“It’s the big one” – Matthew Wilson discusses Bentley Team M-Sport’s preparations for the Total 24 Hours of Spa

28th June 2018

Three teams are fielding new-spec cars in the full 2018 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup. Ahead of this year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa, we spoke to the team bosses who will oversee their efforts at the blue riband race.

First up, Bentley Team M-Sport race manager Matthew Wilson.

In recent years, the Bentley Team M-Sport squad have shown significant progress at the Total 24 Hours of Spa.

In 2017 they achieved their best result yet at the Belgian endurance classic, with the #8 Continental GT3 of Maxime Soulet, Vincent Abril and Andy Soucek coming home just 11 seconds shy of the victorious Audi. 

Naturally, there was a strong sense of pride and satisfaction at what they had achieved in the Ardennes. But, as Bentley Team M-Sport race manager Matthew Wilson explains, it also strengthened their resolve to stand on the top step of the podium sooner rather than later.

“The closer you get to winning it, the more it occupies your mind,” says Wilson, whose team will be hoping to go one better at next month’s 70th running of the iconic event. “For us to be 11 seconds away from winning last year… it’s so close, but it may as well be a million miles off.” 

Though the on-track action takes place over 24 hours on 28-29 July, Spa is a year-round project for every team involved. As Wilson explains, it almost never leaves his thoughts.

“From the minute it stops, we start thinking about the next one,” he says. “We have got a list of what went well, what didn’t go well, and what we would like to do differently. You’re thinking about it straight away. 

“Then you start the Blancpain GT Series season, and when something happens at Monza or Silverstone you think: ‘We need to sort that out before Spa’. So it’s always on your mind.”

Three Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup events precede the Total 24 Hours of Spa, including the recent Circuit Paul Ricard 1000km. This long-distance contest is particularly important to teams and drivers when it comes to preparing for their season-defining race. 

“We try to have the mechanics and engineers who are doing Spa at Paul Ricard,” explains Wilson. “It’s really good preparation, with the race going from daylight to darkness.

“You have also got the joker pitstop, so everybody gets to try that out at Paul Ricard before going to Spa. We definitely try to use the race to put us in the best shape possible.” 

Each team was able to use a joker pitstop once during the six-hour event at Circuit Paul Ricard, while there will be four available during the Total 24 Hours of Spa. This, says Wilson, could prove decisive, and his team is hard at work to ensure they make the most of it. 

“In the three-hour races, the mechanics have plenty of time to change tyres, but with the joker they’ll need to be really fast. So their training ramps up heading towards Spa and we’ll be a bit more intense on that this year, as we’re not doing the Sprint Cup.”

Their work is clearly paying off. At the recent Circuit Paul Ricard 1000km, the British outfit used their joker pitstop perfectly to vault the #7 Continental GT3 up the order, after which it fought for overall victory.

The team was denied on the very last lap of the race, but their rate of development has been impressive since debuting a new-spec car earlier this year. While aware that running new machinery at the Total 24 Hours of Spa will not be straightforward, Wilson believes his team is well prepared for the task.

“It will present massive challenges,” he says. “We’ve done a huge amount of testing and I think we’re in a place with the car where – touch wood – we are generally very happy with our performance. 

“We know we’ve got a few things that we want to improve reliability-wise before Spa, but the trouble is that racing is so different from a test. You can do as much testing as you like, but until you put the car on the track with 50 others, you don’t have as good an idea. There are all these little things that you don’t experience until you get to a 24-hour race. That is why they are so unique.”

With Spa now their main focus, the team is preparing for the official test day at the Ardennes circuit on 3 July. 

“The main thing is that the cars go through a big strip-down and are rebuilt before Spa. We tend to take the car back to a bare shell, inspect everything and rebuild it,” Wilson explains. “We try to do that before the test, because then you know that you’re in a good position for the race.

“The main preparation takes place during the week of Spa,” he continues. “While you want to be as prepared as you can, we always try to get the guys away [from the circuit] as early as possible. If we can finish at half-five, rather than hanging around until eight o’clock, we want to do that so as to keep them as rested as possible. 

“You generally bring more people along. There are physios, people looking after the drivers, people doing the laundry. You’ve got your main team, but there are extra people added on to that for Spa. It’s all about making sure that your organisation copes with it and is ready.”

A 24-hour race is about small details. Most teams can put a quick car on the track with talented drivers behind the wheel, but winning such a gruelling event means getting every little aspect just right. For Wilson, this approach is key. 

“Every person is crucial,” he says. “The guys that do the tyres work non-stop; they are fitting and re-fitting, putting them in the oven, running down to Pirelli. You’ve got the guys going for fuel all through the night, the person who is washing the drivers’ overalls, or waking the drivers up. 

“There are a lot of logistical and organisational things that, from the outside, you probably wouldn’t think of,” he adds. “It’s all well and good having the plan that Steven Kane is getting in the car next, but has anybody thought to wake him up?”

Though he is now in charge of an endurance racing team, Wilson is well known for his background as a rally driver, while the M-Sport squad have achieved rallying success on a global scale. 

This, he believes, gives them an added edge when competing in long-distance races like the Total 24 Hours of Spa. 

“In the past rallying was very much an endurance sport. You had three days, if not longer, where you drove into the night and had to make the car last. 

“Quite a lot of our guys come from rallying, so they have great experience of that side of things. It’s no trouble for them to be working into the night because it is something they are quite used to. There is quite a lot of crossover from what we have seen, especially with the old type of rallying.” 

A strong run at Circuit Paul Ricard, coupled with last year’s success in the Ardennes, means that Bentley Team M-Sport will be considered a strong contender at this year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa. So, what would conquering such an iconic race mean to Wilson and his crew?

“For me, it would be everything,” he says. 

“As a company we’ve had some substantial achievements: we have won Rallye Monte Carlo, Rally Finland, the World Championship for manufacturers and drivers, and we have won some big races in the Blancpain GT Series. 

“But as a company, especially on the racing side, to win Spa would be everything. It is the biggest GT3 event in the world and probably the most difficult 24-hour race of all to win. 

“You start Spa knowing that a massive percentage of the field could win the race, so I think that is the challenge. It would mean everything to M-Sport to have that on its list of achievements.”


Practical information – Total 24 Hours of Spa

When: 23rd – 29th July 2018

Tickets: www.24hoursofspa and www.ticketmaster.be

Provisional Timetable

Monday July 23rd
Track day with Marc Duez 09:00 – 18:00

Tuesday July 24th
Track day with Marc Duez 09:00 – 12:00
Bronze test 14:55 – 17:55

Wednesday July 25th
Parade Spa 18:00
Autograph session 19:00-20:00

Thursday July 26th
Free Practice 11:45-13:15
Pre-Qualifying 18:25-19:25
Qualifying 20:50-22:15
Night Qualifying 22:30-24:00

Friday July 27th
Super Pole 19:10-19:40

Saturday July 28th 
Starting procedure & Grid walk 15:45-16:30
Start of the 70thedition Total 24 hours of Spa 16:30


Social Media

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Twitter : www.twitter.com/24hoursofspa #Spa24H
Instagram : total24hoursofspa #Spa24H / blancpaingtseries #blancpaingt

Blancpain GT Series app available on the App store & Google Play


Total – Official Partner of the Total 24 Hours of Spa

Energy is vital to economic development and improved standards of living. Wherever it is available, energy is helping to drive progress, but sustainability requires changes in the way that it is used and managed. This is the environment in which we conduct our business.

With operations in more than 130 countries, Total is a top-tier international oil company and a world-class natural gas operator, refiner, petrochemical producer, and fuel and lubricant retailer.

Our nearly 99,000 employees leverage their globally acknowledged expertise so that together they can discover, produce, refine and distribute oil and gas to provide products and services for customers worldwide.
We are also broadening our offering by developing energies that can partner oil and gas — today, solar energy and tomorrow, biomass.

As a responsible corporate citizen, we focus on ensuring that our operations consistently deliver economic, social and environmental benefits.

Blancpain – Innovation is our Tradition

Since 1735, Blancpain has been contributing to the development of mechanical watchmaking, while conserving the traditional skills of its founder

Blancpain is currently engaged to the renewal of mechanical watchmaking and to passing on exceptional expertise from one generation to the next through constant investment in human resources, production facilities and research. This approach is its strength and the expression of our long-term vision, even though it goes against the tide of a certain tendency to seek immediate profit.

From the creation of components through to watch design, Blancpain is distinguished by its ability to develop exceptional movements. Through its various models, Blancpain preserves its heritage of precision and elegance, while also displaying an innovative and occasionally provocative spirit. Its range encompasses the sportive Levolution line, the legendary Fifty Fathoms diver’s watch, as well as the classic Villeret collection, the high complication from Le Brassus collection and the Women models.

Pirelli – Official Tyre Supplier

Pirelli is a tyre manufacturer and world leader in the automotive industry. It has an exclusive relationship with over 50 racing series worldwide, including Formula One.

Pirelli has a long and illustrious history in endurance racing, and has also claimed a huge variety of class wins in GT racing all over the world. The design of the new Pirelli GT tyres meets the needs of GT racing while maintaining the performance characteristics that endurance drivers have appreciated in the past.The slick tyres used for GT racing are branded Zero: just like the slicks that have become a central feature of Formula One. The name P Zero is used in the highest categories of motorsport such as GT racing.


SRO Motorsports Group, the architect of modern GT racing 

Over the past 25 years SRO has specialised in the promotion and organisation of motorsport series around the world.

Inextricably linked with GT racing’s revival in the early 1990s, currently SRO predominantly promotes series that adhere to the successful GT3 and GT4 regulations. Indeed, these rules – a common framework allowing manufacturers, teams and drivers to compete equally with one another – have helped to establish SRO as the global leader in customer GT racing. 

Today, SRO’s influence and organisation can be seen around the world. Its flagship  continues to be the European-based Blancpain GT Series, which features both the Sprint and Endurance Cups. Its annual highlight remains the iconic Total 24 Hours of Spa.

The same Pirelli tyres and Balance of Performance parameters governing the Blancpain GT Series have also been adopted in the United States by the Pirelli World Challenge (of which SRO is a shareholder), while SRO expanded its successful platform East in 2017 by establishing Blancpain GT Series Asia. 

In addition, the world’s best GT races from all four corners of the globe are brought together under the Intercontinental GT Challenge. The 2018 edition features four events – the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the inaugural Suzuka 10 Hours, and the California 8 Hours of Laguna Seca. 

SRO is also strong domestically. The multi-class British GT Championship, over which it has presided since 2005, pairs GT3 with GT4 machinery. The FFSA French GT Championship, for many years run by SRO, returned to the fold in 2017, and was added to the existing GT4 European Series. GT4’s incredibly successful first season in France provided SRO with the blueprint and confidence to expand the class’ European footprint further. Three new regional series to support the flourishing GT4 class have been added in 2018: GT4 Nordic European Cup, GT4 Central European Cup and GT4 Belgium Cup.

In addition, SRO’s world-renowned Balance of Performance regulations are licensed by other series running GT3 and/or GT4 machinery, such as Super GT in Japan, the Australian GT Championship, the ADAC GT Masters and the VLN in Germany and the China GT Championship. SRO also works closely with the FIA when organising its prestigious Macau FIA GT World Cup race.

While Macau caters solely for professional teams and drivers, SRO also understands the important role amateurs play in GT racing’s global success and sustainability. That is why it operates the SRO Race Centre by MMC – a high-level technical centre at Circuit Paul Ricard in southern France – and Curbstone Track Events, which provide the ultimate track driving opportunities on world-renowned circuits. Many of its clients have subsequently graduated to the Blancpain GT Sports Club, the first competitive stepping stone towards gaining the confidence and racecraft required to compete in a Pro/Am environment. 

SRO Motorsports Group is chaired by company founder and CEO Stephane Ratel and has offices in London, Paris, Liège and Hong Kong. Its dedicated team of full-time and freelance staff work with the support of numerous national sporting authorities and sanctioning bodies to offer teams, drivers and manufacturers the world’s best professional, Pro/Am and amateur GT racing platforms.