Eriksson set for 24-hour debut in tradition-steeped GT highlight
Pushing a complete century of history, the 24 Hours of Spa is one of the world’s longest-running and most esteemed endurance races. This weekend marks the 69th edition of the Belgian twice-around-the-clock GT classic – the highlight of the Blancpain GT Series season – with Jimmy Eriksson taking the start in 24-hour competition for the first time of his career.
“This is the race we’ve been waiting for all year,” says Jimmy Eriksson. “It’s extremely exciting. It will be my first 24-hour event, and a brand new experience in many ways. I’d like to think that we arrive well-prepared and I’m looking forward to this with great anticipation!”
The 24 Hours of Spa first took place back in 1924, just one year after France established their by-now world-famous equivalent in the city of Le Mans. The high-speed nature of the Spa-Francorchamps track made the race an instant driver’s favourite – a fact which has remained very much unchanged to this day.
The annual day-and-night burst through the Ardennes forest, at speeds of 250 km/h, is the most prestigious event on the Blancpain GT Series calendar; the jewel in GT3 racing’s ever-expanding crown. A quick look at the 2017 entry list bears testimony to this statement: a full 64 cars (each with three- or four-driver line-ups) are confirmed for this year’s race, 37 of which are entered in the top-flight “Pro” category with a realistic shot at outright victory.
In effect, that means more than 100 drivers – representing a full ten different manufacturers – head into the event with credible chances of gracing the top step of the podium come Sunday afternoon.
One of the full-Pro entries hoping to mix it for success is the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 trio featuring Eriksson, Maximilian Buhk and Franck Perera.
“It’s such an incredibly strong field, and almost impossible to try and sort out who our main rivals are – there are too many,” Eriksson explains. “We did our homework during the official test day a few weeks ago, but I really don’t know what the others were doing in terms of run plans. All I know is that we’re quite pleased on our side. I think we’ve got a really strong driver line-up and a competitive car, but we’re hardly alone in that this weekend! It will be frantic, but I feel as ready as you probably can do going into a 24-hour race for the first time.”
With 17 previous 24 Hours of Spa winners engaged for this year’s edition, including 2013 victor Buhk in the #84 entry, car manufacturers are sparing nothing in their pursuit of Belgian success. Seven current DTM drivers (Nico Müller, René Rast, Jamie Green, Edoardo Mortara, Bruno Spengler, Tom Blomqvist and Maxime Martin), ex-Formula 1 stars including Giancarlo Fisichella and Kamui Kobayashi, as well as an array of endurance racing experts all form part of the competition for Eriksson, Buhk and Perera.
Jimmy Eriksson will be one of three Swedish drivers on the grid this weekend, alongside Edward Sandström (who is also racing for HTP Motorsport in the sister #85 Mercedes AMG-GT3) and Alexander West (#188 McLaren 650 S).
Eriksson, Buhk and Perera currently hold fourth place in the overall Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup standings – of which the 24 Hours of Spa forms an integral part, offering the highest number of points of the season – having scored two podiums from the first three races. A fourth rostrum looked likely last time out at the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 km, with Eriksson highlighting the pace of the package by setting the fastest race lap of any Mercedes runner, until an engine failure caused Perera to park up in the closing stages.
“Spa will be the longest, toughest and most competitive race of the year, but we believe in ourselves and are aiming for a top result,” Eriksson concludes. “I might be a rookie here and do have a lot to learn, but I’m not worried about the pace. That’s been strong all season and I can’t see why it shouldn’t be at Spa. Driving at night is probably going to be the most difficult thing for me, but we have qualifying in similar conditions and I can pick up some references there. As long as we’re reliable and stay out of trouble, I think we can fight for a serious result.”
The 2017 running of the 24 Hours of Spa gets underway with practice and qualifying on Thursday. Friday will see the top positions on the grid being set in a dedicated Super Pole session, with the race itself then going green at 16.30 local time (GMT+02:00) on Saturday. As ever in the Ardennes, changeable weather is expected with sporadic torrential rain currently forecast.
Also on track at Spa this weekend will be Jimmy Eriksson’s younger brother Joel, who is racing in the supporting FIA Formula 3 European Championship. It will mark the first time ever in their car racing careers that both Eriksson brothers compete on the same bill.
Blancpain GT Series | Rd. 7
Endurance Cup | Rd. 4
Total 24 Hours of Spa, Belgium
All times local – GMT+02:00
Free Practice: 11.50-13.20
Night qualifying: 21.55-23.55
Super Pole: 19.30-20.00
Race (start): 16.30
Race (finish): 16.30
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Lap length: 7.004 km
Race duration: 24 hours
TV / live stream
All Blancpain GT Series races are broadcast LIVE at www.blancpain-gt-series.com/live, with Eurosport also airing a highlights package in the days following each round.
Live timing for each session of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series is available at www.blancpain-gt-series.com/live#live-timing.