Thursday 4 May 2017

FIA WEC 2017 - 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps: Thursday free practice

It is always a joy to come to Spa Francorchamps, but you have to remember your brolly as the local weather is notoriously capricious. The leaden sky never delivered the rain it was threatening to during the first session, but with a track temperature of 12.2C (air 11.9C) conditions were on the chilly side. Free practice is the first indication of pace and a chance for new drivers to experience the circuit. There are only bragging rights on offer as far as lap times are concerned. Qualifying is tomorrow (Friday) afternoon at 14:50 starting with GTE classes.

Free Practice 1

The green flag for FP1 was at 11:45 local time under grey sky but dry track. Timo Bernard on his first flying lap in Porsche #2 recorded a time of 1:58.944 but was swiftly beaten by Conway in Toyota #7 with 1:57.940 on his second flying lap which stood until the chequered flag.

In LMP2 in the first few laps of the session it was Alex Lynn quickest in the #26 G-Drive with a lap of 2:04.262 at 11:54 followed by Julien Canal in the #31 Vaillante Rebellion with a time 2:17.088. Quickest in GTE Pro at that stage was Stanaway in the #95 Aston Martin with a lap of 2:17.957 at 11:57. In GTE Am the early time of Barker in #86 Gulf Racing Porsche was later overtaken by Cairoli in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche 2:18.089. Andy Priaulx in Ford GT #67 set a time of 2:16.802 at 12:02 with Makowiecki in Porsche GT #91 second fastest with a time of 2:16.924.

The early time set by Alex Lynn in G-Drive #26 time was overtaken by Menezes in #36 Signatech Alpine with a lap of 2:04.171 at 12:07. The ByKolles Enso went out at the early part of the session but didn't set a flying lap time. Kraihamer took it out again at 12:10 for 2 more laps but still no proper time. Later Oliver Webb took the car out for a longer period but still at the back of the LMP2 times, except for #28 TDS Racing Oreca which had an undisclosed technical problem and only did laps during the session. The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari was also a long time resident of pit lane and finally emerged at 12:21 in the hands of Castellacci

At 12:27 there was a spin for Lauda in #98 Aston Martin at Eau Rouge bringing out a local yellow flag. The car rejoined with no harm done. At 12:40 the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche was awarded a black and white flag for repeated track limits abuse at Raidillon and Blanchimont. 

There was an incident between Hartley in #2 Porsche and Pla in #66 Ford GT at la Source Both cars came into pits but rejoined in a few minutes. It was investigated by stewards but no further action taken. There was a flurry of track limits warnings in the closing minutes, mostly for Raidillon and Eau Rouge, however there was no matching set of lap time improvements.

Free Practice 2.

The track temperature had warmed a little at 14.4C (12.6C air) and although there had been a light shower between sessions the track had dried out. At 16:45 Neel Jani in Porsche #1 was first to emerge from pit exit as the track went green, but it was Timo Bernhard in Porsche #2 who set the fastest lap thus far in the day (1:56.874) on his first flying lap. Early tenant of the top spot in LMP2 was Mathias Beche in the Vaillante Rebellion #13 with a time of 2:04.845. Just before 17:00 Kevin Estre in Porsche #92 set the fastest time so far in GTE Pro (2:16.720).

The Spirit of Race Ferrari #54 that had problems in FP1 that relegated it to the bottom of the timing screens made up for it by sitting at the top of GTE Am in FP2 with a time of 2:19.593 (Molina) but was demoted by Lamy in Aston Martin #98 with a time of 2:17.976 at 17:05, but Molina responded with a time of 2:17.806 to regain the top spot. At 17:07, Vergne in the Manor #24 set the fastest lap of the day in LMP2 (2:02.662).

Meanwhile, early in FP2 the #4 ByKolles Enso LMP1 went fractionally faster than it had in FP1 when Oliver Webb improved its time to 2:07.026, bringing it 14th fastest and still knocking around LMP2 times. That said, the #4 set the fastest maximum speed of FP1 313.2kmh (194.61 mph). Webb improved the time again with 26 minutes remaining in the session with a fairly respectable lap of 2:04.325 (9th overall).

There was a red flag at 17:20 for the recovery of #2 Porsche (Kevin Estre) who spun into the barrier at Les Combes (T5). The track went green again at 17:31. We understand that Estre was unhurt in the incident. At 17:37 in his first flying lap after the restart Kobayashi in Toyota #7 went to the top of the timing screens recording a lap in 1:56.369, the fastest time of the day. Meanwhile, Thiim in Aston Martin #95 went to the top of GTE Pro with a time of 2:16.458, displacing the earlier time of Estre in Porsche #92.

At 17:53 #97 Aston Martin (Serra) stopped at pit entry bringing out a local yellow as marshalls pushed the car to safety, this was upgraded to full course yellow (FCY) at 17:58 as #13 Vaillante Rebellion (Heinemeier-Hansson) stopped at Campus (T14). Red flag at 18:03. The #13 finally managed to get back to the pits and the track was green again with 5 minutes left on the clock.

It was a good day for Manor who finished FP2 with the top two times in LMP2 for #24 and #25.

FP1 results
FP2 results

Dave Davies