The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 Hybrid put the disappointment of Portimão behind it to record an excellent win at the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. A combination of cool temperatures and a wet track surface made for a treacherous conditions in Ardennes, and resulted in multiple Hypercar retirements.
Unlike the other Hypercar runners, the #7 crew started the race on slick tyres despite the damp conditions. After a tentative first couple of laps, in which driver Mike Conway fell back to seventh position, the #7 Toyota was soon up to full speed.
The improving conditions saw both Toyotas prosper in the opening stages as others floundered. Crucially, the decision to start on dry tyres also saved the team a pit stop. From then on it was relatively plain sailing for the #7 trio of Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, as the trio controlled the race from the front.
The #8 Toyota of Brendon Hartley, Sébastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa, starting the race from the back of the grid due to a qualifying accident, carved its way through the field over the six hours of racing in Belgium.
With the pack bunched back up following a final-hour safety car, the #8 even had a chance of snatching the win away from the Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez crew. However, some rapid laps by Kobayashi put paid to the #8 crew’s chances. An off-track overtake at the beginning of the final stint did attract the attention of the stewards, but the advantage at the chequered flag of almost 12 seconds was enough to negate the five-second penalty for the move.
Third podium in three races for Ferrari
A fantastic final stint by James Calado gave the #51 Ferrari AF Corse crew the final spot on the podium. Calado – paired with Alessandrio Pier Guidi and Antonio Giovinazzi – made up a deficit of over 30 seconds between the final pit stops and the end of the race. The Brit caught and passed Fred Makowiecki in the #5 Porsche 963 on the final lap, to secure Ferrari’s third top-three finish in as many races, and the #51’s first of the season.
The battle behind the leading Toyotas was just as undulating as the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps itself. Porsche, Cadillac and Ferrari also showed the best outright pace at certain points during the race, and all three manufacturers lost cars to accidents or technical issues.
The first to retire was the guest-starting #3 Cadillac V-Series.R. Driver Renge van der Zande lost control battling with the Ferraris into Eau Rouge and careered into the barrier. Van der Zande emerged from the enormous crash unharmed, but the Cadillac Hypercar was severely damaged.
The #6 Porsche 963 pulled out of the race around half an hour due to an electrical fault. Accidents also befell the #4 Vanwall and the #50 Ferrari. The Vanwall made contact with the #54 Ferrari GTE car into Blanchimont and collided with the barriers, while the Ferrari was a victim of cold tyres, crashing on the old pit straight after exiting the pits.
Home win in LMP2, first female winner in GTE Am
The victory in LMP2 went to the #41 Team WRT at the Belgian team’s home race after a fierce race-long battle with the sister #31 machine and the #23 United Autosports car, which finished second.
Third was the #34 Inter Europol entry, which celebrated its maiden podium in the team’s third year of FIA WEC competition.
Lilou Wadoux became the first female driver to record a race win in the FIA World Endurance Championship. The 19-year-old Frenchwoman piloted the #83 Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari to victory in GTE Am together with Luis Perez Companc and Alessio Rovera.
Second in the GTE Am was the #33 Corvette, which just about held off the hard-charging #25 ORT by TF Sport Aston Martin in dramatic closing stages at Spa.
A full list of results can be found here.
Following the Six Hours of Spa, the next race in the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship is the centenary running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on 9/10 June.
Images © WEC-Magazin (Walter Schruff / Ton Kerdijk)