Mercedes’ first 24 Hours of Spa win since 2013 and maiden success in Belgium for all three drivers, the German firm - which is involved with its GT World Challenge Europe contenders in a supported customer capacity - celebrated a 1-2 result with the #2 GetSpeed car.
The #71 Iron Lynx Ferrari fended off a fast-approaching #55 GruppeM Mercedes on the run to the flag to complete the podium and deny Mercedes a 1-2-3 lockout.
Rossi’s 24 hour inauguration, meanwhile, enjoyed its positive highlights with the Italian running as high as fourth after benefitting from a good strategy call three hours into the race.
However, after issues as the race progressed took the momentum out of its unlikely podium hopes, the VR46 trio of Rossi, Nico Muller and Frederic Vervisch focused on reaching the flag, with the MotoGP legend getting the honour of doing exactly that in 17th.
AMG-Mercedes hedge bets and win big
In a race unusually unaffected by any weather changes and enduring just a single red flag period, it was thus left to the performance and durability of the drivers, teams and cars to make the difference in an endurance event that ebbed and flowed throughout the 24 hours.
It meant that several high-profile PRO entries remained well in the hunt for the win deep into the race, making it difficult to commit to a predicted winner until the closing stages.
Even so, by stitching together the fortunes of the different teams over the course of the race, it was the #88 AKKODIS-ASP AMG-Mercedes that ultimately prevailed by maintaining its consistency and rarely dipping outside the top six throughout.
Indeed, AMG-Mercedes - compared with its rivals - benefitted from strength in numbers with all three of its entries largely keeping out of trouble and avoiding technical issues, a feat reflected in its 1-2-4 result.
Then again, it did benefit from some remarkable luck with less than 2 hours to go when its two closest rivals on track suffered separate problems within seconds of one another.
Iron Lynx scuppered its victory hopes by losing 20secs in the pit-lane when stacked its Ferraris in the wrong order during a crucial stop, but in a race that saw its fortunes fluctuate throughout, it was a strong finish for Antonio Fuoco, Daniel Serra and Davide Rigon.
Indeed, they were certainly luckier than #98 ROWE BMW M4 trio, Nick Yelloly, Nicky Catsburg and Augusto Farfus, who suffered late heartache having emerged as race day’s surprise package.
A trio that hadn’t even scored a point this season coming to Belgium, the BMW trio sprung to prominence towards the end of the first-quarter thanks to some advantageous full-course yellow periods but once there proved hard to shift.
Topping the leaderboard at both the 6-hour and 12-hour mark - thus earning the entry an extra 12 points for each - while the AKKODIS Mercedes looked to have the edge in the closing stages, a determined Yelloly was still within five seconds of the lead when he suffered a puncture.
Losing 50secs as he toured back to the pit-lane, it ruled the trio out of victory contention but would come home in sixth place, just behind the sister #50 ROWE BMW of Dan Harper, Max Hesse and Neil Verhagen, which came on strong in the latter stages for fifth.
Not that it was all plain-sailing for the winning AKKODIS-ASP car though, the team getting away with being spun by a sister Silver Cup Mercedes at the Bus Stop late on, before surviving a trip across the gravel trap with 2h 30mins to go when Stolz’s aggressive defence of the lead almost escalated.
However, with Marciello anchoring the car’s success with excellent pace during his final stint, in retrospect it was a win that could have been predicted hours earlier.
Landmark result for Valentino Rossi slips away
While Rossi successfully achieved his target of reaching the flag of his first 24-hour car race, there will be some thoughts of ‘what could have been’ all the same following a startling turnaround in fortunes four hours into the race.
24 Hours of Spa | The rest of the Top 10
Outside the top six, the #47 KCMG Porsche produced a superb fight back from the rear of the field to cross the line in sixth, albeit demoted to seventh by a time penalty after the flag.
Spearheaded by brilliant stints in the hands of Nick Tandy, such was his Laurens Vanthoor and Dennis Olsen’s relentless surge up the order that took it all the way into the lead with 10 hours to go, where it would remain for some time.
However, it’s alternative strategy - necessary to get back into contention - left it vulnerable in the closing stages, prompting another change that didn’t play out as expected, leaving KCMG seventh as the best of the Porsche contingent.
While it has plenty of experience in 24-hour competitions, multiple 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Jota Sport weren’t considered a threat in this race courtesy of its pretty but unproven McLaren 702S package.
However, staying out of trouble allowed it to steadily ascend the order as others hit problems ahead, Jota getting as high as third at one stage, only to drop to eighth - the last of the lead lap contenders - towards the end when its hope of a late safety car didn’t materialise.
Iron Lynx made it two cars inside the top ten with the #51 car holding onto ninth, ahead of the #95 Beechdean Aston Martin, which looked in contention for victory at one stage after its own understated rise up the order during the second-half of the race.
However, after Nicki Thiim lost out in a game of ‘chicken’ with Gounon at Eau Rouge - with light contact between the pair sending the Aston into a leery, barrier-free double spin - the out-of-sequence stop dropped it out of contention with two hours to go.
24 Hours of Spa | Cup Winners
Beyond AKKODIS-ASP clinching the PRO class win with its overall victory, there were other notable results across the four other classes.
In the Gold class, the popular Iron Dames Ferrari of Sarah Bovy, Dorianne Pin and Michelle Gatting enjoyed a rare trouble-free race, a benefit that saw it rise to the top of its category to claim a comfortable win over the #33 WRT Audi and #93 SKY Tempesta Mercedes.
The latter’s podium success came after it was involved in one of the race’s two big crashes (details below).
In the competitive Silver class, the #30 WRT Audi took victory to bring some smiles to the German marque on a day that saw its victory hopes wiped out early on through a series of issues for its large contingent of LMS evo II entries.
Indeed, the Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer, Benjamin Goethe, Thomas Neubauer driven machine ended up as the second-best placed Audi in 13th, just behind the top LMS evo II representative from Attempto Racing in 12th.
Joining the #30 trio on the podium was the #99 Attempto Audi, while the #14 Emil Frey Lamborghini was the scant highlight for the Italian marque as it joined company stablemate Audi in enduring a dismal race.
In the Pro-Am category victory went the way of the #52 AF Corse Ferrari, which rather bizarrely came away with the fastest lap of all after the line-ups professional nomination - Alessio Rovera - fired in a rapid 2m 17.480 lap some 252 laps into the race!
And finally, history was made in the Bronze class after Reema Juffali - already a history-maker as the first woman from Saudi Arabia to hold a racing licence - joined her SPS Mercedes team-mates Tim Müller, George Kurtz, Valentin Pierburg in coming home to top its category.
Crash, bang, wallop… but no carnage for once
After last year’s 24 Hours of Spa made global headlines for the huge high-speed pile-up at the top of Eau Rouge, the 2022 edition passed off with only minor issues for the most part.
There was just one red flag period during the early hours of the morning after Matt Payne lost control of his Earl Bamber Porsche at the last part of the long, high-speed Blanchimont left-hander. Despite the impact, Payne was unhurt.
Blanchimont was also the scene for the only other major incident in the race - albeit earlier in the bend - when the silver #188 Garage 59 McLaren was given a light tap by the SKY-Tempesta Mercedes, tipping the 720S into a spin.
Impacting the barriers with force, the subsequent repair job on the Armco led to an hour-long safety car period with six-hours to go.
In all there were 27 DNFs from 66 starters, with the highest-profile stoppers being the #32 WRT Audi, which braked to avoid a slow car ahead and was hit from being by the VR46 Audi, the #54 Dinamic Porsche and #221 GPX Martini Porsche, both of which hit mechanical issues having featured in the top five through the first half of the race.
Also, the Silver class Al Manar by HRT Mercedes - which was running among the PRO contenders all week - and was being tipped for an upset result, was one of the first retirements when it missed the FCY deployment and struck the back of the car slowing down ahead.