24 Hours of Spa, It’s No Spa Day at This Endurance Race

The 24 Hours of Spa endurance race isn’t for the faint of heart— not only is the 7km circuit a challenging riot of elevation changes, the day presents so much for a journalist to digest, that it’s actually quite exhausting, in the best possible way. Originally conceived by Jules de Their and Henri Langlois Van Ophem in 1924, Spa saw its first green flag just one year after the very first 24 Hours of Le Mans.

At that time, the route saw racers traverse the public roads between the towns of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot, a 15km journey, albeit at slower speeds than today’s drivers manage.

Maqina was lucky to be the guests of Mercedes-AMG, who kept us almost as busy as the race teams with a activities like driving a few of AMG’s most rarified beasts to the race and a meet and greet with the band Linkin Park, which designed the livery of one of the AMG GT3 cars at Spa.

We were lucky to spend some quality time with the AMG GT3 race car, which has been enjoying an epic season, including a rousing performance at the “Green Hell” in which four AMG GT3 teams claimed all four top spots at 24 hours of Nürburgring.

The beating heart of this purebred is a 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8. This, combined with a bevy of racing technology makes the car perhaps the most exciting German racing car of the moment. Its ultra-light doors and carbon fiber monocoque help make sure the car eschews excessive weight in exchange for maximum lap times.

Despite the stripped down aesthetic, these cars are surprisingly rich in race specific tech, like the foot actuated waterpump that provides hydration on demand (among the things endurance racers are expected to endure, thirst isn’t one of them). Or, the pit lane control on the steering wheel, a sort of cruise control for steady velocity in the lane. For a technology like this to merit the weight, it has to significantly improve the driver’s chances, or their safety.

We also got to look inside the HTP Motorsport pitb, to see the crew in action during the race. Watching these professionals working at the top of their game was a revelation. We glorify drivers in the motoring world, but their crews deserve immense credit too. We then took a look at AMG’s materials truck, which supplies the AMG teams with more than 3,500 spare parts and providing on-site access to materials in an unprecedented arrangement that only AMG offers, ensuring that teams don’t have to guess what to inventory in preparation for a race.

Even with all that excitement, the highlight was driving the AMG GT R and the AMG E43 from Frankfurt to Belgium. With the AMG 4.0-Liter Biturbo engine in the AMG GT R is a huge accomplishment for Affalterbach, with an output of 585 hp, 75 hp more than the previous top-of-the-range engine in the GT S.

The peak torque of 700 Nm is available between 1900 and 5500 rpm. The increase in performance was achieved with the help of new turbochargers with modified compressor machining, smaller wastegate aneroid capsule and sharpened engine mapping. The boost pressure supplied by the turbochargers has been increased from 1.2 bar in the AMG GT to 1.35 bar, and the exhaust ports have been optimized and the compression ratio modified. In short, this is an unbelievably powerful, and exciting sports car to drive.

The Mercedes‑AMG E 43 4MATIC isn’t quite as bonkers, but with the 0 to 100 km/h sprint zipping by in just 4.6 seconds, it makes a great opening act for the GT R, and would make a solid headliner in any driving enthusiast's life.Its 3.0-liter V6 biturbo engine is good for 401 hp and 520 Nm, but it sips less petrol than the GT R.

The 4MATIC all-wheel drive system distributes the power to the road via a front-to-rear distribution ratio of 31 to 69 percent, while the The AMG sports suspension deftly adjusts the damping of the wheels to the prevailing driving situation. All in all, E stands for ‘excellent’.

Heavy rain began to fall some 22 minutes befor the end of the epic race, causing those cars that had opted to keep slicks on to lose control and sputter onto the shoulder or, worse, into each other. One Huracàn GT3 managed to take out an AMG GT3, entirely. The rain also highlighted the control these incredibly talented drivers have, with many of them managing to regain control at key moments. The rain brought a great event to a dramatic close, leaving us to wonder— what will next year be like?

By: Adel Habib | Photos: Niels Stolte

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