Ricardo Sanchez, the 2014 winner of the GT Academy International event, was part of a driver squad that has won its class at the TotalEnergy 24 Hours of Spa.
Sanchez, competing in his fifth race at the famous endurance event, was one of four drivers in the Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 which came home first in the Silver Cup, and 11th overall, to take class honors.
The team, Silver champions in the overall 2020 classification, had come from a high on Friday with a second place for team founder Ezequiel Perez Companc in the Fanatec GT Esports Pro Series, to stay in touch in the virtual series. However it could only place seventh in class — 27th overall — in qualifying for the real thing.
Dutch driver Rik Breukers took the green flag stint for the car, in what would prove a crucial period of the race. An enormous four-car crash, resulting from Jack Aitken’s Lamborghini hitting the barriers at the inside of Raidillon before his stricken car was hit by team-mate Franck Perera and Kevin Estre’s Porsche, with Davide Rigon also caught in the chaos. Aitken and Rigon both went to hospital for treatment, but fortunately didn’t sustain any life-threatening injuries.
The lengthy clean-up process, along with a full-course yellow and safety car, took almost an hour, and the Belgian weather took the resumption of racing as a cue to get involved. It took less than a lap before the rain began to fall, and Breukers was one of the first to hit the pits for wet weather tires — gaining 16 places in the process, and taking the class lead.
It was a position the team never surrendered. While some of the Pro cars did regain their places, Sanchez, Companc, Breukers and Patrick Kujala remained relatively comfortably ahead of their class rivals, ending a lap clear of the next-best Silver car: the Toksport WRT Mercedes-AMG.
Sanchez is the first GT Academy graduate to take a class victory at the 24 hour race, though Wolfgang Reip has the highest overall finish with a fourth place for Bentley in 2016. The distance record for GT Academy drivers belongs to Reip, Lucas Ordonez, Jann Mardenborough, and Peter Pyzera, who finished seventh overall in the Team RJN Nissan GT-R in 2013 after 553 laps — two more than Sanchez.
You can watch the first six hours of the race in the YouTube link below (with the remaining three parts following on):
Featured image via Madpanda Motorsport.
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