Last weekend we found our way to the Belgium Ardennes for the 70th edition of the Total 24 hours of Spa-Francorchamps. This circuit which is surrounded by forests is rated as one of the most iconic tracks in the world. And it’s always a pleasure being here as it brings back memories dating back to the 1990’s when I used to go there regularly to experience the F1 from up close.
24 hours of Spa
Upon arrival at the paddocks, we are welcomed by IWC at the stand of their automotive partner AMG. During the event, we get to explore the track from different positions and get a behind the scenes view of the 24 hours of Spa. Apart from the obvious there is just so much going on during a race weekend. Just as an impression some numbers from the official tyre supplier Pirelli: bringing a whopping 24 trucks to the track with 12.000 tyres for the GT races. They have 111 people with 15 nationalities working during the weekend to keep the teams supplied with fresh rubber.
We expected most services being available at the circuit, yet we learned that pretty much everything is brought here and installed prior to the race. An immense logistic challenge when you think about all the work that goes into the organising of just one race weekend. For all those involved, job well done! When the entire circus has left the track massive concrete structures remain.
Mercedes AMG GT3
Some hours before the start of the race we visit a few teams which are racing in the Mercedes AMG GT3. First stop is with Team Black Falcon who have 3 cars participating. Depending on the racing class each car has a different amount of drivers with a minimum of two. In total there are 4 classes which are best explained here.
At team Black Falcon we meet up with pro-driver Maro Engel who explains all about the car while taking place in his shared office for the race. The number 4 car has a special ‘320 Changes Direction’ livery in of support people with mental health issues.
On his wrist is the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph. After going around the car with Maro we meet up with Prince Abdulaziz sporting a Mark XVIII tribute to MKXI, the minimalist version of the IWC Mark XVIII which is one of my favourite models of IWC.
As time is ticking away towards the start of the race we continue with an inside look at the AMG support during the race. They bring trucks full of spare parts which range from simple bolts to complete engines and anything in-between. They manage to supply teams with nearly any part which they could possibly need during the race. Through an online portal which is available 24/7, any team can order their spare parts, get support or information. Like live data which is collected in the next mobile office.
Just before the start of the 24 hours of Spa, we visit team Strakka which is one of the most respected and successful privateer teams in professional motorsport. Here we meet up with Maxi(milian) Götz who we’ve had the pleasure of meeting last year at the AMG Winter Experience in Sweden. Again we get an explanation of various race-related subjects. He explains about details such as the technical limitations of the car such as reduced air-intake and added weight. In the back of the pit-box, he shows us some of the spare parts made in lightweight carbon fibre.
In the background, the cars get a final check-up for the race. The alignment of the wheels is carefully being checked and the lights are corrected to make sure the drivers have a good visual of the track during the dark hours of the race.
The tension before the start of 24 hours of Spa
With less than an hour to go before the start of the 24-hour race all cars are parked on the circuit which is open for the ‘grid walk’. Our last chance to see the cars from up close accompanied by the lovely grid girls who are still here unlike at the F1.
It also gives us the opportunity to stand at the bottom of the ever impressive Eau Rouge / Raidillon corner. It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like going through this corner at full speed. Going slightly downhill first, turning left and right shooting up some 40 meters at nearly full speed without the vision of what’s behind the corner.
Minutes before the start we leave the grid after which the cars make their way to the start of the endurance race. During the following hours, we got to see the race from various locations around the circuit. As darkness takes over it gets harder to distinguish the cars. That’s why they are equipped with various coloured lights and lit numbers showing their class and position. This makes them somewhat easier to recognise, even at high speed.
As with any endurance race, time takes its toll. Try concentrating to do lap after lap at maximum speed in a car which heats up to ultra tropical temperatures. Changing conditions including darkness, showers and close racing make sure it’s a spectacular event.
If the experience of the 24 hours of Spa-Francorchamps wasn’t exciting enough, driving back home in a Mercedes-Benz AMG E 63s Estate (which also got us there) sure was the cherry on the cake for this amazing race event. Big thanks to IWC and AMG for making this possible and their great hospitality.