It is a little before 16.00 on Saturday 4 August 2001 and an assortment of cars are snaking their way around Spa-Francorchamps in preparation for the 55th edition of the Belgian circuit’s long-running 24-hour race.
The mighty Chrysler Viper GTS-R will start from pole, leading away a field that also includes a variety of Porsches, an exposed-cockpit Renault Spider, and the first Belgian machine to start the race in more than 60 years. Engines range from the V12 powerplants deployed by Ferrari and Lamborghini to the Rover four-cylinder engine that propels a pair of Lotus Elise entries. The list of drivers includes experienced professionals, young hopeful, and ambitious amateurs, while the teams are a similar mix of established outfits and lesser-known operations.
This is a truly varied grid, but all involved share a common link. From the Viper to the Spider, from veterans to rookies, all are participating in the start of a new era at one of the world’s longest-running endurance contests. For the first time in its long and colourful history, the Spa 24 Hours is a GT race.
In some respects, the importance of this event could be seen at the time: the saloon cars that had contested the 24 Hours in the final years of the 20th century had given way to big, noisy GT machines.
But the true significance of what happened on 4 August 2001 is only fully clear now, as we prepare for the race’s 20th running under GT rules. It was more than just a change of equipment: it was the moment that began Spa’s reinvention. The hope back then was that GT racing would help the event to rediscover its past glory; in fact, it has taken it somewhere entirely new.
Today, the Total 24 Hours of Spa is once again a major fixture on the international calendar, with manufacturers, teams and drivers placing huge significance on the race. This has brought back old fans who drifted away during the latter half of the nineties and allowed others to discover the event for the first time.
What’s more, new rituals have been created. The parade to Spa town centre was a relatively small affair when it launched in the early years of the GT era; it is now a street party that sees the town packed with fans. Off-track entertainment has flourished around the venue, while the music concert has grown into an event of its own.
On the circuit, races staged over a full day and night have been won or lost by mere seconds. A total of 47 drivers have triumphed outright since GT rules were adopted, while countless others have put everything on the line at one of the world’s most challenging circuits. Behind the scenes, thousands of hours‘ worth of preparation have been poured into the event by the organiser and the teams.
All the while the Total 24 Hours of Spa has continued to grow: the 2018 edition saw 13 different brands on the grid, while in 2019 an incredible 72 cars took the start. Both are records for the GT era and, as we approach this year’s milestone running, worthy of celebration. Beneath the headlines there are many other stories: of success and heartbreak, of individual brilliance and collective endeavour. These, too, deserve to be unearthed.
So, in the weeks leading up to this year’s race, we will explore the moments that have shaped the modern Total 24 Hours of Spa, telling 20 stories to celebrate the 20th running of GT era. Big or small, each has played its own part in making the event what it is today.
Total – Official Partner of the Total 24 Hours of Spa
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With operations in more than 130 countries, Total is a top-tier international oil company and a world-class natural gas operator, refiner, petrochemical producer, and fuel and lubricant retailer.
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As a responsible corporate citizen, we focus on ensuring that our operations consistently deliver economic, social and environmental benefits.
Pirelli – Official Tyre Supplier
Pirelli is a tyre manufacturer and world leader in the automotive industry. It has an exclusive relationship with over 50 racing series worldwide, including Formula One.
Pirelli has a long and illustrious history in endurance racing, and has also claimed a huge variety of class wins in GT racing all over the world. The design of the new Pirelli GT tyres meets the needs of GT racing while maintaining the performance characteristics that endurance drivers have appreciated in the past.The slick tyres used for GT racing are branded Zero: just like the slicks that have become a central feature of Formula One. The name P Zero is used in the highest categories of motorsport such as GT racing.
About SRO Motorsports Group – The global leader in GT racing
With more than 25 years’ experience at the forefront of a continuously evolving industry, SRO Motorsports Group is the established international leader in GT racing.
Best known for the development and implementation of the GT3 and GT4 regulations, SRO promotes and organises championships that embrace professional and amateur competitors. Its portfolio of highly regarded series includes continental GT World Challenge powered by AWS categories in Europe, America and Asia, which are combined to determine a global manufacturers‘ champion, while the flagship Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli features events on five different continents.
The 2020 season will see more than 100 races run under the SRO Motorsports Group banner, highlighted by the prestigious Total 24 Hours of Spa. In addition to promotion and organisation, the company operates SRO Race Centre by MMC – a race-car service center at Circuit Paul Ricard – and provides the ultimate driving opportunities at world-renowned venues through Curbstone Track Events.
SRO Motorsports Group is chaired by company founder and CEO Stephane Ratel. With offices in London, Paris, Liège, the United States and Hong Kong, its work is facilitated by a dedicated global team of full-time and freelance staff.
Combining a passion for performance with industry-leading expertise, SRO continues to play a key role in shaping the future of international GT racing.
Text: SRO Motorsport, Foto: Werner Hebenstreit