMG Team GruppeM Mercedes-AMG, which vaulted to the lead in the hands of Mikael Grenier. The German squad moved to the head of the field with the Canadian and then cycled through Maxi Buhk and Maro Engel while remaining at the front. 

The #55 made two pit stops during the sixth hour, dropping it out of the lead but not out of contention. Two more off-strategy cars – the #98 ROWE Racing BMW and the #221 GPX Martini Racing Porsche – also stopped, moving the #71 Iron Lynx Ferrari into the lead. The Italian squad had been in the mix from the start, though this was its first spell at the head of the field.

But it was not quite able to reach the six-hour mark without exceeding its stint limit. As such the #98 BMW ran slipped into the lead and banked maximum points, with the Ferrari crossing the timing line in the pits to take second. The #88 AMG Team Akkodis ASP took third and scored crucial points, particularly for overall drivers' championship leader Raffaele Marciello. 

Al Manar Racing by HRT dominated the early stages of the Silver Cup battle, running as high as seventh overall with its #777 Mercedes-AMG, but was eliminated from the race by the aforementioned crash early in the third hour. That allowed the #11 Tresor by Car Collection Audi to take control, but a long pit stop during the sixth hour dropped the Italian squad to fifth in class. Team WRT led at six hours with its #30 Audi, followed by the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini. 

The early Gold Cup also leader also hit problems, with the #57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG initially out front before contact with the #188 McLaren sent it tumbling down the order. It was replaced at the head of the class order by fellow Mercedes-AMG squad Haupt Racing Team, which maintained its advantage at six hours with Indian racer Arjun Maini running 20th overall. 

Herberth Motorsport controlled early proceedings in Pro-Am and despite slipping back during the middle hours of this period it was back out front at six hours, albeit with the #188 Garage 59 McLaren of Henrique Chaves closing rapidly. The #35 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW led the Bronze Cup after a damper failure hampered the #20 SPS automotive performance Mercedes-AMG, though the latter was catching at the six-hour mark.

Five cars were officially out of the race at six hours. Aside from those already mentioned, the #12 Audi Sport Team Tresor Audi was also retired having dropped several laps behind following an opening-lap puncture. There were 26 cars on the lead lap, while the top-11 were separated by less than a minute.