The 2022 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa delivered double knockout blows to Garage 59, as both of the team’s McLaren 720S GT3 cars were forced into early retirement due to accident damage.
The race meeting actually got off to a winning start on Friday when James Baldwin delivered a dominant lights-to-flag victory in the 60-minute Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series race, scoring maximum points for the team. He had some strong competition but none could match the sim racing talents of Baldwin.
With 66 cars on track, one of the biggest challenges in Friday’s Qualifying session was finding a gap in the traffic. Peppered with red flag days, just as during the previous practice sessions, the Alexander West, Miguel Ramos, Henrique Chaves and Dean Macdonald duly delivered third place on the Pro-Am grid for the #188 McLaren, while Nicolai Kjærgaard, Manuel Maldonado, Ethan Simioni and James Baldwin took fifth in the Silver Cup class for the #159 car.
Kjærgaard was behind the wheel of the #159 McLaren for the start of the 24-hour race through the Ardennes, with Chaves further behind in the #188 McLaren. Both drivers had good starts and Chaves made a decisive move to take second place in Pro-Am. The race was on!
After two hours of green flag racing, both Garage 59 McLarens were running in the Top 3 of their respective classes and then everyone remembered it was the Spa 24 Hours so along came the first full course yellow, then a safety car period, and later the almost inevitable red flag.
It was not long after the red flag period during the dead of the night that the race ended for the #159 McLaren. After determined efforts from all four drivers, the car was back in Simioni’s hands and as he was challenging for position he got boxed in on the approach to Turn 5 and caught off guard by a car braking early right in front of him. The resulting front end damage meant the challenge was over for #159.
Spa saw the real-world racing return for sim racer, James Baldwin. Although naturally disappointed with the result for the #159 crew, James had a blast.
"I've loved every minute of this insane opportunity to race in the 24 Hours of Spa,” said Baldwin. “It's a shame we didn't make the finish, but it was still an experience I'll never forget, being thrown in at the deep end of GT racing. I'd like to thank Garage 59 for having me, it was pleasure to drive their car and work with them, and of course a big thank you to Travel Planet; without them this wouldn't have been possible."
With the #159 McLaren out, all eyes were on the #188, which was cycling through the Top 3 positions in the Pro-Am class. With just under six hours to go, Miguel Ramos was on track, battling for the class lead when he was tagged in the side by a Gold Cup class Mercedes. At a fast part of the track the contact sent the #188 McLaren into a full-speed, 90 degree turn into the barrier. It was a huge accident and very much undeserved by Ramos who was just holding his line.
“The most important is that Miguel is well and didn’t get injured after his scary accident,” said Chaves. “Concerning the race, we were doing well, despite some mistakes along the way but we were set to finish on the podium and maybe a win was possible. The way it finished was very unfortunate but racing is sometimes cruel. We will come back stronger in Hockenheim!”
This result is indeed a huge disappointment for the entire team as each and every member puts a massive amount of work into a race like the 24 Hours of Spa. Despite the result, the #188 McLaren did score championship points at Spa so Ramos continues to lead the overall Pro-Am title standings with West, Ramos and Chaves still very much in the hunt for the Endurance Cup Pro-Am title. In the Sprint Cup, Ramos and Macdonald lead the way in Pro-Am.
The next race on the GT World Challenge Europe calendar takes place at Hockenheim in Germany on 4 September.