Spa Francorchamps had the honors of hosting the 2nd WEC race of the season. The beautiful landscapes provided an epic setting for what many call the “dress rehearsal for Le Mans.” Let’s get straight into the action.
The race began with a brave move from the #9 Toyota Hybrid on the inside of the pole sitting #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid at La Source. Nicolas Lapierre locked up his tires, and could not turn in allowing the #1 Porsche to retain the lead coming out of turn 1. The #9 would not factor in for the rest of the race ultimately finishing 5th, but logged valuable data running the low-downforce Le Mans aero package for Toyota.
The #1 Porsche would hand over the lead to the Toyota’s within the 1st hour. It would be the #8 Toyota Hybrid would control the majority of the race managing a 20-40 second gap ahead of the rest of the field. The better of the two Porsche cars, #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid, appeared to have the pace to challenge the leading Toyota’s. Unfortunately, a puncture in the first half of the race cost the car an extra stop.
Light rain factored in the final hour. Sebastian Buemi leading the field in the #8 Toyota voiced his concerns over the tire selection to his team over the radio and seemed to be rattled as the final 30 minutes of the race ticked away. The sister #7 Toyota Hybrid would close the gap to within a second in the waning laps, reportedly ignoring team orders to maintain the gap. Nothing wrong with a bit of sport, right? If the traffic would have lined up right for the #7 in the final lap Kobayashi certainly could and would have gone around the #8 regardless of team orders.Toyota on the rise through Eau Rogue (Photo courtesy of @Toyota_Hybrid Twitter)
Fortunately for the Toyota Gazoo team’s managers, the #8 held the lead taking its second straight win of the season. Kobayashi would finish 2nd just under two seconds behind, with the #2 Porsche rounding out the podium. To be a fly on the wall in the Toyota Gazoo Racing debriefing room…
Message to race winning #8 Toyota TS050 (Photo courtesy of @Toyota_Hybrid Twitter)
Moving on, the #4 ByKolles car notably ran problem free finishing 6th overall ahead of all the LMP2 cars. The ByKolles team will be encouraged by the result ahead of Le Mans. The team is eyeing a chance at an overall podium position in France should the Hybrid cars encounter reliability issues or be involved in accidents at La Sarthe.
The normally exciting LMP2 class provided a tame show on the day. G-Drive dominated the majority of the race with its #26 car taking the win 53 seconds ahead of the 2nd place #31 Vaillante Rebellion. Jackie Chan DC Racing claimed another team podium with its #37 car finishing 3rd.
AF Corse put on a clinic in GTE Pro. Despite an early battle with the Ford GT’s, and going door to door with each other, the two Ferrari’s had a comfortable enough lead to shut it down by the midway point in the race. The two cars ran nose to tail in a processional 2nd half of the race to take the checkered flag.
The 1-2 for Ferrari, with the #71 ahead of the #51, in an ordinary world would be very encouraging for a team ahead of Le Mans. However, in a BoP formula, the weeks ahead of Le Mans could see a counterproductive adjustment to the detriment of their Le Mans goals. The #66 and #67 Ford GT’s placed 3rd and 4th respectively (heavy with sand), setting up the Ford vs Ferrari Le Mans battle everyone is hoping for.
Class winning #98 GTE Am Aston Martin (Photo courtesy of @AMR_Official Twitter)
GTE-AM struggled for screen time during the race. The #98 Aston Martin gapped the field early, easily taking the win 31 seconds ahead of the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche. Silverstone class winning #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari would take 3rd.
Many teams seemed to emphasize reliability and data gathering for Le Mans rather than challenge for positions. Meaning hungry drivers will take the track in France. Less than 50 days remain until Le Mans and it is anyone’s guess who will take class honors. Will your favorite team be adding a centerpiece to its trophy case? Continue to follow us on Twitter @ltmsport for all your WEC coverage.