Maréchal takes dramatic win in Spa-Francorchamps pit stop race

Tuesday 9 July 2024

Lotus Cup Europe made it’s annual visit to the legendary Spa-Francorchamps on the 5th-6th July for a 50-minute pit-stop race where the championship supported the 25 Hours Fun Cup event.

For the third year running in the Ardennes the championship format included a mini-endurance race. All drivers would need to have fully completed a 180 second pit stop, from pit in to pit out, after the 10th minute and before the 40th minute of the race. Drivers and teams would need to work together to come up with a fail-proof strategy that would not only guarantee them a perfect pit stop but also help them use their time in the pits to gain an advantage over their competition.

For some, it was their first experience of this type of race, potentially including refuelling. The practice would come in useful though as the format returns later in the season at Anneau du Rhin where there is also a brace of normal distance races alongside the endurance format race.

Luxembourg’s Paul Maréchal took pole position on his final lap of qualifying with a time of 2:32.758. Hungary’s Tamas Vizin, last year’s race winner in this race would have taken pole but was penalised for exceeding track limits at turn 19 and had to settle for second on the grid. Belgium’s Thierry Verhiest pipped Sweden’s Daniel Palma for third place on the grid. Making a welcome return with his striking Gold Evora GT4 Britain’s Jason McInulty took the GT Cup pole just over 0.2 seconds ahead of the Emira GT4 of Germany’s Wolfgang Henseler who in turn was just ahead of Gyorgy Balogh, the Hungarian in his iconic Black and Gold Evora GT4.

France’s Jean-Pierre Genoud-Prachex took pole in the 211/Open class, as he did last year. A great drive from Italian GT star Diego Di Fabio in his team’s first ever visit to the Ardennes saw him sit directly behind the Frenchman on the grid, as well as in class. Belgium’s Robbe Janssens marked his Lotus Cup Europe debut with the production class win in this race 12 months ago and he was once again the class act with last year’s champion Mark Yates behind him.

Marechal made the most of his start, potentially being helped by the pole being on the opposite side to last year when he lost out to Vizin at the start. The Luxembourg & Hungarian drivers sitting nose to tail in the opening laps, even when torrential rain came there was nothing to seperate the pair. Verhiest sat a few seconds back in third but comfortably ahead of Sweden’s Palma and the Emira GT4 of Henseler. Just behind the leading group a battle was opening up in the 211/Open class with the returning David Harvey’s 340R mixing it up with Jean-Pierre Genoud-Prachex 2 Eleven and the Elise Cup PBR of Di Fabio, Harvey getting ahead of the French champion on the 4th lap. Back in Production things seemed to be going well for the young Belgian Janssens as he gradually built up a lead over Yates.

As the clock hit 10 minutes, signalling the opening of the pit window, the first teams began preparing for the arrival of their cars. Amazingly the first two drivers to blink and pit were the same two as last year, first Palma who was then followed by Janssens, Palma unfortunately exiting the pit lane 12 seconds short of the imposed 180 seconds while Janssens had an almost perfect time of 181 seconds, miraculously the exact same time as he recorded last year. Of the leaders Marechal pitted exactly on half distance while Vizin came in a lap later, unfortunately the multiple champion also recorded a short pit stop, this time by just 2 seconds.

Palma & Vizin would not be the only drivers to be given a penalty as Jason McInulty was a huge 37 seconds short. The fastest pit stops would go to Wolfgang Henseler and David Harvey who both clocked exactly 3 minutes, an incredible achievement.

Vizin had now taken the lead on the road but with the end of race pit stop penalty to come it was Marechal who had the overall win in the bag. The race coming to an unfortunate early end when the normally reliable Verhiest hit the wall at Blanchimont whilst having McInulty in his mirrors. Verhiest took second followed by the best result to date for the Emira GT4 of Henseler in 3rd. Next up was the 2 Eleven of JP Genoud-Prachex with Di Fabio just a couple of seconds behind in the 211/Open battle, the Italian losing seconds in his pit stop. Harvey claimed the final 211/O podium slot but showed on his return that he was capable of fighting for the win once again. Vizin finished 7th ahead of Balogh who took 2nd in GT Cup ahead of McInulty. Production was once again won by Janssens who finished a remarkable 9th overall, Kai Leyman finished 2nd, the best result to date for the German. Champion Yates took the last Production podium slot.

Lotus Cup Europe will be back towards the end of August on the 24hrs of Zolder event.

Race winner:

Paul Maréchal – Exige V6 Cup R (Luxembourg)

Class winners:

V6 Cup: Paul Maréchal – Exige V6 Cup R (Luxembourg)
GT Cup: Wolfgang Henseler – Emira GT4 (Germany)
211Open: Jean-Pierre Genoud-Prachex (France)
Production: Robbe Janssens (Belgium)