IMAGES: GT Report – http://www.gt-report.com
Audi has claimed victory at the 2017 Total 24 Hours of Spa after a strategic hiccup in the final hour cost Mercedes any chance of victory.
The #25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc R8 LMS moved to the head of the race after its final stop, having trailed the #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG by just a few tenths for much of the final three hours.
With a maximum stint time of 65-minutes, a miscalculation saw the Mercedes dive into the pit lane too early, forcing Raffaele Marciello to be held in the pits for a few seconds in order not to exceed the maximum stint.
It proved enough to drop the car to third, leaving the Christopher Hasse, Markus Winkelhock and Jules Gounon Audi an unrivalled run to the flag in the final hour.
Bentley recorded second place with the bruised and battered #8 Team M-Sport entry while the #117 KUS Team75 Bernhard Porsche took fourth.
It was a race that promised more for Porsche, the #117 car having served a three-minute penalty earlier in the race after hitting a rival mechanic while exiting the pits, along with a drive through for exceeding track limits.
Without the penalties, the Porsche would have been much higher and showed pace strong enough to have won the race had it not struck trouble.
With 10 hours to go, the car that utterly dominated the first half of the race, the #55 Kaspersky Ferrari dramatically crashed out at Eau Rouge.
The cause of the crash occurred just one corner earlier after Marco Cioci made contact with the #90 Mercedes at La Source. The Ferrari suffered major steering damage sending the 488 skidding into the tyre barriers at Eau Rouge moments later.
The #90 car sat in second place at the time, and was looking to lap the #55 as strategy and rain saw them temporarily a lap apart.
For the first half of the race the top half dozen shared the same lap, with a sheet of paper separating them.
Once dawn broke, the race had begun to fracture, with the #90 Mercedes leading from the #1 Audi Sport WRT entry and Team M-Sport’s #8 Bentley.
Having enjoyed a long stretch of green flag racing to start proceedings, full course yellows and safety cars punctuated the race from the three-hour mark when the #50 AF Corse Ferrari crash heavily at Eau Rouge.
A raft of other cars also met an early demise, with almost half of the 63-car field unable to see the chequered flag after extensive damage or terminal issues put them all out of the race.
Their task wasn’t helped by a brief period of rain during the night, which shook up the order at a time when teams were beginning to serve their compulsory five-minute technical pit stop.
It proved to be a net gain for those who took the opportunity to stop while the rain fell, with the relative pace of those on track slower compared with those who’d completed their technical stop under dry conditions.
The final hours saw a nail-biting battle between the #25 Audi and #90 Mercedes, with positions changing throughout as the pair stopped off sequence.
Ultimately, it was Audi which had the better strategy, winning by just 13-seconds from Bentley and the #90 Mercedes some 38-seconds further back.
The #16 Black Falcon Mercedes claimed the Pro-Am class while the Kessel Ferrari wrapped up the Amateur class with the #888 entry.
So there we go, Audi out smart Mercedes to claim victory in the 24 Hours of Spa.