RACE PREVIEW: 67-car field chasing a place in history at the centenary CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa

The centenary CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa is just around the corner. Track action at the Ardennes venue begins on Tuesday 25 June, building up to the moment when Jacky Ickx signals the start of the race at 16:30 on Saturday 29 June.

A 67-car field will tackle this landmark edition of the Belgian endurance classic, with victory set to be fiercely disputed in five highly competitive classes. These are the contenders hoping to write their names in history as the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa celebrates its centenary.

PRO-AM CUP: Past winners joined by international racers

A fixture at the event for more than a decade, the Pro-Am class returns for the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa with six cars set to battle for victory. There’s plenty of quality among them, including a trio of past overall winners and representatives from each continental Fanatec GT World Challenge Powered by AWS series.

CrowdStrike By Riley (Mercedes-AMG) combines the American trio of George Kurtz, Ian James and Colin Braun with 2015 winner Nicky Catsburg. Earl Bamber (winner in 2020) will drive for his own EBM Porsche outfit, which also includes Fanatec GT Asia racer Adrian D´Silva.

Prince Jefri Ibrahim is also a regular in Asia and will be part of the Triple Eight JMR Mercedes-AMG crew, alongside 2016 winner Alexander Sims. There’s another Mercedes-AMG from Uno Racing Team with Landgraf, which will carry one of the most eye-catching liveries on the grid.

Haas RT is set for its event debut with an Audi and has added Fanatec GT Australia racer Brad Schumacher to its line-up. Finally, Team RJN makes a popular return to the Ardennes classic in partnership with McLaren, competing as #100 at the centenary edition.

BRONZE CUP: No obvious favourite among huge grid

Though still relatively new, the Bronze Cup has attracted a sensational 21-car field for the centenary CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa. After winning last year with Huber Motorsport, Antares Au switches to the Lionspeed X Herberth Porsche squad, joining a crew that also includes Belgian ace Alessio Picariello. Another victory for the Stuttgart marque could well be on the cards, with further Bronze entries from Dinamic GT, Herberth Motorsport and Rutronik Racing.

The new Aston Martin Vantage is sure to be a hit among fans, with local squad Comtoyou Racing and Walkenhorst Motorsport (overall winner in 2018) both set to field this significantly upgraded car. McLaren looks to be a real threat with two entries each from British squads Garage 59 and Optimum Motorsport. The #188 Garage 59 line-up looks especially strong, with Miguel Ramos making a welcome return and McLaren factory ace Marvin Kirchhöfer bolstering the crew further.

A tally of 25 overall victories makes BMW the most successful brand in CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa history, though since the start of the GT3 era in 2011 the Bavarian marque is yet to secure a class win. Century Motorsport and OQ by Oman Racing will hope to change that, the latter working in tandem with Team WRT.

At the other end of the spectrum, Ferrari has picked up a remarkable 14 class triumphs during the same period. Seven of these victories came courtesy of AF Corse, which has Spa legends Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini among its #52 crew. Kessel Racing won the season opener at Circuit Paul Ricard and brings a two-car programme, while Sky Tempesta Racing and Rinaldi Racing add further strength.

Though it is still chasing its first overall win, Lamborghini has enjoyed plenty of success in the Ardennes. Barwell Motorsport won three classes in as many years between 2018 and 2020, so the British squad’s two-car effort must be considered a potential winner.

The same can be said for the returning Iron Dames line-up, which includes local favourite Sarah Bovy, the most experienced female driver of the GT3 era. Tresor Attempto Racing completes the Bronze Cup contenders with its Audi.

SILVER CUP: Youth against experience

Since becoming part of the race in 2018, the Silver Cup has often produced fantastic on-track action. Grasser Racing will defend last year’s win with an all-new line-up, which sees the four-man crew of Llarena/Cook/Qarajouli/Moulin sharing its familiar green Lamborghini.

It will also be worth keeping an eye on Madpanda Motorsport, which won the class in 2021 and has two Spa veterans in Ezequiel Perez Companc and Patrick Assenheimer. The Argentine squad leads a quartet of Mercedes-AMG entries, which also includes more experienced competitors at GetSpeed and Boutsen VDS, as well as the young Winward Racing crew that triumphed at Circuit Paul Ricard.

Comtoyou Racing is preparing for its first Spa assault with Aston Martin and counts no fewer than four Belgian drivers among its two-car effort, with Nicolas Baert and Esteban Muth in the #12 and Sam Dejonghe and Matisse Lismont in the #21. French squad Saintéloc Racing can certainly be a factor with its Audi, while Walkenhorst Motorsport adds a BMW and Dinamic GT will field a Porsche.

GOLD CUP: Mercedes-AMG takes on Audi in battle for class honours

A six-car Gold Cup field will tackle the centenary CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa, with Audi and Mercedes-AMG each represented by three cars. With a maximum line-up of three Gold-rated drivers and one Silver, the best of these crews will be hoping to challenge for the overall top-10.

Saintéloc Racing took the opener at Circuit Paul Ricard and is a past overall winner at Spa, so its crew of Pla/Magnus/Evrard/De Wilde is among the pre-race favourites. Tresor Attempto Racing can count on a trio of young Italians in Patrese/Ferrari/Moncini, who are joined for the 24 Hours by last year’s Silver Cup winner Glenn Van Berlo. CSA Racing adds another Audi and will field a quartet of French drivers.

Among the Mercedes-AMG runners, AlManar Racing by GetSpeed showed impressive pace at the season opener and will benefit from the Pro class experience of Mikaël Grenier. 2 Seas Motorsport adds Frank Bird to its regular crew, while HRT sticks with its trio of Maini/Owega/Beretta.

PRO: 24-car Pro field chasing centenary glory 

While any of this year’s 67 entrants could take the coveted overall victory, the winner will almost certainly come from the Pro field, as has been the case each year since GT3 became the principal category in 2011. The hopefuls consist of 19 full-season Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup crews, bolstered by five one-off entries.

BMW is the defending winner following last year’s triumph with ROWE Racing. A repeat is certainly possible with the unchanged #98 line-up of Eng/Wittmann/Yelloly, who will look to become only the second back-to-back winners. The sister #998 of Farfus/Harper/Hesse took the opening Fanatec GT Europe Endurance Cup race at Circuit Paul Ricard and is another strong candidate.

Team WRT also has two ace line-ups. The #32 of D.Vanthoor/Weerts/Van der Linde is more than ready to win this race, while the sister #46 combines two past victors – Maxime Martin (2016) and Raffaele Marciello (2022) – with Valentino Rossi. We can only imagine the reaction that Vale winning the biggest GT race in the world would generate. Across the board, there is an argument that BMW has the strongest line-up this year.

Of course, the Mercedes-AMG contingent would almost certainly disagree. The Affalterbach marque also has four Pro cars and a number of world-class drivers. Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed can count on Jules Gounon (winner in 2017 & 2022), who is ably supported by Luca Stolz and Fabian Schiller, while Mercedes-AMG Team Mann-Filter brings the trio of Engel/Auer/Morad.

The third factory car is a one-off for Spa, combining Daniel Juncadella (winner in 2022) with young talents Ralf Aron and Frederik Vesti. The latter was runner-up in last year’s FIA F2 standings and is set to make his GT3 debut at the highest possible level. Boutsen VDS adds an additional Pro car, which places Maximilian Götz (winner in 2013) alongside Thomas Drouet and Ulysse De Pauw. Victorious in 2022 and runner-up last year, Mercedes-AMG appears well placed for the centenary.

No brand has more Pro cars than Porsche. This has often been the Stuttgart marque’s strength and brought overall victories in 2019 and 2020. In both cases the winner was a one-off crew, and in HubAuto Racing (L.Vanthoor/Estre/Pilet), SSR Herberth (Makowiecki/Campbell/Jaminet) and Phantom Global Racing (Evans/Eriksson/Preining) that could certainly be the case again in 2024.

The full-season entries are led by Schumacher CLRT (Güven/Heinrich/Boccolacci), whose team manager Côme Ledogar won the 24 Hours just three years ago with Ferrari. Rutronik Racing combines past podium finishers Patric Niederhauser and Sven Müller with versatile Porsche racer Julien Andlauer, while Pure Rxcing makes the step up from the Bronze Cup with its crew of Malykhin/Bachler/Sturm.

It may be difficult to win with a new car, but it’s not impossible. Comtoyou Racing and Walkenhorst Motorsport will hope to make an immediate impact with the Aston Martin Vantage, while Proton Competition will chase debut success with the new Ford Mustang. Among them, it’s impossible to ignore the Comtoyou Racing line-up of Thiim/Sørensen/Drudi, all past podium finishers at Spa.

The Walkenhorst Motorsport drivers are not quite as well known, though its trio of Gunn/Pittard/ Chaves are highly capable and have plenty of experience both at Spa and other twice-around-the clock races. As for Proton Competition and its Ford, a single-car effort presents an even greater challenge. As such, the speed and experience of Mies/Vervisch/Olsen will be vital.

While both Aston Martin and Ford have launched new projects, the Audi R8 has been around in various forms for well over a decade. The current EVO II model will be run by two Pro teams. Tresor Attempto Racing has a past winner in Christopher Haase (2017) alongside the extremely fast Ricardo Feller and youngster Alex Aka. Hass RT is a one-off entrant and has assembled the highly experienced line-up of Lind/Gachet/Heylen.

Ferrari is the only non-German brand to take overall victory during the GT3 era, doing so in a truly unforgettable finish to the 2021 race. In the second year for its 296 and with a pair of Pro cars from AF Corse – Francorchamps Motors, it’s among the favourites for the centenary. The #51 of Pier Guidi/Rigon/Rovera is mighty strong, with Pier Guidi in particular among the finest endurance racers of his generation. The sister #71 combines the experienced Vincent Abril with past Silver Cup winner Thomas Neubauer and sportscar rookie David Vidales.

Having earned multiple Fanatec GT Europe titles and a clutch of class wins in the Ardennes, Lamborghini has ambitions of securing its first overall triumph this year. Iron Lynx won with Ferrari in 2021 and its line-up of Bortolotti/Caldarelli/Cairoli is among the best on the grid. Grasser Racing earned Silver Cup honours last term and has its own all-factory crew of Perera/Mapelli/Pepper.

Finally, McLaren is represented by Garage 59 and its young trio of Goethe/Gamble/MacDonald. All three have taken class wins – Goethe in Silver (2022) and both Gamble and MacDonald in Gold (2023) – so they know what it takes to succeed at the event. This promising crew will hope to be among the contenders for victory come Sunday afternoon.

All five classes share a common theme: it is impossible to predict who will finish on the podium, let alone seal victory at 16:30 on Sunday afternoon. What we can say for certain is that the centenary CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa will be fiercely contested from start to finish.