Whether you're a first timer, a GT aficionado or a fan since the touring car days, Spa can be very complicated – though that’s part of the fun. So, to help you enjoy the 2023 edition, we've assembled the most important information that you need to know ahead of the action getting underway at 16.30 on Saturday 1 July.
One of Spa's unique features is that the class structure is based solely on driver grading, with all cars conforming to GT3 regulations. There will be five categories at the 75th edition – Pro, Gold Cup, Silver Cup, Bronze Cup and Pro-Am – each with its own rules and requirements.
First, it's worth mentioning a few regs that are applicable to all classes. Over the full duration of the race, no driver can spend more than 11 hours in the car, down from 14 at previous editions.
A minimum driving time of two hours has also been instituted when no other requirement is listed. The maximum continuous driving time is three hours and 15 minutes, after which there is a mandatory one-hour rest.
PRO: In terms of performance, this is the premier category. Each crew is restricted to three drivers, but there are no further limitations. Indeed, as the name suggests, a Pro line-up usually consists of professional drivers, many of whom are contracted to a manufacturer.
It is worth noting that this not a 'cup': for example, if a Gold or Silver crew secures the overall victory, there will be no separate 'Pro winner'. That is yet to be put to the test, however, as Pro crews have filled the overall podium every year since the current class structure was introduced in 2011.
GOLD CUP: Though the name was used last year, this effectively a new category. The maximum line-up is Gold-Gold-Gold-Silver, though the majority of the field will run with Gold-Gold-Silver trio.
In either case, the Silver driver must complete a minimum of four hours over the course of the race. In terms of performance, we can expect the leading Gold Cup crews to break into Super Pole and perhaps even challenge for an overall top-10 finish in the race.
SILVER CUP: First introduced to the 24 Hours in 2018, the Silver Cup remains unchanged for 2023. Each crew consists of up to four Silver-graded drivers, with no extra limits placed on driving time.
The fourth driver is optional, with three of this year's field electing to maintain their full-season Fanatec GT Europe Endurance Cup crews. This tactic was used to good effect last year, when Team WRT triumphed with its established trio of Neubauer/Goethe/Simmenauer.
BRONZE CUP: This will be the biggest class at this year's race. While the name has been used before, it is effectively last year's Gold Cup category, with a maximum driver line-up of Platinum-Silver-Silver-Bronze. The Bronze must contribute a minimum of four hours during the race, which must include one hour within the first six. The Pro can contribute a maximum of eight hours.
The reigning class winners are the Iron Dames, who return with an unchanged driver line-up. The Bronze Cup has also attracted several powerhouse squads, including six-time Pro-Am winner AF Corse, and recent overall winners Team WRT and Walkenhorst Motorsport.
PRO-AM CUP: Last but by no means least, Pro-Am. Indeed, this is a mainstay of the 24 Hours, having been part of each edition since GT3 rules were introduced in 2011. The maximum line-up is two Platinum and two Bronze-graded drivers.
In terms of driving time, a Bronze must be behind the wheel for a minimum of eight hours during the race, and for at least one hour during each six-hour period. This time can be shared between two the Bronze drivers.
Though this year's event takes place one month earlier than usual, the format of race week remains very familiar. Track activity begins at 14:55 on Tuesday 27 June with the Bronze Test, which runs for three hours and is open to all Bronze-graded competitors, as well as any Silver drivers competing outside the Pro category who have never previously raced at Spa.
As usual, the main focus of Wednesday is the parade from the track to Spa city centre, which sets off at 18:00 and is followed at 18:30 by an autograph session. The action really steps up a gear on Thursday, beginning with a 90-minute Free Practice at 11:20 and followed by a one-hour Pre-Qualifying at 18:10. Both are primarily about preparation, while Pre-Qualifying can also be used to set the grid if Quali can’t take place.
All being well, we move on to Qualifying. With a scheduled start time of 21:20, the session will begin 30 minutes before sunset. It follows the well-established Fanatec GT Europe Endurance Cup format, though there are four 15-minute sessions instead of three. One driver from each car contests a session, with three-driver crews skipping Q1 and the average time establishing the order. Expect the final runs to be completed in darkness.
The fastest 20 book a place in Friday's Super Pole shootout, while positions 21 through 71 are locked in barring any penalties. At this point we are likely to know who is on pole in the Pro-Am and Bronze Cup classes; we might also have our Gold Cup and Silver Cup pole-sitters, though it is quite possible that at least one of these will be decided during Super Pole.
Meanwhile, attention begins to shift to the race with a 90-minute Night Practice that runs from 23:00 until 00:30. During this session, all drivers must complete at least two flying laps (from timing line to timing line) to meet their night-driving criteria.
Friday is all about Super Pole, which this year begins at the earlier time of 15:35. Each crew nominates one driver, who has two flying laps to set their best time. They run in reverse order and at one-minute intervals, meaning the excitement builds throughout the session. The chief question is whether anyone can break the Mercedes-AMG stranglehold: the Affalterbach marque has clinched the past four pole positions in a row, a run that began in 2019.
There is still time for a final run before the race, with a 20-minute Warm-Up scheduled for 19:55 on Friday evening. After this, all that remains is the big event. The action begins at 16:30 on Saturday afternoon when the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa sets off on its 75th edition. After a full day and night of racing, this year’s winners will be crowned on Sunday afternoon.
STINTS, STOPS & TYRES
During the race, you will often hear commentators talk about a stint. Put simply, this is the continuous time that a car spends on-track: the clock begins upon leaving the pits and is reset when the car returns. The maximum stint length at Spa is 65 minutes, unless a full-course yellow or safety car period is in operation when the stint finishes. In this case, an additional five minutes is allowed to return to the pits at a slower speed.
Pit stops are crucial in endurance racing and there will be hundreds performed throughout the 24 Hours. For standard stops, there is a minimum refuelling time during which the car must remain connected to the rig. Tyre and driver changes can take place during refuelling, but they are optional. A one-second tolerance on pit stop time is permitted on four occasions during the course of the race.
Short refuelling stops are also allowed. For these, a maximum refuelling time will be determined and can differ between brands. As such, some cars may need to complete a ‘stop and hold’ to ensure that they are stationary for the same amount of time. There is no tolerance on short pit stops, so it is essential that teams get them right.
Additionally, each car must perform a technical pit stop, lasting at least four minutes from pit-in to pit-out. This is to allow teams to change items such as brake pads, a task that can be performed much quicker on some cars than others. The technical pit stop can be taken at any point between the start of the 12th hour and end of the 22nd hour, including during a full-course yellow or safety car.
Speaking of safety cars, a new rule introduced for this year could prove very significant. When the safety car is on-track and the race has been neutralised, any cars running ahead of their class leader in the line will be allowed to overtake and join the back of the field. This will effectively give them a lap back, perhaps allowing a route back into contention.
As for tyres, sole supplier Pirelli will provide each car with a maximum of 30 sets of its dry compound, which must be used from free practice onwards. Two sets from the official test day can be carried over as part of the 30-set allocation, while an additional set is authorised for the cars taking part in Super Pole. These can’t be used during the race, so there's no excuse not to push them to the absolute limit.
Of course, we know just how big a part the weather can play at Spa. Rain is a possibility and can shape the outcome of the race, though the 2022 edition was highly unusual in that not a drop fell during the entire 24 Hours! In any case, there is no limit on the use of Pirelli's wet compound tyre, ensuring that all cars can be on the correct rubber for the conditions.
POINTS & PRIZES
The majority of the cars entered in this year’s race also compete in the Fanatec GT Europe Endurance Cup. With extra points on offer, the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa can make or break a championship bid.
The pole-sitter in each class will earn one bonus point, while the top-three in Friday night’s Super Pole will each score points on a 3-2-1 basis. The Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series also awards overall, Gold Cup and Silver Cup teams’ championships points on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis, with a one-hour Assetto Corsa Competizione race on Friday afternoon deciding the scores.
Let's move on to the race itself. Points are awarded to the top-nine runners in each category after six and 12 hours on a basis of 12-9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. As ever, full points are awarded to the top-10 at the chequered flag using the standard 25-18-15-etc format. It is important to note that any team that has not entered one of this season's Fanatec GT Europe races is ineligible to earn points, but their drivers can still score.
Spa will also represent the third round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli campaign. Competing manufacturers may nominate up to five cars, a maximum of three from the Pro category, which can score points towards the 2023 championship. Mercedes-AMG and BMW are level on points after winning the LIQUI MOLY Bathurst 12 Hour and Kyalami 9 Hour respectively.
The event is also the biggest points-scoring opportunity for the global Fanatec GT World Challenge Powered by AWS. All seven eligible brands will be represented, with points awarded at the end of the race in each class and multiplied by the number of entries. As it stands, Mercedes-AMG leads the way from Audi Sport.
Last but by no means least, the Coupe du Roi rewards the manufacturer that scores the best result across the classes, with points awarded per car at six, 12 and 24 hours. Last year, Mercedes-AMG earned the honour thanks to a sensational performance, which included overall victory with Akkodis ASP and Bronze Cup honours courtesy of SPS Automotive Performance.
With this information at hand, you are fully up to speed for the 75th CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa. As ever, the event will enjoy extensive online coverage, including English, German, French and Italian commentary streams on the GT World YouTube channel. The live action begins with Thursday Pre-Qualifying session and includes every second of racing action from this year’s 74th edition.