Safety cars, full course yellows and penalties galore – the 6 Hours of Spa was certainly action-packed, but it was the Toyota #8 squad who managed to string it all together and produce a win.
It was an exciting opener for the 2018/19 Super Season, and following three safety cars and a full course yellow, it was Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso who took the chequered flag at the end of the six hours.
That was a close finish! Just 1.444 seconds separating our two cars! 😅
— TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WEC (@Toyota_Hybrid) May 5, 2018
As is expected with La Source, the start came with a side helping of chaos. A great start by the pole-sitting #8 Toyota and Rebellions got them well out of the way, but LMP2 leaders Signatech Alpine quickly lost their lead in the pack, running wide. Though not as wide as Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford, his trip into the run-off area cost him the GTE Pro lead. Within a couple of laps, the safety car was deployed for barrier repairs as Michael Wainwright in the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche tried to avoid some traffic and found himself in the wall. The Porsche did manage to rejoin with a new nose a couple of laps later.
First pit stops for LMP1 rolled around, and we saw a sadly familiar sight as the ByKolles suffered a brief exhaust fire, having already been reported as smoking a lap or two before. An extended pitstop later and the team rejoined the circuit, now quite far down the LMP1 order.
Throughout the first hour, the sharp end of the GTE Pro class was incredibly close. With a Ford, followed by a Porsche, a Ford and another Porsche, the battles between the top four were intense. Having got past Gianmaria Bruni in the #92 Porsche GT, the Fords were back in a one-two order, albeit reversed. Barely into the second hour, disaster struck as Harry Tincknell suffered an eerily similar accident to Pietro Fittipaldi’s yesterday. Tincknell exited the car unaided, but the incident brought out a second safety car for barrier repairs up at Eau Rouge and Raidillon.
Green again by lap 38, and quickly the timing screen began to light up with race control messages left, right and centre. Among the usual track limits warnings, pitstops were under investigation, possible overtakes under the safety car and speeding in the pitlane. Speaking of the latter, the #31 Dragonspeed was handed a drive-through for just that.
Green flag racing can’t last forever, and as the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche hobbled into the pits with a fuel issue, the sister car had arranged a date with the tyre wall. Race control put out a full course yellow, and the #88 car was recovered and managed to get itself back to the garage. Plenty of teams pitting under FCY, with both Rebellions getting cosy in the pit entrance, and the #8 Toyota needing a new rear wing.
Halfway through the race, and the #8 Toyota continued to look unbeatable, the sister car had made it all the way up into second place overall, an incredible recovery having started from the pitlane, and the Rebellions were still looking like the strongest privateers. The LMP2 lead was in the hands of Jean-Eric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Roman Rusinov in the #26 G-Drive guest entry, sitting well ahead of the Signatech Alpine in second. In GTE Pro, Ford had become the meat in a Porsche sandwich, with the German marque sitting first and third. The Ferraris seemed to be finding speed and were closing in on their rivals. And having had most of the GTE Am Porsches drop down the order due to problems, the class was in the hands of Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana in the #98 Aston Martin Racing.
Into the second half, trouble for the third place #1 Rebellion – a black and orange flag forced a pit stop to fix the data transmission from the car. Further pit drama as the #51 AF Corse got a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release – into the path of Egidio Perfetti in the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche. James Calado in the Ferrari ground to a halt just up from his pit box following the collision, leading to a frantic recovery by his mechanics.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) May 5, 2018
With almost a minute’s worth of lead, it looked as though Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso had this race sewn up. However, as we crossed into the final hour, the #17 SMP Racing BR1 brought out a third safety car, as Matevos Isaakyan had a large accident at the top of Raidillon. Isaakyan walked away, and more barrier repairs had to be done. The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari simultaneously found itself in trouble, with the 458 griding to a halt, though unlike the #17, the Ferrari managed to rejoin.
Chequered flag and the #8 Toyota took the glory. That’s the first win of the inaugural Super Season for Buemi, Nakajima and Alonso – Alonso’s first since 2013. The sister Toyota crossed the line close behind, just 1.4 seconds shy. ‘An amazing job by the team, one-two in qualifying, one-two in the race, Kazuki and Sebastien at the start pulling away. They made my life a little bit easier.’ said Alonso. ‘The team has put a lot of work into the car and into this team for this season. You come to Spa and everyone thinks that it’s easy to do a one-two, but then you need to deliver the result on Saturday.’ Third place overall went to the #1 Rebellion, despite its forced pitstops, an impressive debut for the R13 in the hands of Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna.
Following a pretty dominant performance, the LMP2 win went to the guest entered G-Drive Racing. Jean-Eric Vergne crossed the line over twenty seconds ahead of the ‘Mighty 38’ Jackie Chan DC Racing car in second, while polesitters Signatech Alpine finished in third.
After the retirement of the #67 Ford, it looked to be Porsche’s race, but a fantastic move by Olivier Pla on Richard Lietz in the #91 Porsche gave the #66 the lead with roughly forty-five minutes to go.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) May 5, 2018
Lietz couldn’t fight back, and after battles with his teammate and Davide Rigon in the #71, the #91 ended up fourth. Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre’s #92 Porsche GT Team car took the second step on the podium, while Davide Rigon and Sam Bird in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari finished third.
GTE Am became Aston Martin’s game. Despite TF Sport’s best efforts, the #90 couldn’t stop the #98 from taking the win. Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda took the victory having fought off an incredibly aggressive Ewan Hankey in the #90. Third place went to a well recovered #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche; the team managed to salvage something from a tough race.
The season opener for the inaugural Super Season is done. Today’s race winners lead their respective championships, but the next round is the 24 Hours of Le Mans – worth double points. The iconic 24-hour race kicks off on Saturday, June 16th.