A record-breaking GT weekend at Spa
The jewel in the crown
This weekend's 75th running of the jewel-in-the-crown endurance event on the GT calendar, the Crowdstrike 24 Hours of Spa, will be a record-equalling edition – with a mammoth 71 cars set to take part in the round-the-clock Belgian classic this year. First run in 1924, and held continuously since 1964, the Spa 24 Hours has evolved from a touring car event to one of the world's most prestigious GT3 races.
Pirelli will bring over 14,000 tyres to Spa-Francorchamps, as the exclusive supplier for not only the GT World Challenge Europe and Intercontinental GT Challenge but also for all the support categories taking part across the weekend.
These include the new-for-2023 one-make McLaren Trophy Europe championship, and the GT4 European Series as well as the single seater Formula Regional European category.
It's a mammoth logistical task to transport the tyres to and from the circuit, so no surprise that the Spa 24 Hours remains Pirelli's biggest, busiest and most important race of the entire season.
The tyres and the rules
Making the wheels turn at this record-breaking event – quite literally – is Pirelli's DHF tyre. This is a completely redesigned product compared to its DHE predecessor, which will equip all 71 GT3 cars in the race, as well as every GT car across the support bill. These tyres are also more sustainable than the DHE, with the production of the physical prototypes reduced by almost 20% due to extensive use of virtual modelling. The DHF additionally uses new types of renewable materials, without compromising performance.
Teams are allowed a maximum of 30 sets of dry tyres for the 24 Hours of Spa, which must be used from free practice onwards. Two sets from the official test day can be carried over as part of the 30-set allocation, while an additional new set is allowed for the cars taking part in the Super Pole session. These can only be used in Super Pole though. There are no limitations on wet weather tyres – and if Spa lives up to its reputation, they will certainly be needed.
With 71 cars on track at once, it's safe to say that space will come at a premium. Spa-Francorchamps is a long track, but traffic quickly becomes an additional challenge: especially in qualifying. A total of 23 pro entries will take part, with Mercedes fielding the highest number of cars (16) across the various classes and Porsche next up with 14 of its 911 GT3 (992) machines. Audi is represented by 13 cars while Lamborghini, which has never won the 24 Hours, will enter 10 cars. BMW also has an increased presence this year with seven cars; including one driven by Valentino Rossi. Ferrari will give its new 296 GT3 its Spa 24 Hours debut this weekend with four new-generation cars and one previous generation 488. McLaren also has five cars, while Aston Martin fields a solitary Vantage. Mercedes won last year's 24 Hours courtesy of Akkodis ASP's Endurance Cup champions Jules Gounon, Raffaele Marciello and Dani Juncadella, while BMW remains the most successful manufacturer in the history of the race – appropriately enough with 24 wins.
The unique atmosphere of the race is what makes the Spa 24 Hours so special. This year, there's a different feel to it: as well as a record-breaking 75th birthday party, there's also a new date, at the end of June, with the Belgian Grand Prix now taking over the traditional slot for the 24 Hours at the end of July. The race last moved away from July in 2020, when due to the Covid pandemic, the round-the-clock marathon was put back until October. The effect of this latest calendar reshuffle is still to be seen, but in theory there could be an even higher chance of the rain showers that perennially affect this most challenging of races. One thing is for sure: not even the wettest weather will dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, who will come out in their thousands from all over Europe to watch the traditional driver parade in Spa town centre and then line the track all day and all night; fuelled by racing passion, Jupiler beer, and frites-mayonnaise.
How to watch
Following the traditional parade into Spa town on Wednesday 28 June, the competitive action kicks off for real with free practice on Thursday. FP1 begins at 11:20, with pre-qualifying taking place at 18:10. Then it's onto qualifying, in the traditional Q1-Q4 format, starting at 21:20 before night practice begins at 23:00.
Super Pole for the fastest 20 cars from qualifying will take place on Friday at 19:55, following a 30-minute warm-up session, while the race itself begins on Saturday at 16:30. The chequered flag drops exactly 24 hours later. The race is broadcast on TV, but if you can't be there in person one of the best ways to watch is on the SRO's live stream: https://www.intercontinentalgtchallenge.com/watch-live. You can also find the action live on YouTube, all day and all night.