The third round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup, a 24-hour Spa-Francorchamps marathon, took place on July 27-28 in Belgium.The SMP Racing crew of Russian Mikhail Aleshin, Spaniard Miguel Molina and Italian Davide Rigon, started the race from third position, fought for the lead, retired before the end of the race due to the contact with a rival, but scored enough points to keep the lead in the overall standings.
The race on Saturday started with a stint of Miguel Molina Miguel who later handed over to David Rigon. The crew steadily kept in the top four for several hours and eventually moved up to first place. Mikhail Aleshin’s stint was during the most difficult weather conditions, but the Russian kept the lead despite rain and twilight. According to the rules of the competition, after the first 6 and 12 hours of the race the crew scored the maximum number of 24 points for being the leader in the overall standings.
Early on Sunday morning, the race was stopped with a red flag due to a heavy rain on the track. The restart was scheduled for 11:30 local time. At that time SMP Racing car was in fourth place in the overall standing and Mikhail Aleshin was driving his stint. However, soon the SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 was forced on the kerb by one of his rivals. Mikhail‘s car was forced on to slippery artificial grass, and began to spin. The cars collided, and Aleshin had to return to the pits to repair the front suspension.
The work on the car lasted about 20 minutes, and the gap from the leader has grown to six laps by that time. The team made the decision to retire from the race and save the engine for the final race of the season, which will take place on September 28-29 in Barcelona, Spain.
According to the results of the 24 hours of Spa-Francorchamps, SMP Racing keeps the lead in the Teams‘ and Drivers’ standings with 73 points awarded to the crew and drivers.
“We had a good race: a great car, a great team, a great strategy, everything worked out as well as possible,” SMP Racing driver Mikhail Aleshin said. “In the first twelve hours, we scored the maximum amount of points, as we were keeping the lead at that time. Having scored these important points, we focused on the victory and everything was going well, according to our plan, until a Nissan GT-R hit me at the exit of one turn and I was forced off the track on artificial grass. The car of course, became impossible to control, I slid and, as a result, I made contact with the car, which pushed me there. We spent six laps on car repairs, and then decided to retire, because there was no point in continuing the race. It is a pity, because the SMP Racing team was worthy to be in the top three and even compete for victory in this race. But this championship is not completed yet, we have a race ahead in Barcelona. We scored a good amount of points in Spa, so we will continue to fight."
Another SMP Racing driver Denis Bulatov, as a part of the Rinaldi Racing team, also retired from the race. By the middle of the 24-hour marathon, the gap between the team’s number 333 Ferrari and the leader greatly increased, and the team decided not to risk with the car in difficult weather conditions.