Drivers and teams up and down the Total 24 Hours of Spa grid are expecting a chaotic race with the expansion of the grid size to a record 72 GT cars this weekend.
The field, which features the largest GT3 entry of the year, includes 35 Pro-class entries and 36 teams in the Pro-Am, Silver Cup and Am cup brackets plus one invitational car.
Sainteloc Racing team principal Frederic Thalamy told Sportscar365 that he’s “crossing a finger” that the race manages to run without major incidents considering the scale of the field.
Thalamy, whose team won the 2017 edition of the race, has two cars entered this weekend in the Pro and Pro-Am divisions.
“This year will be very, very hard, whatever the weather,” he said.
“I was quite afraid when I saw the number of Pro cars, and the difference in lap times between the Am drivers and the Pros.
“The SRO wants to push on Pro-Am and Am, but this year for the 24 Hours it’s definitely for the Pros. I’m crossing a finger, I’m quite afraid of the red flags.
“[It’s a] huge difference, huge difference [with 72 GTs] and ten Pro cars, that are able to win. They don’t think about Am. It will be a very difficult race.”
BMW Team Schnitzer driver Augusto Farfus suggested that the high entry count is what makes the 24H Spa appealing, but the density of the field makes it one of the hardest races to manage.
The Brazilian, who drove in last month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans for BMW Team MTEK, pointed out how the size of the track and speed differentials between the classes help to reduce accidents in the French long-distance classic.
“At Le Mans, if an LMP1 or LMP2 comes by on the long straight, there is no problem,” Farfus told Sportscar365.
“I have to look after 30 GT cars on a track which is 13 km, but here [at Spa] the density of cars per kilometer is higher than the Nürburgring where you have 200 cars but a 25 km track.
“Here you have 70 cars on a 7 km track, and on top of that, you have 70 cars doing the same speeds. At the Nürburgring, there is maybe 30 GTs and the rest are slower classes.
“This is what makes Spa so special and that’s why I’m so keen to be here, but maybe we went a bit too far.”
Tom Ferrier, who is team manager of the Oman Racing with TF Sport Pro-Am class outfit running an Aston Martin Vantage GT3, echoed Farfus’ thoughts.
“It’s a finer line with the different speeds, racing against people in your class constantly,” he said.
“The front to the back of the grid is probably four seconds difference, so any overtaking maneuvers are big overtaking maneuvers.”
Porsche’s Mathieu Jaminet, who is driving the No. 98 ROWE Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R with Sven Mueller and Romain Dumas, reckons the race will not be a flat-out contest reliant on comparative long-run pace.
He feels it will play out more like a set of mini IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races based on the likelihood of the field being contracted by safety cars every couple of hours.
“I think it’s going to be a race by elimination with a lot of safety cars,” the Frenchman told Sportscar365.
“If you just stay out of trouble in the first six hours, we are going to go from 72 cars on track to 55 already, so if we can get through that without issue it’s going to be a standard 24-hour race from there.
“For sure, we will push. It’s important to judge the risk always, but when you look at the race it doesn’t make sense to take those risks.
“I think with all the safety cars it is going to look like an IMSA race, which is great for me because I like that, I like the fights.”
Jaminet said that the pressure will be on the Am drivers as much as the Pro competitors, who are deemed responsible for situations arising from overtakes on slower cars.
“It’s tough for the Am drivers because they haven’t driven in wet conditions [this weekend]. When we get to the first corner it’s going to be a big cloud of water.
“I think many cars are going to have problems in the first six hours. This is the first target to get through and then we will see where we are.”
Jake Kilshaw contributed to this report.