The glow of red-hot brake discs, the smell of burning rubber, the flash of headlights and thunder of a passing race car – this weekend, for 24 Hours, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps will be home to 58 cars and more than 200 drivers as they race for victory in the 2015 Spa 24 Hours.
Last year’s winning trio of Laurens Vanthoor, Rene Rast and Markus Winklehock return in Audi Sport Team WRT’s 2015 challenger, the R8 LMS. They head a diverse field of GT3-spec racers that includes Ferrari 458 Italias, McLaren 650S, BMW Z4s and (new for 2015) Lamborghini Huracans.
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With less than two days to go before the cars charge up Eau Rouge, we thought it right to look back at some of the finest machines to have won the challenging Belgian race. So below, in chronological order, are 10 winners of the Spa 24 Hours.
1966 BMW 2000ti
Driven by F1’s Hubert Hahne and Jacky Ickx, BMW’s dinky 2000ti racing saloon looked remarkably unchanged from its road going counterpart. In fact, unlike today’s purpose-built racers, evidence for the ’66 winner’s racing focus was largely restricted to its numbers and stripped interior.
This wasn’t due to financial restrictions, however, but rather a result of the marketing tactics manufacturers of the ‘60s used – racing near-standard cars was an effective way of promoting their latest showroom products. As such, the 2000ti featured the road car’s 2-litre twin-carburettor engine. In road-spec it produced about 120bhp; in race-guise the four-cylinder unit provided enough grunt to help the 2000ti convert a pole position into victory - BMW’s second at the Spa 24 Hours.
The car competed on the old, 14km circuit which itself was a shortened version of the original 15km Spa layout. The race was also a round of that year’s European Touring Car Championship.
1967 Porsche 911
The following year the win went to Porsche and its 2-litre flat-six engined 911. Driven by Jean-Pierre Gaban and Norbert Van Assche, the German sports car beat an Alfa Romeo 1600 GTA and Ford Mustang to claim the top step of the podium.
The winning 911 completed an impressive 4053km with a fastest lap of 4min 28.9sec, more than 8sec faster than ‘66’s fastest lap (set by a Ford Mustang). Importantly, this was Porsche’s first Spa 24 Hours win and the first of three consecutive victories.
Just like in ’66 attrition was high, with just 23 cars completing the distance - less than half of the starters.
1973 BMW 3.0 CSL
BMW’s ‘batmobile’ 3.0 CSL beat ‘72’s winner, the Ford Capri RS 2600, on its debut in 1973. With Toine Hezemans and Dieter Quester at the wheel, the lightweight BMW completed 313 laps of Spa, 15 more than the second placed Ford.
The car went on to win the European Touring Car Championship that year, too, and drivers Hezemans and Quester even secured a class victory with the CSL at 1973’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was the first of several successful years for the CSL, with BMW taking victory at Spa in the next four 24-hour races.