On Saturday 24 October, the Total 24 Hours of Spa will begin its 20th edition as a GT race. We have had to wait a little longer than anticipated to celebrate this milestone, and the event will feel very different due to the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the competitive action promises to be as fierce as ever.
A 56-car field has assembled in the Ardennes to contest this year's race, with 28 full-pro crews joined by the same number competing across the Silver Cup, Pro-Am and Am Cup classes. Here is the key information that every aficionado needs to know ahead of the 72nd edition of the Belgian endurance classic.
There will be four categories on-track this year, all of which compete in the GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup. One of Spa's unique features is that its classes are based solely on driver categorisation, with all 56 machines conforming to the same GT3 regulations. From a technical standpoint, there is no difference between the car that starts on pole and those that fill the final row of the grid.
The biggest contingent of entrants are those competing solely for the overall win. These line-ups carry the 'PRO' designation on the rear of their car, though they are not a separate class. Each crew is limited to three drivers, with no stipulations on categorisation.
In the Silver Cup each line-up consists of up to four Silver-graded drivers, with no additional limits placed on their driving time. A field of 12 entries will compete this year, with an even split between three- and four-driver crews.
In Pro-Am, a maximum line-up of two Platinum and two Bronze-graded drivers is allowed. There must be a Bronze driver behind the wheel for at least eight hours across the full race, and at least one hour during each six-hour period from the start. If the car races with three drivers then two must be Bronze. 12 runners are confirmed in the Pro-Am class for 2020, two of which are fielding the maximum line-up permitted.
Am Cup crews consist of up to four Bronze drivers, or three Bronze and one Silver. The Silver-graded driver may only be behind the wheel for a total of six hours, and for a maximum of two hours in each six-hour period. There are four Am crews confirmed for this year's race, all of which have elected to run a Silver competitor.
Entrants from each of the four regular categories are eligible to win the Total 24 Hours of Spa outright, though since the race became a round of the Endurance Cup in 2011 it has always been won by a 'Pro' car. As such, the Silver Cup, Pro-Am and Am Cup runners will also fight for class honours in the Belgian Ardennes.
In addition to GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS, the Total 24 Hours of Spa represents the marquee event for the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli. While this is a separate championship, its record contingent of 39 nominated cars will fall under the same class structure as the rest of the field. In terms of the race, they are no different from any other entrant. Nominated cars will be easily identifiable thanks to a white windscreen sticker, as opposed to the usual black decal.
Track activity began on Tuesday. The opening sessions predominantly featured Intercontinental GT Challenge runners who missed the official test days to compete at the Indianapolis 8 Hour, as well as one-off entrants and a handful of additions. This was followed by the annual Bronze test. As the name suggests, this is reserved for Bronze-graded drivers and allows them to re-familiarise themselves with the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
The serious action begins on Thursday at 11.10. A 90-minute free practice run will be the first chance for every competitor to sample the track, followed later in the day (15.15) by a 60-minute pre-qualifying session. While similar to free practice, this serves a dual purpose: if qualifying cannot take place, the results from pre-qualifying will be used to decide the grid. As such, drivers have added incentive to bank a representative time. Pre-qualifying also signals the start if free-to-view live streaming from Spa-Francorchamps, which is available to watch worldwide.
Qualifying proper takes place on Thursday evening at 18.55. There will be four 15-minute sessions, one for each driver (three-driver crews will bypass Q1). The final qualifying time will be the average of the fastest laps set by each driver in their respective session, with the same criteria applied to three and four-driver crews. Should one driver fail to set a time, their car will start behind all of the cars that have set a full complement of times. Later that evening, night practice gets underway at 20.35 and will be more important than ever this year, with a later spot on the calendar meaning considerably more after-dark running.
On Friday there will be a 30-minute warm-up session at 17.30 to prepare for Super Pole. Beginning at 18.20, this fiercely contested session sees the fastest 20 cars from qualifying battle to establish the first 10 rows of the grid. Each team must choose just one driver, who will complete two full laps.
And, on Saturday, the main event finally arrives: at 15.30 CEST the Total 24 Hours will begin its 72nd running – and the 20th since GT rules were adopted in 2001. It will conclude the following day at 14.30 CET, with the end of Central European Summer Time meaning that clocks will move back by one hour at 03.00 on Sunday morning.
The maximum length of any stint is 65 minutes, except if a full-course yellow or safety car period is in operation when the stint finishes. In this case, an additional five minutes is permitted to allow the car to get back to the pit lane at a slower pace.
A driver may only complete three full stints in a row. After this, they must rest for at least one hour. The maximum driving time permitted over the full race is 14 hours. Exceeding stint times will result in a penalty.
Three or four sets of tyres must be marked for use in qualifying, depending on the number of drivers in a crew, with each competitor able to use a new set. One of these sets must be used for the start of the race, but tyre choice is free after the first lap. Cars qualifying for Super Pole are allowed an additional new set of tyres to tackle this session.
This year, a refuelling time must be met during each stop. Tyres changes can only be carried out after the refuelling nozzle has been removed and will not be timed. Additionally, there will be a one-second tolerance that can be used if a competitor goes under the minimum pit stop time by one second or less. Four will be available throughout the race, but these cannot be combined.
On some cars, items such as brakes discs and pads can be changed much quicker than on others. To maintain an emphasis on competition, each car must make one Technical Pit Stop of at least four minutes from pit-in to pit-out. In a change from last year’s rules, the stop must be taken after the start of the 12th hour and before the end of the 22nd hour, and can be completed under full-course yellow or safety car conditions.
POINTS AND PRIZES
One point is awarded to the team and drivers from the car that starts on pole overall and in each category. Half-points are awarded to the top nine runners in each category after six and 12 hours of the race on a basis of 12, 9, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Full points will be awarded to the top 10 runners after 24 hours (25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1).
Last but not least, the Coupe du Roi rewards the manufacturer that scores the best result across the classes, with points awarded per car at six, 12 and 24 hours. This has been won for the past two years by Mercedes-AMG, which showed impressively consistent performance in 2018 and 2019.
With this information at hand, you are fully up to speed for the 2020 Total 24 hours of Spa. From pre-qualifying onwards, this year’s action will air on a free-to-view, non-geo-blocked stream. This will be available on the usual platforms, including the event's official website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. For further information and to stay up to speed with developments at the circuit, follow the Total 24 Hours of Spa on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.