By the end of a turbulent 24-hour race in Spa-Francorchamps (BEL), defending champions Walkenhorst Motorsport had put in an impressive chasing performance as the #34 BMW M6 GT3 – driven by Christian Krognes (NOR) and BMW works drivers Nick Catsburg (NED) and Mikkel Jensen (DEN) – claimed 11th place after starting from 35th on the grid. An accident that was not the fault of the drivers forced BMW Team Schnitzer’s #42 BMW M6 GT3, driven by Martin Tomczyk (GER), Augusto Farfus (BRA) and John Edwards (USA), to retire just before the halfway point after an equally strong performance had seen them move up to third place.
The 71st running of the classic endurance race in the Ardennes was affected by extremely changeable weather conditions. Drivers battled through soaring temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius during qualifying, but fog and heavy rain then interrupted the race for six hours. After 363 laps, victory in the third race of the Intercontinental GT Challenge was claimed by the #20 Porsche.
During the first 12 hours, the #42 BMW M6 GT3 of BMW Team Schnitzer and the #34 BMW M6 GT3 of Walkenhorst Motorsport had battled their way through the field thanks to some impressive overtaking manoeuvres. Both cars struggled with the heat during qualifying but after starting from 31st and 35th positions they had moved into the top ten by early on Sunday morning.
Edwards was battling with poor visibility and heavy rain at the wheel of the #42 car at around 04:30am when he was involved in an accident through no fault of his own. Another car hit him from behind and sent him spinning. The damage to the car was so severe that Edwards, Farfus and Tomczyk had to retire from the race. Shortly after the accident, the worsening weather conditions saw the red flag come out and the race suspended.
The #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport car saw out the night without incident, resuming the race after a near six-hour interruption in second place. Krognes took the lead after the restart, but the BMW M6 GT3 had to head for the pits after the obligatory technical stop that cost the team five minutes. The long interruption meant that there was not enough time left in the race to make up that time and catch the leaders. The winning car from last year crossed the finishing line in 11th place.
Three BMW M6 GT3s were competing in the Am category. The Boutsen Ginion team’s #9 car completed a challenging race to secure eighth place in the Am class. The second BMW M6 GT3 of Walkenhorst Motorsport and the 3Y Technology team car both retired.
Reactions to the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps:
Henry Walkenhorst (Walkenhorst Motorsport Team Principal):
“Of course, the fact that we won here last year means that we aren’t really satisfied with 11th place. You could see that the cars with turbo engines were struggling in the heat throughout the week and could not reach the performance levels we had hoped for, especially in qualifying. Our race speed was then pretty good and we were able to move up through the field until the race was stopped. Unfortunately, the red flag phase really hurt us due to the technical pit stop that we still had to make. Some tyre problems and a collision during the final phase also cost us some time. We could have reached fifth or sixth despite the race interruption. Congratulations to our lads, who didn’t make any mistakes.”
Nick Catsburg (#34 BMW M6 GT3, Walkenhorst Motorsport, 11th place):
“After the five-minute technical pit stop in the race, we just didn’t have any more time to make any progress. But I am still very proud of the performance from the entire team. We didn’t make any mistakes and the car was very fast. Ultimately, luck was just not on our side. You win some, you lose some.”
Mikkel Jensen (#34 BMW M6 GT3, Walkenhorst Motorsport, 11th place):
“To start with, I am happy to have completed a 24-hour race for the first time in my career. The race went really well during the night. My lap times were some of the fastest out there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to that speed at the end and the closing phase was very difficult for me. But it was primarily the fact that we had to make our five-minute stop under the green flag, and not during the yellow flag phase like many other teams, that cost us a top finish.”
Christian Krognes (#34 BMW M6 GT3, Walkenhorst Motorsport, 11th place):
“Although we didn’t make any mistakes and made good progress, we didn’t get the result we had hoped for. We came here to fight for a podium finish and, for a while, it looked like it would be possible. I think that the red flag benefited our competitors more than it did us, as we still had to make the technical pit stop. It would have been good to have a few more hours on the track to make up that time. It was a shame that the race finished like that, but we will be back to try again next year.”
Herbert Schnitzer jr. (BMW Team Schnitzer Team Manager):
“Of course, that is a really bitter pill to swallow for the whole team. We were doing really well and had a realistic chance of a podium finish. But the accident that led to our retirement was not our fault, just like at the Nürburgring. The drivers and the whole team really deserved to be rewarded for their great work.”
John Edwards (#42 BMW M6 GT3, BMW Team Schnitzer, DNF):
“The conditions were very dangerous for racing. In fact, the fog was more dangerous than the rain. On every lap I used the radio to say that a ‘full course yellow’ or a red flag would have been appropriate, as the conditions were very dangerous. Unfortunately, what happened to me was the best example for that. That is very disappointing. We were in third place at the time and I think that we could have recorded a good result.”
Augusto Farfus (#42 BMW M6 GT3, BMW Team Schnitzer, DNF):
“It is difficult to put this into words. The race was going very promisingly. The track temperature was in our favour and we worked really well together as a team. I think we had a good pace and we did mount a superb chasing performance. The conditions at the end were extremely difficult and it was a very unlucky situation for John. But that’s motorsport.”
Martin Tomczyk (#42 BMW M6 GT3, BMW Team Schnitzer, DNF):
“That result is hard to take. The weather conditions were pretty tough. John was hit by a car that was struggling with aquaplaning. It is a huge shame that we had to retire, as we were doing well at that point. But those are the pitfalls of a 24-hour race. Unfortunately, that’s not the first time I’ve experienced it this year.”