Felix Rosenqvist produced a resounding recovery to claim a podium on his first attempt at the 24 Hours of Spa, taking the #88 AKKA-ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 – shared with team-mates Tristan Vautier (France) and Renger van der Zande (the Netherlands) – to second place in the Belgian GT classic.
Driving in his first 24-hour race, Rosenqvist experienced a wave of emotions across the event, snatching the podium in the very final stages after completing a determined run to the chequered flag in extremely treacherous conditions. The Swede had taken over the #88 machine in fourth place at the final driver exchange.
In storming through the pack from early significant setbacks, Rosenqvist, Vautier and van der Zande defeated a host of experienced GT luminaries in a star-studded field featuring 65 cars and approximately 200 drivers (among them several DTM race and title winners).
The 24 Hours of Spa is the annual highlight of the international GT racing calendar.
“This was one incredible race,” says Felix Rosenqvist. “There are so many emotions right now; we really couldn’t have dreamt of this. I don’t think I’ve ever pushed a car as hard as I did in that final stint. I really, desperately wanted that podium, mainly for the team who deserve it so much. They have put a lot of effort into this particular race and I know how much it means to all of the guys. We had a perfect strategy, good pit stops, and to be here after 24 hours is an incredible achievement from the entire AKKA-ASP crew.”
Rosenqvist was heavily relied upon during the race, completing a full 11 hours behind the wheel.
“I’m completely exhausted to be honest,” Rosenqvist continues. “A bit lost for words. I’ve slept for maybe three hours or so since the race started, but it’s part of endurance competition! I’m thrilled to have been a part of this, because it was an amazing experience. You go through so many phases in 24 hours, and it’s completely different to a sprint or single-seater race. You eventually find yourself just banging in the laps and trying to pick your way through traffic, which was all new to me. It’s easy to make a mistake that ruins everything.”
Rosenqvist fired a warning shot at his rivals by topping the pre-qualifying session on Thursday, and went on to go a sensational second fastest in the top 20 Super Pole shootout. However, the top six times were subsequently cancelled in controversial fashion, dropping Rosenqvist and AKKA-ASP to 16th on the grid. To make matters worse still, the same six entries were handed a five-minute stop-and-go penalty to be honoured during the first 30 minutes of the race, making the #88 podium fightback all the more imposing.
“I take many new impressions out of this weekend,” Rosenqvist concludes. “Driving at night is one of them. I did a triple stint in the dark that might have been one of the best performances of my career, if I may say so. We have been through an emotional roller-coaster over the last few days, with high and lows, and it’s been a mighty experience. Right now, however, all I really need is some sleep!”
The 2016 24 Hours of Spa was won by Maxime Martin/Alexander Sims/Philipp Eng in a BMW M6 GT3.
Felix Rosenqvist will next be back in action on August 26-28, when the penultimate round of the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup takes place at the Hungaroring in Hungary.
Total 24 Hours of Spa | Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium)
1: M.Martin/A.Sims/P.Eng (BMW M6 GT3)
2: F.Rosenqvist/T.Vautier/R.van der Zande (Mercedes-AMG GT3)
3: L.Vanthoor/R.Rast/N.Müller (Audi R8 LMS)
4: M.Soulet/A.Soucek/W.Reip (Bentley Continental GT3)
5: M.Götz/G.Paffett/T.Jäger (Mercedes-AMG GT3)