ROWE Racing has won the 2023 CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa to give BMW a record-extending 25th overall win at the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic.
The German team confirmed its status as the standout performer of the race’s GT3 era by securing its third victory in the Ardennes followings triumphs in 2016 and 2020. Marco Wittmann, Nick Yelloly and Phillip Eng drove the #98 car to top spot, the latter earning his third outright success at Spa.
The BMW was among the front-runners for the duration of the race, placing fourth at the six-hour mark and sixth and half distance. It emerged as the favourite on Sunday morning, taking advantage of a pit stop under full-course yellow conditions before a stellar stint from Eng culminated in a pass on the #17 Scherer Sport PHX Audi.
A safety car around noon allowed the leading pack to get back on to a similar pit sequence, setting up a four-hour run to the chequered flag. Any remaining questions about the pace of the BMW were quickly answered as Yelloly stretched the lead to more than 10 seconds.
Thereafter the race remained green for the duration, allowing the #98 BMW to edge further clear without being troubled. It ultimately took the chequered flag with an 11-second advantage over its closest rival after easing off during the closing stages. Its victory came from 26th on the grid, marking only the second time since 2001 that a car has won from outside the top-20 starting places.
Last year’s winner finished the 75th edition as runner-up. The #88 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG of Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Timur Boguslavskiy was fast and error free, even if it missed the ultimate pace that would have been needed to topple the BMW. It was third at the six-hour mark and second at 12 hours, banking important points towards the Fanatec GT Europe Endurance Cup standings.
It was chased for the final few hours by the #17 Scherer Sport PHX Audi, which completed the podium thanks to Nicki Thiim, Kelvin van der Linde and Luca Engstler. Thiim pushed Gounon very hard, but their battle brought the #92 Manthey EMA Porsche into play during the final 30 minutes.
Kevin Estre had designs on the podium, forcing Thiim into defensive action and allowing Gounon to pull clear. As such, the top-four finishers represented four different brands: BMW, Mercedes-AMG, Audi and Porsche.
The #5 Optimum Motorsport McLaren won in the Gold Cup and finished an impressive 10th overall. The British squad started from class pole and was always in the mix thanks to strong showings from Sam de Haan, Charlie Fagg, Dean MacDonald and Tom Gamble.
The latter handled the final stint, pulling clear of the #71 AF Corse – Francorchamps Motors Ferrari to ensure that McLaren finished as the best non-German marque at this year’s race. The #30 Team WRT BMW finished second in class (P14 overall) with fellow local squad Comtoyou Racing completing the Gold Cup podium with its #21 Audi (P18 overall).
In the Silver Cup, the Grasser Racing squad finally earned its maiden victory in the Ardennes with the #85 Lamborghini of Clemens Schmid, Benjamin Hites and Glenn van Berlo. The Austrian outfit spent much of the race battling against Audi crews, with the #12 Comtoyou Racing entry proving to be its most serious opponent.
The #85 came home 19th overall, almost 14 seconds clear of the chasing Audi. Saintéloc Junior Team completed the class podium with an all-French line-up steering its #26 Audi. The #99 Tresor Orange1 Audi was also a major player before its retirement early on Sunday afternoon.
With 21 cars taking the start, the Bronze Cup was the biggest class at this year’s race. It produced a suitably impressive contest, which was led at various times by the #188 Garage 59 McLaren and the #911 Pure Rxcing Porsche. Ultimately the #20 Huber Motorsport Porsche rose to the occasion, taking a memorable victory to add to its stunning overall Super Pole.
Anteres Au, Tim Heinemann and Jannes Fittje shared the winning car, the latter producing a heroic finish to overhaul fellow Porsche squad Pure Rxcing. In a further souvenir for the team, Heinemann earned the CrowdStrike Fastest Lap (2m17.087s), breaking the GT3 lap record for the event in the process. The #911 Pure Rxcing Porsche and the #93 Sky Tempesta Racing McLaren rounded out the Bronze podium.
Sun Energy1 produced the feel-good story of the race by securing a comeback victory in Pro-Am with its #75 Mercedes-AMG. The team’s participation was in doubt after Kenny Habul crashed in Pre-Qualifying, but despite being ruled out with a back injury the Australian sourced a new car and brought in Adam Osieka as a replacement driver.
The car started from the pit lane and quickly made progress, ultimately finding itself in a battle for class victory with the #24 Car Collection Porsche. Nico Menzel made it interesting by pushing Nick Catsburg hard during the final hour, but the Dutchman held on to seal a remarkable triumph. Martin Konrad and Chaz Mosert also contributed to the #75 Mercedes-AMG securing victory, while the #24 Porsche and the #888 CSA Racing Audi completed the podium.
The Coupe du Roi, which is awarded to the best-performing manufacturer across all classes, went to Audi. After a tough 2022, the Ingolstadt marque was back on form this year, scoring podiums overall, in the Gold Cup, Silver Cup and Pro-Am.
The 75th CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa brought 83,677 people to the Ardennes track over the course of the event, with the new grandstands opposite the endurance pits and at Raidillon especially packed for the start. With this year’s edition complete, attention can begin to turn to the centenary running, which has been confirmed for 27–30 June 2024.
Philipp Eng, #98 ROWE Racing BMW: “Winning a 24-hour race is an incredible achievement for any race driver. This is the most difficult GT race anywhere, with the best drivers and teams, and to win for the third time is a big honour. I really appreciate it. It wasn’t easy. At one point we were a lap down and it didn’t look like we’d be in contention at the end. But the team did a great job with the strategy and my team-mates were great, too. The last two hours felt like forever.”
Marco Wittmann, #98 ROWE Racing BMW: “I’ve been trying to win a 24-hour race for 10 years and had a few second places, so this is a really sweet taste, even if it’s bitter-sweet [due to events across the weekend]. But to sit here as a winner at last is incredible. The team did an incredible job to bring us back on to the lead lap and Philipp and Nick did a brilliant job. We had a good package, strong pace and a great car. It feels extremely good to get my first 24-hour win.”
Nick Yelloly, #98 ROWE Racing BMW: “Twenty-five wins here for BMW is fantastic, a huge achievement. To win this race you have to have so many things go your way, so many good strategy calls, you’ve got to be quick. I’ve had a bit of a week of it, with the first GTP win at Watkins Glen for 33 years and now this win here. Hopefully we can keep this streak up for BMW.”
Jules Gounon, #88 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG: “I told Nicki [Thiim] on the podium that I hoped we wouldn’t go side-by-side through Eau Rouge again, which would have been my worst nightmare. Fortunately my girlfriend is Danish, so she gave me some tips on how to handle the Danish Big Boys! [laughs]. It was a difficult race and we drove a lot, always pushing. We didn’t have the fastest car today, so that made it tough and a bit of a parade to try and catch the others. With Nicki at one point, I just turned my mirror away and focused on looking forward as I knew it would be tough to pass. When the Grello [#92 Porsche] turned up it actually helped me a lot and took some pressure off. But huge thanks to the team and my team-mates, this is a great result.”
Kelvin van der Linde, #14 Scherer Sport PHX Audi: “It was special to be running one-two with my brother [Sheldon van der Linde, #32 Team WRT BMW] at one point. That’s goosebumps stuff. I’ll go back and rewatch it as it’s not often you share stints with your brother, let alone to be fighting with them for the overall race lead. It’s just really, really special. From my side, to be on the podium is great. I didn’t do pre-season testing and we’re not in for the full season, so I think what the team delivered today was exceptional. I’d love to have three wins like Philipp, but we can always come back and try again next year.”