Tom Kristensen, 9 time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, waved the green flag to start the second race in the 2017 World Endurance Championship season. WEC has earned itself a reputation of being a series of very long sprint races, where the drivers go full throttle from start to finish for hours on end. It also has a tendency to be unpredictable. Both were true at Spa-Francorchamps.
After being declared healthy after his crash at Silverstone last month José Maria Lopez (Toyota Gazoo Racing) did not take part in this race in Belgium, reportedly due to crushed vertebrae. This left his teammates to race with two drivers in the #7 Toyota.
Manor’s #25 car had to start from the back of the grid. During qualifying the car crashed, which meant no time was set.
Rain had been forecast, but apart from a few drops it never came. Where the Free Practice sessions had seen temperatures around 16 degrees, the race started in blazing sunshine at a temperature of almost double that. At the halfway mark temperature had dropped to around 16 again. These changes in temperature and the threat of rain provided some additional excitement to a tight 6 hour battle across four classes.
The action started immediately after the red lights went off with the #9 Toyota (the additional entry for Le Mans this year) getting away quite well, jumping from third to first and then falling back to fifth position after locking the brakes and going straight on at the first corner. Luckily there was no contact with any of the other cars around it.
The action was continuous in LMP1. Only 25 minutes into the race the #1 Porsche and #7 Toyota were fighting for position when a daring move didn’t quite work out for the Porsche as it almost hit the wall.
A rear left puncture forced the #2 Porsche, driven by Earl Bamber, to the pit early in the second hour of the race.
The #2’s bad luck didn’t end there. Later in the race there was contact between them and the #36 Signatech Alpine. Both cars sustained damage. Brendon Hartley and Romain Dumas were told to report to race control after the race.
Worth noting is that Bykolles, who suffered unreliability in the 2016 season, had a flawless run. They were down on pace compared to Porsche and Toyota, but they finished the race with no reported issues.
The podium for LMP1 was third for #2 Porsche, second for #7 Toyota and the top step for #8 Toyota.
Arguably the most noticeable charge in LMP2 was by Bruno Senna in the #31 Vaillante Rebellion. It had started in ninth position, but within the first 30 minutes of the race it was fourth in class, moving up to second only five minutes later. Senna managed to take the lead within the first hour of the race.
Later on they had to serve a 10 second penalty. At that time they were running first with G-Drive’s #26 in second. G-Drive pitted at the same time as Vaillante Rebellion. Due to the penalty G-Drive got out of the pit lane just ahead of Vaillante Rebellion and the chase was once again on.
With just over one hour to go #31 had a slightly longer pit stop due to repairs to the mandatory FIA telemetry equipment on the car’s roof. The remainder of race time was used effectively as they fought back to take the checkered flag in second place.
There were a few issues in the pit lane. Signatech Alpine’s #36 stopped shortly after entering the pit lane and took some time to get going again, losing valuable time.
Its sister car, #35, was having its tires changed when the car seemed to drop before the new rear left tire was put on the car.
Where the first FCY was caused by a GTE Am car, the second happened due to the #28 TDS Racing when it hit the wall with just under two hours left in the race. It had to make it back to the pit for a nose job and a driver change.
The LMP2 class possibly provided the most drama at Spa as Jackie Chan DC Racing’s #37 exited a corner almost sideways, crashed and lost its rear wing. The result was a short yellow flag period and a pit stop to have the wing replaced.
The top three in this class was as follows: third for #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing, second place for #31 Vaillante Rebellion and a win for #26 G-Drive.
At the start of the race the top four in the GTE Pro class were all within two seconds of each other, showing just how close the battle was.
The two Fords, which started second and third, had their work cut out for them. After leaving the pit lane Harry Thincknell, in the #67, experienced an issue which forced him to go off track and restart the car, which caused a short yellow flag period. He got the car going again, but had lost position. Stefan Mücke, in the #66, locked up about 3.5 hours into the race. He went off track and seemed temporarily slow on pace, but managed to get going again. Ultimately the #66 claimed 3rd in class, followed by the #67 in 4th.
The win went to the #71 Ferrari followed by its sister car, the #51 AF Corse.
Aston Martin’s #98 car had claimed pole position during qualifying. It was running faultlessly, but saw its chances potentially diminish when they were given a 10 second penalty for a grid infringement. The car had so much pace however that the team of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda drove the car to victory, seemingly without effort.
The only retirement in the race was the #86 Porsche after a spin near the pit lane entry just over halfway through the race, causing the first FCY of the race.
The #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche took second place in class. The third step on the GTE Am podium went to the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari.
The next WEC race is on 17 June at Le Mans.
Featured image courtesy of Nicky Hofland.