Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps

MYTHS, LEGENDS, SUCCESSES:

BMW Power at the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

Myths, legends, successes: BMW Power at the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

The 24-hour race at Spa-Francorchamps is a permanent fixture on the international GT calendar. The race, in turn, has a regular winner in BMW. To date, BMW cars have triumphed there no fewer than 24 times. The first overall victory came in 1965, with local favourites Pascal Ickx and Gérard Langlois at the wheel of a BMW 1800 TI. The latest success came courtesy of Walkenhorst Motorsport with the BMW M6 GT3. Although Henry Walkenhorst’s team can look back on numerous successes in recent years, the 2018 triumph remains the biggest. And with good reason. Many motorsport endurance races have the reputation of being classics. The 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps goes beyond that. The race is the stuff of legends. Often mentioned in the same breath as the events at Le Mans and Nürburgring, for many it is the most prestigious GT3 race in the world, and definitely the biggest – going by the number of participants. 24 hours that push teams and drivers to their limits, and a tradition that dates back to the 1920s. However, the main reason for the Ardennes marathon’s legendary status is the remarkable track. ‘Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps’ is one of the most popular and spectacular racetracks in the world. And one of the most difficult.

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Race track Spa-Francorchamps

THE ARDENNES ROLLERCOASTER:
‘CIRCUIT DE SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS’.

The original ‘Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps’ combined public roads between the three towns of Spa, Malmedy and Stavelot to form a racetrack that is truly one of a kind. While the circuit used to be one of the longest tracks in the world, at 14 kilometres, the 21 corners that make up today’s layout are spread over 7.004 kilometres. It is with good reason that ‘Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps’ has been christened the ‘Ardennes Rollercoaster’. Each lap is an undulating thrill ride through the Belgian countryside. The two starting options and the pit facilities are also features of Spa-Francorchamps. While the start/finish line for Formula 1 is located before ‘La Source’, the 24-hour race starts on the opposing downhill straight – just in front of what is arguably the most famous combination of corners that motorsport has to offer: ‘Raidillon-Eau Rouge’.

 

One thing about this blind corner that is not obvious from a map of the circuit is just how difficult it is made by the way it is embedded in the surrounding terrain. The sloping start/finish straight first dives into a dip, where it bends slightly to the left. It then immediately switches into a long right-hander, uphill at a huge gradient of about 18 percent. When the drivers approach the crest at roughly 250 km/h, they can see nothing – except the sky. As if that was not enough, this is followed by another left bend, which leads into a long straight. Those who make it that far have successfully survived the circuit’s first challenge. More awaits.

 

Whether it be the downhill right-hander ‘Bruxelles’, which demands great skill on the brakes, the ultra-fast left bend ‘Blanchimont’, which is also a real test of courage, or the tight ‘Bus Stop Chicane’ ahead of the start/finish – the drivers have no time to catch their breath at this circuit, particularly as the region is not only known for its unique racetrack, but also its unpredictable weather. Rain and, above all, fog are not uncommon during the endurance race in the Ardennes, making the race even more challenging for drivers, teams and cars.

 

Winning the 24h Spa-Francorchamps earns you legendary status. Twenty four times, the team that crossed the finish line first at the Ardennes marathon did so in a BMW. No other manufacturer can look back on such a successful record at this event.

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BMW 2000 TI

One year after his brother Pascal, Jacky Ickx tasted victory alongside Hubert Hahne in a BMW 2000 TI in 1966. With seven overall wins to its name, the BMW brand dominated the race in the 1970s, continuing its success story in the Ardennes. Even after the circuit was shortened to seven kilometres in 1979, BMW teams and drivers continued to win. At first it was the BMW 635 CSi that enjoyed success, before the late 1980s heralded the BMW M3 era. The same BMW M3 found itself at the heart of a remarkable climax in 1992. Steve Soper was embroiled in a spectacular battle with fellow BMW driver Eric van de Poele, which went right down to the final metres. In the end, Soper just had his nose in front by a mere 0.48 seconds – after 24 hours of racing! 

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BMW M6 GT3

RECORD WINNER, BMW:
THE MOST SUCCESSFUL MANUFACTURER IN THE ARDENNES.

 

To this day, BMW is by far the most successful brand at the 24 Hours of Spa Francorchamps. BMW claimed its first win in 1965. After an exciting race, victory went to Belgians Pascal Ickx and Gérard Langlois van Ophem in a BMW 1800 TI. 14 kilometres in length at the time, the circuit asked a lot of questions of the drivers and cars – too many for some. Forty six race cars started the race; only 19 saw the chequered flag. The first triumph was followed by many more. 

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BMW M3

The list of victorious BMW teams at the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps also includes JUMA Racing. This team later became BMW Team RBM. The most recent BMW success came in 2018 – a one-two. In a thrilling battle, the Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 came home ahead of the BMW M6 GT3 run by ROWE Racing. Tom Blomqvist, Christian Krognes and Philipp Eng alternated at the wheel. They not only presented the Munich-based brand with its 24th overall victory, but also gave Walkenhorst Motorsport and its owner Henry Walkenhorst the biggest GT success in its history. 

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WALKENHORST MOTORSPORT: A SUCCESS STORY.

BMW and Walkenhorst: This relationship has existed for more than 65 years, and new chapters are added to the success story every year, for a long time on the production scene, and now for a number of years in motor racing. Decades of experience in the automotive industry, a healthy portion of entrepreneurial spirit, and the right sense for the market have resulted in the Walkenhorst Group becoming one of the biggest car dealerships in Germany. The company has always focussed primarily on BMW models.

 

At the top is Henry Walkenhorst, who heads the family company, which is now in its third generation. Not only does he have business acumen in his blood, but also a passion for motorsport. His father, Harro, was active on the rally scene and Henry was soon bitten by the bug. “The racetrack was my second home,” said the owner of the Walkenhorst Motorsport team, for whom motor racing has become more than just a hobby.

 

He combines his profession and his passion with skill and great success. “The idea, which we came up with years ago, was to combine professional racing with our business, to encourage more people to buy sporty BMWs from us,” said Walkenhorst. “It has worked very well. And it is working very nicely." The customers say, ‘If Walkenhorst is actively involved in motorsport, and is doing well, then he is probably better than others’. That has been our approach, to a certain degree. And it has worked well in recent years. We have been able to credibly get the message across to our customers: We are successful on the motorsport scene. Consequently, we have seen an increase in the sales of our M vehicles, such as the M240, the M3, the M4 and the M5.” Henry Walkenhorst is successfully using motor racing as a perfect marketing tool.

 

At the same time, running his own race team also gives him the opportunity to take his place behind the steering wheel and actively pursue his passion. When his team triumphed at Spa-Francorchamps in 2018, the boss himself also raced alongside Ralf Oeverhaus, Anders Buchardt and Immanuel Vinke in a BMW M6 GT3, and finished fifth in the AM class. The name Henry Walkenhorst is also regularly to be found in results lists in the NLS and at other endurance races. In November 2019, for example, he won the AM class at the 9 Hours of Kyalami together with Michael Von Rooyen and Gennaro Bonafede. The race in South Africa was the finale of the Intercontinental GT Challenge – an endurance series, in which the Walkenhorst Motorsport team has contested the full seasons since 2019, and in which it has caused quite a stir in 2020.

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The idea, which we came up with years ago, was to combine professional racing with our business, to encourage more people to buy sporty BMWs from us. It has worked very well. And it is working very nicely.
Walkenhorst.

INTERCONTINENTAL GT CHALLENGE:
PURE GT3 POWER AROUND THE WORLD.

Although it was launched as recently as 2016, the Intercontinental GT Challenge is one of the most popular series in international GT racing – and with good reason. The endurance highlights that make up the calendar are among the most prestigious and spectacular races out there. As well as the absolute highlight, the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the series also visits the spectacular Mount Panorama Circuit each year for the 12h Bathurst. The legendary circuits of Suzuka and Laguna Seca have also formed part of the IGTC calendar. Above all, however, it is the spectacular GT3 cars that cast their spell over motorsport fans, earning the IGTC the status of unofficial GT3 world championship among fans. In 2019, BMW M Motorsport contested the full season in the IGTC for the first time, competing with two experienced teams in the form of BMW Team Schnitzer and Walkenhorst Motorsport. At the closing race, the 9 Hours of Kyalami, the Walkenhorst Motorsport team produced a stunning fightback to finish runner-up from 16th place on the grid. In 2020, Henry Walkenhorst’s team started in the IGTC again, and produced another absolute highlight. The team dominated the 8 Hours of Indianapolis on its way to a highly-acclaimed one-two. Although they were unable to follow this with another triumph at the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, Walkenhorst Motorsport continues its pursuit of success, preferably when the team returns to Kyalami in December 2020.

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