WITH BLACK BULL, BARWELL AND LAMBORGHINI
Sandy Mitchell claimed back-to-back class wins in the gruelling Spa 24-Hours, despite suffering a puncture on the opening lap. The ‘Blue Riband’ round of the GT World Challenge Europe was dominated by atrociously wet conditions.
Twelve months after victory in the Silver Cup class, the 20-year-old from Forfar powered his No77 Vimetco Extrusion/Asterus Lamborghini Huracan Evo GT3 to a dazzling victory in the ultra-competitive Pro-Am category, and finished an impressive 15th overall of the 56 starters. The win also moved him to third in the GT World Challenge Europe Pro-Am title race.
Partnered by father and son Rob and Ricky Collard, plus Russian ace Leo Machitski, the Scot and his team-mates completed 521 laps of the daunting Spa-Francorchamps circuit, home of the F1 Belgian Grand Prix.
Mitchell, part of the Lamborghini Squadra Corse GT3 Junior Program and a member of the prestigious British Racing Drivers’ Club Superstar scheme, spent more than 10 hours behind the wheel and admitted: “Conditions were really difficult.”
Starting fourth on the grid in Pro-Am and 41st overall, the No 77 car was spun on the opening lap of the race when it was clipped by another car avoiding an incident. The contact forced Rob Collard to pit with a puncture.
Taking over from the BTCC multiple race winner after two hours, Mitchell then opted to stay on slicks as the first rain fell after three hours. While rivals pitted for wets, the Scot mastered the treacherous conditions and elevated the car into the class lead.
“On Saturday the track was greasy, not really ideal for slicks or wets,” Mitchell, personally-backed by Black Bull Scotch Whisky, explained.
“You’d find yourself on slicks, and then the rain would come and you just had to take your punishment for a few laps then let the track come back to you; or get to the next pitstop. It was pretty challenging.
“I managed those phases of the race extremely well and it helped us gain a lot of time. Throughout the race our Barwell Motorsport team did a really good job on strategy and got us back into the mix after the first-lap puncture. When we got to the business end of the race, we were in the ideal position to be fighting at the front.”
Racing through an extended 12 hours of darkness, due to the race being moved from July to late October, the foursome battled to maintain their lead position.
With one hour 50 minutes remaining, Mitchell took over the car from Machitski with a lead of around 1min 48 secs to the second-placed car in the class.
As conditions deteriorated further, with some of the heaviest rain of the 24-hours, Mitchell had to navigate a number of full course yellow periods following incidents involving rivals, plus restarts after the appearance of the Safety Car.
But the Scot maintained his composure, pace and focus to bring the car home and took the chequered flag more than a lap ahead of its closest rivals.
“It feels amazing to have been able to get another Spa24H win with these guys and the Barwell crew,” Mitchell said. “It’s a great atmosphere within the team and our driver line-up.
“Everyone did their jobs. Leo was excellent on Sunday morning when it mattered, and Rob did a huge amount of driving in mixed conditions through the night, which he hasn’t done much of at all. Remember, this was his first Spa24H.
“Then Ricky and I managed to set some really good pace, especially in the morning, which catapulted us back into the mix again.”
And the Scot acknowledged this win was very different to that of 12 months ago.
“Whereas last year in the Silver Cup we were always in the lead battle with the top two cars, this year we all had to dig deep to wrestle ourselves back into contention, especially after the first lap puncture,” Mitchell stated.
“Everyone in the team kept believing, and the guys at Barwell definitely made some phenomenal calls on strategy. We always knew we could fight back to win, and to finally cross the line and seal victory in another class was brilliant.
“If you look at the result, it’s arguably more impressive than last year. Finishing 15th, we were the first non-PRO car, which means we finished ahead of all the other Pro-Ams, and also Silver class cars. Plus there were 28 PRO cars in the 56-car grid.
“We also finished top Lamborghini. That just shows what an achievement this is, and highlights what a great job we’ve all done.”
Afterwards, Mitchell received congratulations from team-mate Machitski, who won the Am Cup in the Spa24h with Barwell in 2018 and ’19.
“I want to stay a special thank you to Sandy,” the Russian smiled. “We call him the baby-faced assassin for a reason. Every time he was in the car, he drove it like he stole it. He never put a foot wrong all the time he was in the car.”
The win was also celebrated by Euan Shand, chairman of main sponsors, Black Bull Scotch Whisky.
“That was a sterling, solid effort from the team today,” the Scot beamed. “We were on the edge of our seats for the last hour as Sandy guided the car around the formidable track in atrocious conditions. We’re extremely proud of his achievements in this arena and raised a dram to celebrate this colossal win.”
Mitchell returns to action in on November 7/8 when he tackles the season finale in the British GT Championship, knowing if he wins the three-hour race at Silverstone, he and team-mate Rob Collard will be crowned champions.