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The toughest race in Pirelli's world

The toughest race in Pirelli's world 01

From 24 hours to two
The Belgian Grand Prix is the closest that Formula 1 comes to an endurance race, with the longest lap of the season at just over seven kilometres. But at least the grand prix is done within a couple of hours. Pirelli’s last visit to Spa, at the end of July, was for an actual endurance race: the famous Spa 24 Hours. And for the Italian tyre firm, the Spa 24 Hours marks the biggest tyre supply of the season for one individual race.
In total, 13,000 tyres were brought to the Spa 24 Hours, as opposed to around 1800 for Formula 1. The jewel in the crown of the Blancpain GT Series is also the biggest race for Pirelli in terms of manpower: 112 people from 10 nationalities were involved in the four-day event. For Formula 1, Pirelli brings around 55 people to each race. 
At every grand prix, there’s a fitting area: the place where all the tyres are put on the rims. With 63 cars to service at the Spa 24 Hours, instead there’s an extensive ‘fitting village’, where a small army of Pirelli fitters can deliver a tyre every 14 seconds at peak capacity. Arriving for the race on Saturday morning and leaving on Sunday evening, they’re awake for around 36 hours. Whether it’s in F1 or GT, Spa likes to make people suffer. 

From the drivers’ perspective
One driver who has experienced both single-seater racing and endurance competition is Italy’s Luca Filippi. The Italian has not only competed at the highest levels of GP2 and Indycar, but has also tested in Formula 1, as well as commentating on it. This year, he’s competing in the Blancpain GT Series, driving a Lamborghini Huracan.
“It’s a very different mentality to driving in single-seater racing, but it’s one that I like,” says Filippi. “The races are called endurance, but these days it's basically a sprint between pit stops, so you are pushing as hard as you would in a formula car. Probably the biggest difference is that you don’t only think of yourself, you have to think of your team mates as well. So there are more compromises.”
In Formula 1, drivers tailor the car to suit their precise preferences and driving styles. In GT, the set-up has to suit three drivers: sometimes four at the Spa 24 Hours. And with the drivers having to swap over quickly during pit stops, even the driving position is often sub-optimal.
“I think many people underestimate the challenge of GT racing at this level,” points out Filippi. “There are some aspects that are even harder than single-seater racing. But I would recommend everyone to try it. This style of racing improves you as a driver. And just like Formula 1, getting the most out of the tyres is a key to success.”

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From the fans’ perspective
Formula 1 captivates every fan throughout the duration of the grand prix, but keeping spectators entertained for 24 hours is a bigger task. So Pirelli had an activation area during the Blancpain GT Series race, complete with a Scaletrix track that replicated the Spa circuit. Fans could even get behind the wheel of a Blancpain GT car in the simulator, complete with virtual reality headset, to feel what it’s really like to race at Spa. 
And then there was the traditional parade. All the competing cars drove from the circuit into the centre of Spa where they were lined up for all to see. It’s a direction that Formula 1 is moving in as well, following on from events such as F1 Live in London. 
On the grand prix circuit, Spa is well-known as one of the best events for spectators. Not only does it offer amazing viewing opportunities – especially at the spectacular Eau Rouge complex – but also there’s a packed programme of support races, with Formula 2 and GP3, as well as a variety of fan-friendly promotions: including a strong presence from Pirelli. 
After the race is over, the party goes on late into the night at the Place Royale in Spa. And you can always grab a final frites-mayonnaise to wash all the beer down: Belgium’s other gastronomic contribution to the world. Meaning that in actual fact, it’s easy to make the grand prix last for 24 hours as well...

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