Technical dramas dashed the run of one-two finishes for Toyota as the #7 spent an extended stay in the garage. Victory still for Alonso, Nakajima and Buemi in the #8, with SMP and Rebellion joining them on the podium.
Spa-Francorchamps experienced everything today in terms of weather. Glorious sunshine, torrential rain, not to mention the snow and hail. We had four safety cars, three of which were for track conditions, though relatively few incidents, and amazingly all thirty-four cars finished the race. Albeit a slightly shortened one. The red flag fell with about eleven minutes to go as the conditions were just too poor to carry on racing safely.
It’s been a nightmare of a race to predict and has proven why our drivers (and fans) are outstanding humans. After six gruelling hours of frequently changing, and at times awful conditions it was the #8 Toyota in the hands of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima which took the win.
For the first time since Silverstone (where both Toyotas were disqualified), there is more than one privateer entry on the podium. Second place went to the #3 Rebellion of Thomas Laurent, Gustavo Menezes and Nathanael Berthon. The Swiss team finished just 6.5s ahead of the #11 SMP Racing of Mikhail Aleshin, Vitaly Petrov and Stoffel Vandoorne. Both of these cars have been on the podium during the season, but never at the same time. It’s rare that the dominance of Toyota is broken, but a hybrid sensor issue proved that the Japanese manufacturer is not infallible.
The second SMP Racing car ended up in fourth, ahead of the #1 Rebellion. The latter fell foul of the standing water at Eau Rouge, sending Bruno Senna into a spin. The #7 Toyota looked incredibly strong during the first part of the race. However, an extended stay in the garage meant that even with their superior pace, they could only manage sixth overall.
To prove how mental this race was, for a good chunk of time, the overall leader of the race was an LMP2. The #36 Signatech Alpine. A combination of pit stops, safety car running and many cars on the lead lap meant that the order was well and truly scrambled. Alpine couldn’t quite hang on to the class lead, and ultimately finished on the bottom step of the podium. One step ahead of them, finishing in second was the guest entered G-Drive Racing. The trio of Jean-Eric Vergne, Roman Rusinov and Job Van Uitert has been impressive all weekend. It’s almost a shame that they won’t pick up any points for their performance.
But the top spot in LMP2 went the way of Dragonspeed. Recovering from an early incident with the ByKolles, an excellent stint from Pastor Maldonado pulled the team up into first, where they managed to stay. A quietly impressive drive today from Maldonado and his teammates Roberto Gonzalez and Anthony Davidson. Narrowly missing out on the podium was the first of the Jackie Chan DC Racing Orecas – the #38 has been there or thereabouts all day, but couldn’t quite make the top three. The sister car had a few more issues, including their own coming together with the #4 ByKolles, though in this case, it was the #37 found to be at fault. A finish of seventh place was the best they could manage.
GTE Pro lived up to its reputation of being unpredictable and delivering great racing. All five manufacturers led the race at some point during the six hours. But after battles between each other and against the elements, it was Aston Martin who emerged victorious. The #97 Vantage of Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn put an impressive drive to take AMR’s second win of the season.
Second in the class was the #92 Porsche 911 RSR of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen. When the flag fell, it was actually the sister #91 Porsche in third. But, during the last few minutes the car picked up a drive through penalty. It went unserved and a post-race time penalty dropped Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni into eighth.
After looking so strong during qualifying, it was a rough day for our polesitters. A very mixed race for both Fords. Despite leading the field at one point, the best that Tincknell and Priaulx could manage was fifth. Even worse fortunes for the #66 car saw Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke finishing bottom of the Pro order. Often cars optimised for Le Mans do rather well at Spa, but clearly the conditions were against them. A drive through penalty for the #67 due to an unsafe release didn’t help either. The two BMWs ended up fourth and eighth, with the #82 besting the #81. Augusto Farfus and Antonio Felix da Costa both shone during the race, even setting the fastest time in the GTE Pro field.
There was more success for Porsche in GTE Am as the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing took their second consecutive victory. Christian Ried, Riccardo Pera and Matt Campbell were leading as we headed into the final hour, and made the most of a challenging day to grab the win. Behind them were the Am polesitters TF Sport. The team lost the lead early in the race, but slowly made their way back up and were in the top three by the end of the fourth hour. By the time the red flag dropped, TF Sport were just five seconds behind the leaders. A further five seconds behind them were third place finishers Luis Perez-Companc, Matteo Cressoni and Matt Griffin in the #61 Clearwater Racing. Another car that has led this race, Clearwater found themselves on the wrong side of the stewards for not respecting full course yellow conditions. Still, the team recovered well to pick up their third place silverware.
As we leave Spa the WEC has handed out two of its titles. The first to Toyota for the World Endurance LMP1 Championship. Now that’s the manufacturers’ title sealed, it’s down to the drivers at Le Mans to finish Toyota’s checklist. The second, also manufacturers’ went to Porsche, for the GTE Manufacturers’ title. Which considering they had a 100 point lead over Ferrari coming into this race, is a little unsurprising. But a great achievement nonetheless, the team have run a fantastic season so far.
The final round of the Super Season is the second 24 Hours of Le Mans, taking place in June. There’s still plenty to play for with six championship titles up for grabs.