Thrills, Spills & Rookies! The FIA World Endurance Championship finally began today in a beautifully sunny Spa-Francorchamps.
The fans flocked to the Ardennes in their thousands to watch the inaugural round of the new Superseason, seeing the Championship race not once but twice at the Belgium circuit. And they were not disappointed!
Starting from an unexpected pole position due to it’s sister car receiving a penalty late last night, the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso claimed the first victory of the season and a first WEC win for rookie Alonso. Somehow the #7 Toyota of Conway and Lopez, despite starting from the pit lane and 1 lap down finished a mere 1.44 seconds behind the #8, a gap that was yoyo-ing between 0.5-6 seconds the last 30 minutes of the race.
Rebellion Racing’s #1 of Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Bruno Senna took the last step of the LMP1 podium after a race that saw them suffer issues including an FIA transponder failure causing them a delay in the pits whilst it was replaced.
An incident packed race saw the safety car brought out again at lap 132 after a massive shunt for Russia’s Matevos Isaakyan in the #17 SMP Racing. Thankfully Matevos walked away from the incident.
However, after the race the stewards disqualified the number 1 Rebellion Racing car due to a technical infringement. The scrutineers found the skid block on the car did not conform to the required thickness, it was found to be 1.2mm to thin thus meaning that Lotterer, Jani and Senna score no points. This moves the number 3 Rebellion into 3rd overall.
Taking yet another victory in LMP2 was the G-Drive Racing Oreca Gibson of Roman Rusinov, Jean-Eric Vergne and Andrea Pizzitola, ahead of the Jackie Chan DC Racing ‘Mighty 38’ of Tung, Aubry and Richelmi and the #36 Signatech Alpine Matmut of Lapierre, Negrão and Pierre Thiriet. Sadly, just 80 minutes into the race a broken alternator brought the Racing Team Nederland #29 into the garage for repairs, after a charging Giedo Van Der Garde took the #29 to the top of the class field.
The GTE field, both Pro and Am, lived up to its reputation and provided some of the closest and hardest racing of the 34 car field.
However the field was reduced to 33 cars after some sort of failure took the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK GT of Harry Tincknell off at Raidillon and into the tyres, almost following in the tyre tracks of yesterday’s incident which saw Pietro Fittipaldi sustain serious leg injuries. This time Harry walked away from the shunt, showing the build strength of the GTEs.
On the other side of the garage however there was joy, as the #66 of Stefan Mücke, Olivier Pla and Billy Johnson won a hard fought race against the #92 Porsche of Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre. Both Porsche and Ford swapped the lead numerous times throughout the 6 hours, with the result easily going either way.
One of the closest battles was between Davide Rigon’s #71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE EVO and Richard Lietz’s Porsche 911 RSR. With just a lap to go the Ferrari ‘nudge’ passed the Porsche as it came onto the start finish line to claim third place.
Not really in the mix today was the new Aston Martin Racing’s Vantage AMR, finishing 6th and 7th in class.
Aston Martin Racing faired much better in the Am class with the ever popular Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda claiming the top spot after a phenomenal battle with the TF Sport Vantage of Yoluc, Eastwood and Alers-Hankey – Lama and Alers-Hankey taking it right to the line with only a 0.221 second gap between them! After qualifying last in the class of nine, taking a surprise but much deserved third place was the Singaporean Ferrari team of Clearwater Racing, with drivers Weng Sun Mok, Keita Sawa and Matt Griffin.
The new Porsche Safety Car had plenty of track action, coming out on lap 1 after the Gulf Racing Porsche of Mike Wainwright went off and into the tyres after taking avoiding action up at Les Combes. And again 2 hours into the race when the #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche went into the gravel.
An unsafe release by the AF Corse team of #51 saw Alessandro Pier Guidi hit the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche as it was coming into its pit box. The Ferrari suffered front suspension damage and after a lengthy pit stop to repair the damage finished the day last in class.
Let’s hope everyone regroups and turns up to the next round with their game face on. Why? Because the next round is the 24 Hours of Le Mans!!!
See you there…
24 Hour of Le Mans
Test Day: 3rd June 2018
Race: 16th-17th June 2018