“Never change a winning team” – ROWE RACING returns to the 24 Hours of Spa as the defending champions
Philipp Eng, Maxime Martin and Alexander Sims to compete again / Nick Catsburg in sister car with BMW DTM drivers Tom Blomqvist and Bruno Spengler
Returning to the scene of the greatest success in their team’s history will be extra special for ROWE RACING. When the traditional parade leads the impressive field of 64 GT cars from the racetrack to the city centre of Spa on Wednesday afternoon, this will bring back memories of the win at the legendary 24 Hours of Spa for everyone in the team from St. Ingbert, and ignite the excitement for the 69th edition of the endurance classis, the highlight of the season in the Blancpain GT Series. On Saturday 29th July, Mission Defend Title gets underway at 4:30 p.m. CET on the famous Formula 1 track in the Belgian Ardennes.
In the GT race with probably the best field in the world, ten other manufacturers are vying to challenge ROWE RACING and BMW Motorsport’s success of last year, which was the 23rd overall win in the Ardennes for the Munich-based manufacturer. Moreover, no fewer than 17 previous winners will line up this year on the 7.004-kilometre track with famous high-speed turns such Eau Rouge or Blanchimont, which bring a smile to the face of every driver, while simultaneously raising their hackles.
ROWE RACING will set two records: No other team has been represented by four Spa winners, and no other racing team has more previous winners sharing a cockpit. Team principal Hans-Peter Naundorf is keeping to a simple motto for the return to Spa: “Never change a winning team.” Which is why, as for the 2016 success, the Belgian BMW DTM driver Maxime Martin will once again take the wheel of the BMW M6 GT3 #99 in his home race, which his father Jean-Michel won four times, as will the two BMW works drivers Philipp Eng of Austria and Alexander Sims of Great Britain as they attempt to repeat last year’s coup.
Dutchman Nick Catsburg, who celebrated victory in Spa in 2015 and secured second place for ROWE RACING in the spectacular finale of the 45th ADAC Zurich 24h race at the Nürburgring a good two months ago, will be in the sister car with #98 like last year. But unlike in 2016, he will have two new top-class team-mates – the two BMW DTM drivers Tom Blomqvist from Great Britain and Bruno Spengler from Canada, who have both represented ROWE RACING in the Blancpain GT Series on several occasions this season. Spengler, who in 2015 contested Spa in a sensational and highly emotional project with his BMW colleague Timo Glock alongside the former Formula 1 and touring car driver Alessandro Zanardi, who has amputated legs, gave his confidence a real boost for the return to Spa with his third place in the DTM in Moscow at the weekend. Blomqvist, son of former World Rally Champion Stig Blomqvist, is looking forward to his first appearance at the 24 Hours of Spa.
For BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt, the iconic Spa race “in addition to the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring is one of THE highlights on the endurance calendar. The races in the Ardennes are always full of drama and are definitely not for the faint of heart. We are optimistic that our drivers will be up there fighting for the top spots once again this year”. Whether BMW will be able to complete the hat-trick after 2015 and 2016 “is impossible to predict in a 24-hour race. We are looking forward to a thrilling event, that will no doubt be another celebration of GT racing”.
After the parade on Wednesday, the race weekend gets underway on Thursday morning with the initial laps in the free practice session. Then the two qualifying sessions will be held between 8:10 p.m. and 9:25 p.m. and from 9:55 p.m. to 11:55 p.m. (all times CET). The starting line-up will be determined in the Super Pole on Friday evening, between 7:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. CET. The race twice around the clock then gets underway on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. CET.
Hans-Peter Naundorf, team principal ROWE RACING: “Contesting the 24 Hours of Spa as the defending champion this year means a great deal to us. Last year it was only after our win that we understood just how valuable this success was and how much global attention we attracted as a result. The starting grid is even stronger this year, even more manufacturers are taking part. It is the most competitive and most acclaimed race in the GT sector. It is great to be the centre of attention as last year’s winners, but also puts us under a bit of pressure. We are positive heading into the weekend, even though our dress rehearsal in Le Castellet didn’t go according to plan. But the pre-tests on the track in Spa were very helpful, and we will continue to focus on race preparations during the free practice and qualifying sessions. From last year, and from the Nürburgring, we know that we don’t need to be right at the front of the grid to celebrate success after 24 hours. We have a top-class driver squad. The #99 crew showed their class in the win last year, and remains unchanged this year. In the #98 we have another Spa winner and two BMW DTM drivers in the cockpit. No other manufacturer has more class in their car.”
Tom Blomqvist, ROWE RACING #98 BMW M6 GT3: “I am pretty excited as it will be my debut at Spa. I already have 24-hour experience from racing at the Nürburgring-Nordschleife, but the races at Nürburgring and at Spa are completely different. This is why I am looking forward to it even more. We have a great team, with Bruno and Nick, who are very experienced and had great results in the past. I think that we are very well prepared and we will give our very best.”
Nick Catsburg, ROWE RACING #98 BMW M6 GT3: “I love Spa, the event is fantastic. It’s great to be taking on this race alongside Bruno and Tom. They are terrific drivers and I am confident that we can get a good result together. It would be great if we could celebrate the third win in a row for BMW Motorsport at the 24 Hours of Spa.”
Bruno Spengler, ROWE RACING #98 BMW M6 GT3: “There is a lot of anticipation ahead of Spa. It is a very difficult race; the level is high and there are a lot of cars on the track. A good result, or even the win would be a dream. However, the races so far have shown that our rivals are very strong. Naturally, it is impossible to predict how things will turn out at Spa. We definitely want to be up there at the front.”
Alexander Sims, ROWE RACING #99 BMW M6 GT3: “I am really, really looking forward to Spa. Obviously last year’s win means that we go there with very good memories. But honestly we will immediately start focussing to this race and trying to maximise everything we have with the package to get the best result possible. Because in racing what happened last race doesn’t really make much difference to what is coming up. We just have to try and understand the tyres as best as possible, get the BMW M6 GT3 working as well as possible and work as a team as we did last year. A 24-hour race is always a huge challenge, again ROWE RACING proved what they can do at the Nürburgring. They really are showing what a great team they are, from last year’s results and this year’s results so far. There is absolutely no one I would rather go into the race working with than ROWE RACING, they are fantastic. I am really looking forward to putting the BMW through its pace and trying to recreate the same result as last year.”
Maxime Martin, ROWE RACING #99 BMW M6 GT3: “When you come to Spa as the previous year’s winner, of course it is something special. A huge number of cars have the potential to win. The level at this race increases consistently from year to year so, everything needs to run smoothly. Like at every 24-hour race, you also need a bit of luck but I think that we are in a very good position. We have a great team, a competitive car and the same driver pairing as last year. Bring on the race.”
Philipp Eng, ROWE RACING #99 BMW M6 GT3: “Spa is one of the most well-known racetracks in the world, and in addition to the Nürburgring and Zandvoort, is the only one where drivers get an adrenalin rush two or three times on each lap. We’re returning to Spa with the confidence of having already won the race once. Naturally, that calms the team a bit but the race will be extremely difficult once again, with around 60 cars at the same level; that was evident in the pre-test. The others didn’t hibernate over winter, but we also did our homework and sorted out a lot of things, which is why I am cautiously optimistic. Last year we were the only team not to make any mistakes, which was the key to success. In doing so we raised the bar a little bit for everyone involved.”
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