Once again, the weather was one of the main talking points at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps at the sixth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The heavens opened shortly before the green flag, leading to the race starting behind the safety car. A further safety car period followed at around the halfway stage following another downpour, giving the teams plenty of work to do deciding on the right tyres and strategies.
In LMP1, it was a relatively comfortable win for the championship-leading #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José Maria López, despite its disadvantage in the success ballast system.
The sister #8 machine of Hartley/Buemi/Nakajima had led the race at stages but saw a couple of minor issues hamper its progress. Only a couple of seconds separated the two cars after the final round of pit stops but the #8 was unable to keep pace during the final stint.
The changeable conditions put an end to the pole-sitting #1 Rebellion R-13’s challenge before it had even begun. With Toyota’s hybrid system giving the works team a major traction advantage in wet weather, Rebellion had to contend with third place. The second privateer entry, Bykolles Racing Team, finished 17 laps down in 4th after suffering technical issues.
Porsche commanding in GTE Pro
The #92 Porsche 911 RSR-19 of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen delivered a maximum points haul for the German marque with pole and the class victory in Spa. Once again the class battle was unrelenting, with Aston Martin offering the greatest challenge. However the Ferraris too were able to deliver optimum pace at times.
Only a handful of seconds separated the top three going into the final stint, with the #97 Aston Martin Vantage of Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn leading the charge but requiring a final “splash and dash” before the end of the race.
However, a mistake by Martin gave Estre the advantage in the #92 Porsche, and the Frenchman kept a cool head to take the class win. The late stop relegated the #95 car down to third behind the championship-leading #97 AMR crew of Nicky Thiim and Marco Sorensen.
LMP2 provides the pick of the action
United Autosport emerged victorious in a hard-fought class battle in LMP2. As always, strategy played a huge part in the class battle and Racing Team Nederland’s decision to run their pro drivers from lap one paid off spectacularly, with the yellow-liveried #29 Oreca rising through the field to lead at the halfway stage.
The #22 United Autosports crew, on the other hand, looked on it all weekend and always looked to be among the favourites for victory. Paul di Resta, Phil Hanson and Felipe Albuquerque recorded their third win in succession ahead of the #42 Cool Racing Oreca and the #29 Racing Team Nederland.
Despite the treacherous conditions, the race only saw one major incident throughout the six hours. It involved the #36 Signatech Alpine ELF car driven by Thomas Laurent. Attempting to pass the #29 car and a GTE Am Ferrari, the young Frenchman put two wheels on the grass at the entry to Blanchimont and careered into the barriers on the right-hand side. Fortunately, Laurent emerged shaken but largely unhurt.
In the GTE Am class of the FIA WEC, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari crew secured victory to extent their championship lead over the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin entry, which finished third. Second was the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911.