Rowe BMW leads Spa after eight hours
Rowe Racing’s #99 BMW is in command at one third distance in the 24 Hours of Spa as the field runs under Safety Car following a heavy accident.
The Maxime Martin/Phillipp Eng/Alexander Sims driven M6 has emerged as the car to beat after an action packed opening eight hours.
It leads the #6 Team Phoenix and #1 WRT Audis, while the fourth placed #8 Bentley is the last of those to remain on the lead lap.
The Bentley’s strong position comes despite penalties for pitstop and driver time infringements.
The #7 Bentley and #4 and #2 WRT Audis head those a lap down, while Shane van Gisbergen’s #58 McLaren is one place further back in eighth.
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The McLaren entered the race under a reliability cloud after Van Gisbergen was forced to abandon his Superpole lap when the car lost oil pressure.
With Van Gisbergen having shut the car off immediately, the Garage 59 team elected not to change the engine for the race.
The race was under Safety Car as the eight hour mark was reached following a crash for Ian Loggie in the #24 Team Parker Bentley at the exit of Les Combe.
Damage to the barriers are expected to require a lengthy repair.
Aussie Matt Simmons’ #22 Nissan is currently down in 54th after striking electrical problems in the seventh hour.
After stopping twice on track with Riccardo Sanchez at the wheel, the GT-R required a spell in the garage to attend to its issues.
“I’d just gone off to get a bit of rest and reset before getting back in and when I came back to the garage the car had stopped,” Simmons told Speedcafe.com.
“Riccardo did a great job to get it back to the pits at least so the boys could work on it.
“It was a fuel relay issue so the guys replaced it and got it back out and now it’s lapping well.
“It’s disappointing for us but we’ll battle on, there’s still a long way to go and a lot of experience to gain.”
The GT Academy winner had completed the second stint of the race in the car, driving solidly amid challenging conditions.
“I went out on the Safety Car so I had to wait a bit to get going, but once we did it was full on racing,” Simmons recounted.
“It was chaotic but I was able to get comfortable in the car and pick my way cleanly through the slower cars.
“A bit of rain made it pretty interesting as well but it was a great experience and I’m looking forward to getting some more laps at night.”
The Australian Lago Racing entry of Roger Lago/David Russell/Steve Owen/Jonathon Webb currently sits 47th outright, seven laps adrift of the lead.
Mercedes’ hopes were dealt a major blow just hours before the race when ECU irregularities saw stewards disqualified their top six cars from Superpole and hand each a five-minute penalty to be served in the opening half hour of the race.
The #84 and #86 HTP AMGs as well as the #00 Black Falcon and #88 Team AKKA ASP entries all pitted to serve their penalties at the end of the opening lap, just as the full course yellows waved for a spun #333 Rinaldi Ferrari.
Although benefitting from the yellow, all four lost a lap to the leaders which they have proven unable to recover.
The #28 Team WRT Audi which inherited pole struck trouble in the sixth hour when Rene Rast tangled with the #114 Jaguar of Jonathan Hirschi.
Rast pitted immediately for repairs to his car’s bodywork, dropping three laps in the process.
The opening stages of the race saw a collision between Kevin Estre (#77 Attempto Porsche) and Motoaki Ishikawa (#53 AF Corse Ferrari) that put both cars out on the spot.
Estre, who had been exiting the pits at the time of the clash, made heavy contact with the right-side armco barrier, which required 75 minutes of Safety Car running while the section was replaced.
The same stretch of road also claimed the #15 Team Italia BMW several hours later when Roda Giorgi spun on his own oil.
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— Stefan Bartholomaeus (@SJBartholomaeus) July 30, 2016
VIDEO: 24 Hours of Spa – First 6 hours highlights