Race to run behind closed doors due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions
Total 24 Hours of Spa general manager Laurent Gaudin discusses upcoming event
The completion of last week's Total 24 Hours of Spa test days (29/30 September) launched the final phase of preparations for the 2020 running of the Belgian endurance classic.
With track activity in the Ardennes less than three weeks away the full timetable for the 22-25 October event has been revealed, including complete session times for the twice-around-the-clock race and its support categories.
Regrettably, it has also been confirmed that this year's Total 24 Hours of Spa will be staged without public due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. What's more, it will revert to its usual 24-hour format as opposed to the unique 25-hour programme that had been planned as an added incentive for race-going fans.
With these details now finalised, Total 24 Hours of Spa general manager Laurent Gaudin has provided further insight into the decision-making process and his hopes for this year's event.
How was the decision to run without public reached?
"First, it is important to underline that unfortunately we are not the only ones in this position. None of the annual large-scale events held at Spa-Francorchamps have welcomed public since the health crisis began, including the DTM, the ELMS, the WEC, and Formula 1.
"It is also true that the disease has not declined, something that we are frequently reminded of by the media. Nevertheless, we believed until the end. We tried everything to manoeuvre this huge event through the various protocols and very strict health constraints. After multiple proposals, with the requirements increasing and the volume of public authorised falling, we had to face facts and the whole team made the sad decision to lay down arms. Of course, anyone who has already purchased tickets will be contacted.
"We are truly sorry for all our fans and I have no doubt that we will face criticism, but SRO Motorsports Group is not above the law. Now that the decision has been taken, we must put all of our efforts into the race."
It was previously announced that the race would run for 25 hours. Why has the decision been taken to revert back to 24?
"Since the chequered flag fell in 2019 we had imagined this year's Total 24 Hours of Spa - the 20th edition of the GT era - as an automotive festival, with the presentation of new models, exhibitions, parades, a bigger concert, and many other initiatives that would bring the public closer than ever to the event. Unfortunately, the health crisis and the financial repercussions meant that everything had to be put on hold.
"So we went back to work with the aim of giving fresh impetus to the October edition. New projects were created: covered spaces for the public, shuttles to discover the 'backstage' of the circuit, improved lighting, meetings with key characters. As part of this, we also planned to run an extra hour to coincide with the time change. We were optimistic and we thought, a little naively, that the disease would be behind us by this time of the year. With this not being the case and with no fans able to join us, we have elected to revert to the original format."
What is the feeling now that these decisions have been taken?
"Of course, we will miss our fans at this year's Total 24 Hours of Spa. But while the show will not be in the stands or in the village, it will take place on the circuit with elite brands and drivers. On the sporting side, we have no doubt that this is the biggest GT race in the world. In 2020, millions of people across the globe will follow the Total 24 Hours of Spa live with non-stop, free-to-view coverage. For those who are used to attending in person this will be a new experience and we will ensure that the show goes on for all of them."
Timetable confirmed for 72nd edition
The full timetable for this year's event has been officially confirmed. Teams will begin installing at Spa-Francorchamps on Monday 19 October, building the paddock that will form their base of operations over the following seven days. The first Total 24 Hours of Spa track activity will take place on Tuesday with two sessions for the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli crews that missed the official test days to contest the Indianapolis 8 Hour. These take place at 11.00-12.00 and 13.00-14.50 and will be followed by the Bronze Test, which runs from 15.00 through 18.00.
The action ramps up on Thursday with significant running for Total 24 Hours of Spa contenders. A 90-minute free practice will take place at 11.10, followed by a one-hour pre-qualifying session at 15.15. This will set the stage for the main qualifying contest, which will decide the 20 Super Pole contenders and establish the starting order for the remainder of the field.
Friday evening traditionally produces the quickest laps of the event and begins at 17.30 with a 30-minute warm-up for the 20 fastest qualifiers. Then, at 18.20, the Super Pole session will establish the first 10 rows of the grid, with one driver rising above the rest to secure the coveted P1.
Saturday is race day. The action gets underway at 15.30 and will conclude 24 hours later at 14.30, with the end of Central European Summer Time meaning that clocks will move back by one hour at 03.00 on Sunday morning.
In addition to the Total 24 Hours there will be a wealth of support action taking place in the Ardennes, including the familiar presence of GT4 European Series, Formula Renault Eurocup and Lamborghini Super Trofeo.
What’s more, TCR Europe will make its first appearance alongside the Belgian endurance classic, adding a touring car component to the established GT and single-seater offerings. All four categories will stage a pair of races, the first on Friday and the second before the 24 Hours kicks off on Saturday.
While the fans’ disappointment is fully understandable, this year’s event promises to be as exciting as ever. The full entry list for the 2020 Total 24 Hours of Spa will be announced this week, adding further impetus to the pre-event build up. Indeed, race day in the Ardennes is now less than three weeks away.
Image: Optimum Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3 - Test Days 24hr Spa - Credit SRO Dirk Bogaerts