After such positive practice and qualifying sessions - including making the top-20 Superpole shootout - Andrew Watson’s 24 Hours of Spa ended in heartbreak after the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup driver’s #59 Garage 59 car was forced to retire less than an hour into the race.
An optimistic mood was set in Spa, Belgium, after the week’s free practice session, where Andrew set the third fastest time out of the record-breaking 72 entrants for him and his regular team-mates Jonny Adam and Côme Ledogar. The Aston Martin Racing Junior lapped a best time of 2:20.451, to put him just 0.317 seconds behind P1 in the sweltering hot weather conditions.
When qualifying dawned at an overcast and damp Friday at Spa, Andrew was the second member of his team to set his flying laps. Côme was first and set a time that put the trio 21st, and Andrew bettered this lap time and slipped into an impressive 11th on the timesheets. Jonny was last to qualify and he popped into 30th position - this meant that Andrew was the fastest of the three drivers and he would handle the Superpole shootout duties.
As the time came for the top-20 shootout, Andrew demonstrated his rapid pace around the demanding 4.352-mile circuit and put in another strong performance to line the Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 up 18th on the grid for the 24-hour thriller.
On Saturday afternoon, the highlight of the Blancpain GT calendar was set to commence. Jonny was the driver to start the race, and the 24-hour spectacle got underway under the safety car due to the wet conditions.
After just four laps the safety car pitted and the cars were allowed to go racing. Jonny was running well but was suddenly hit with a heartbreaking drama of a broken wheel hub. Despite Jonny nursing the car back to the pits, by the time the damage was repaired the #59 car was 10 laps down on its rivals. Subsequently, the decision was made to retire the car, bringing the weekend to a premature end.
“I am absolutely heartbroken,” Andrew said after the race. “To retire so early is such a shame for the whole team who have worked so hard. We had been running well throughout the week, and the three of us were pleased with our performances. Qualifying was especially good as we made it through to the top-20 shootout and I was happy to be the driver taking part in that session.
“Jonny made a good start to the race and it was exciting to see how it would unfold, but I could not believe it when he came into the pits with the wheel hub failure. The mechanics and team did a fantastic job at getting it fixed, but by then it was ultimately too late and we had to retire. Now, it is important to move forward and I am feeling optimistic about Barcelona.”
Andrew’s final race on the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup calendar will be at Barcelona during the weekend of 28-29th September.