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Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup - Race Report 24H Spa
BLACK FALCON has finished third overall and third in the Silver Cup class after a strong team performance at the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 (#4) featuring the reigning Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup Champions Yelmer Buurman (NL), Maro Engel (DE) and Luca Stolz (DE) finished the world's most important GT3 race after 363 laps on the 7.004 kilometre "Ardennes roller coaster" in third place overall. In the Silver Cup class Abdulaziz Al Faisal (SA), Patrick Assenheimer (DE), Hubert Haupt (DE) and Gabriele Piana (IT) finished third with their AMG GT3 #6. The AMG GT3 #00 of Adam Christodoulou (GB), Tatsuya Kataoka (JP) and Nobuteru Taniguchi (JP), which was entered as part of a joint venture with Goodsmile Racing, retired prematurely after an accident during the night.
The notorious weather in the Belgian Ardennes played - as it does so often - one of the leading roles in the 71st edition of the endurance classic. After the first two days of the event, which were marked by intense heat, the race on Saturday and Sunday was dominated by partly torrential rain. Eventually, the race had to be interrupted for almost six hours at 5:45 a.m. on Sunday morning for safety reasons.
On Thursday evening Yelmer, Maro and Luca secured the fastest time in combined qualifying with their Mercedes-AMG GT3 and qualified for the top 20 qualifying on Friday. In the thrilling shootout Maro squeezed everything out of the AMG in his final lap and secured pole position for the team with a 17 thousandths of a second advantage. Thus BLACK FALCON started from pole position in both the 24h race at the Nürburgring and in Spa - a performance that no team in the GT3 era had ever achieved before. Adam, Tatsuya and Nobuteru started from 38th place. Abdulaziz, Patrick, Hubert and Gabriele qualified for ninth in the Silver Cup.
The race started only after a few inspection laps behind the safety car due to heavy rain. Start driver Maro maintained the lead and was able to pull away from the field as the track dried up before the first full-course yellow and safety car phases equalised his lead again. Afterwards the team started with the planned driver rotation and led the race until the interruption at 5:45 a.m. on Sunday morning for the most part. The Silver Cup quartet of the #6 began their race to catch up from the beginning and thanks to constantly fast laps had already moved up into the top 30 of the overall classification and the top 5 of the class after the first third of the race. The #00 AMG GT3 reached the top 15 temporarily thanks to a strong triple stint of Adam at the beginning of the race. In the night the trio continued its strong performance, before the race of the #00 ended abruptly after an accident under heavy rain.
After the re-start a five and a half hour sprint to the finish remained. With constantly changing weather conditions Maro, Luca and Yelmer fought for overall victory until about one hour before the finish. Finally, Maro crossed the finish line in third place, just 17 seconds behind the winner. Abdulaziz, Patrick, Hubert and Gabriele lost valuable time for their race to catch up due to the interruption of the race. The timing of the red flag was particularly unfavourable for them because of their pit stop strategy, as this resulted in an unrecoverable gap of laps to the class leaders. After the re-start, the four of them always fought in a battle for third place, which they finally kept in their hands.
Quotes from the race
Sean Paul Breslin (Team Principal BLACK FALCON GT): “This was another nail biting and exciting race. Much like 2018. Both our cars were competitive in their respective classes. The #4 was always in contention for victory but as in 2018, another brand had the slightest of performance advantages. The #6 fought valiantly back to the podium, once more after a less than perfect qualifying. I’m proud and honored to work with this crew and our group of drivers. Well done to them all and thank you.”
Maro Engel (Driver #4): "We wanted to win and gave everything. Porsche was simply faster - congratulations to the winners. But we can also be proud of ourselves. We did a mega job. For the championship it was a very good weekend. Thanks to everyone who contributed to it. Next year we'll come back and try to be at the top."
Patrick Assenheimer (Driver #6): "It was my second start at the 24 Hours of Spa. We retired relatively early at the first start. That's why my goal was to finish the race and, if possible, finish on the podium. We did both. That's why we're very happy, took some points with us and are still second in the Endurance Championship."
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