Thursday 2 May 2019

FIA WEC: Rain and sunshine on day 1 at Spa-Francorchamps

Spa-Francorchamps showed a few of its many faces yesterday during both 90 minute practice sessions for the 6 Hour race on Saturday. While the first practice session around noon managed to stay dry and was run in rather sunny and enjoyable conditions, the afternoon session was just the opposite. 

Rain started to come down just before the start of the session, and never really stopped falling down.  Conditions improved a little bit just over mid session, only to get worse again by the end of the session when the rain was really pouring down. SMP Racing dominated the dry morning session, but when the rain started to fall down in the afternoon it was business as usual with both Toyota’s on top of the timesheets.
The tricky conditions in the afternoon brought out a few red flags, SMP Racing the most unlucky team when Stephane Sarrazin lost control of his BR1 in Blanchimont and went hard into the barriers.  The car was brought back to the pits with what looked like some expensive damage both at the front and the back.

Sergey Sirotkin was the fastest in the dry and sunny midday session yesterday, setting the pace in the #17 SMP Racing BR1 with a best time of 1.56.264.  Sirotkin was just under 2 seconds faster than sportscar debutant and home driver Stoffel Vandoorne who had a quickest laptime of 1.58.236, putting both SMP Racing cars on top of the timesheets for the first time.  Both Toyota’s followed about half a second behind the SMP’s, with Sebastien Buemi in the #8 TS050 slightly quicker than Mike Conway in the #8.
Gustavo Menezes was the fastest Rebellion driver in 1.59.106.  The Bykolles Enso CLMP1/01 ran for the first time with its new Gibson engine, but was 7 seconds off the pace, with only Oliver Webb and Tom Dillman running in the first session of the day.
© Erik Junius -

It’s the first time the non hybrid LMP’s are allowed to race without any fuel restrictions per lap, and Sirotkin managed a lap time which was only 0.1 seconds slower than Toyota’s fastest time in last year’s free practice sessions. Qualifying times dropped significantly last year, but the SMP pace of yesterday morning gives a nice idea about the raw speed that is inside those privateer prototypes. 

Nico Lapierre was once again the fastest man in the LMP2 class, leading the way in his #36 Signatech Alpine Matmut in 2.03.441.  Jean Eric Vergne followed close in the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01, 0.236 seconds behind Lapierre. Giedo van der Garde was quick in the Racing Team Nederland Dallara, setting the third fastest time, 0.9 seconds off the Alpine’s pace.  Pastor Maldonado in the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca and Gabriel Aubry in the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca completed the top five.

GTE Pro couldn’t be any closer between the two leading cars. Maxime Martin in the #97 Aston Martin and Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford GT setting exactly the same time of 2.15.290; not even a thousand of a second difference between both cars. Antonio Felix Da Costa was thid quickest in the #82 BMW M8 at 0.116 seconds. The 66 Ford GT of Olivier Pla and Nicki Thiim in the first Aston Martin both followed within a second of the leading Aston and Ford. Both Ferrari’s were at the back of the LMGTE Pro pack yesterday morning, although only 1.2 and 1.4 seconds slower than both leaders.

GTE Am was a close one too, with the first six cars within 0.9 seconds from each other.  Ben Barker in the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche lead the dance in 2.17.068, just 0.070 seconds ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella in the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari. Matt Campbell in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche, Charlie Eastwood in the TF Sport Aston Martin and Jörg Bergmeister in the Project 1 Porsche (please bring your ELMS livery to the WEC), rounded out the top 5 in class. 

Fernando Alonso was outright fastest in the afternoon session; his best time of 2.19.483 was over 1.3 seconds quicker than Mike Conway in the second Toyota TS050 Hybrid. Vitaly Petrov in the #11 SMP Racing BR1 set the third quickest time (2.21.429), followed by Neil Jani in the #1 Rebellion R13.

In LMP2 Pastor Maldonado set a dominant pace of 2.27.682 in the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca.  The former F1 driver was 1.6 seconds faster than Matthieu Vaxiviere in the #28 TDS Racing Oreca and 1.7 seconds than Gabriel Aubry in the #38 Jackie Chan. Nicolas Boulle spun in the #50 Larbre Competition at La Source mid-session, without any damage to the car. 

The Aston Martins stayed quick in the Ardennes, Marco Sorensen now quickest in the #95 AMR Vantage in 2.32.648, just 0.025 seconds ahead of Gimmi Bruni in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR. Alexander Lynn put the second Aston Martin on third place, followed by Sam Bird in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari.

Porsche stayed on top in the GTE Am class, this time with the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing 911 of Matt Campbell who put himself right inbetween the Pro drivers with a laptime of 2.34.093. Oliver Beretta in the #70 MR Racing Ferrari and Ben Barker in the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche completed the top 3 for the afternoon session.