Spa-Francorchamps has always had a special place in the hearts of GT drivers – not only is it the circuit most frequently mentioned as their favourite circuit, but it is also the home of GT Racing’s blue riband event, the Total 24 Hours of Spa. This year the FIA GT1 World Championship will hold the fifth round at the famous Grand Prix circuit in the Ardennes forest. And, once the winners have been crowned, the inaugural season of the FIA GT1 World Championship will have reached its half-way point. However, instead of facing the rigours of the 24-hour race, this year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa will be reserved for the GT2, GT3, GT4 and GTN classes, while the GT1 cars will compete in their usual two one-hour races on the impressive seven kilometre circuit, one of the most challenging tracks in the world.
The FIA GT1 World Championship features 24 cars, representing 6 different manufacturers – Aston Martin, Corvette, Ford, Lamborghini, Maserati and Nissan – and 48 of the world’s leading sportscar drivers competing on four different continents to become the first ever FIA GT1 World Champion. This year the opening four rounds of the new FIA GT1 World Championship have really set the standard for the rest of the season.
The last round at Paul Ricard in France was dominated by the Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati MC12 of Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini, who claimed victory in both the Qualifying and Championship races. The final podium positions were hard fought, with the Sumo Power GT Nassan GT-R of Michael Krumm and Peter Dumbreck finishing second ahead of a delighted Altfrid Heger and Alex Margaritis, who claimed their first ever podium finish in the Triple H Team Hegersport Maserati. The French fans certainly weren’t disappointed with the excellent racing entertainment.
Spa-Francorchamps will provide a different challenge for cars and drivers competing in the inaugural GT1 World Championship. The Corvette C6R and Maserati MC12 have won at Spa in 2009 and 2008 respectively but a 60-minute race will be a different challenge from the 24-hour encounter that these teams have experienced in Belgium in previous seasons. So who will win at Spa for the first time in the GT1 World era?
Local interest will centre around the Belgian entries. Bert Longin races the Triple H Team Hegersport Maserati MC12, while Bas Leinders, Maxime Martin and Renaud Kuppens all race for the Belgian Marc VDS Racing Team in the Ford GT Matech. Mad Croc Racing is based in Merchtem, near Brussels. Dutch pairing Mike Hezemans and Xavier Maassen racing the team’s nr11 Corvette and view Spa as very much their home event.
In a change at Matech Competition Romain Grosjean moves to the nr 6 Ford and will be partnered by Swiss A1GP racer Neel Jani, while Thomas Mutsch will be joined in the nr5 car by reigning FIA GT2 Champion Richard Westbrook. In the nr 34 Triple H Team Hegersport Maserati Bert Longin will be joined by fellow Belgian Nico Verdonck who replaces Matteo Bobbi. Frank Kechele rejoins the championship and will partner Ricardo Zonta in the nr 25 Reiter Lamborghini.
The two victories in Paul Ricard has given Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels a 15-point advantage over their nearest rivals Romain Grosjean and Thomas Mutsch after the first four rounds but with a maximum of 33 points on offer at Spa the drivers all know that things can quickly change. Vitaphone Racing Team also hold the top spot in the Teams Championship, holding a 23 point advantage over Sumo Power GT, after the British team’s Nissan GT-Rs scored two podium finishes in France.
You can follow all the racing action for the rest of the season with live TV coverage streamed online at Corvette Motorsport.