Tuesday 3 May 2016

FIA WEC 6 hours of Spa-Francorchamps - LMP1 preview

The second race on the World Endurance Championship brings us to probably the most beautiful track on the world, the iconic Spa-Francorchamps. This is the final dress rehearsal for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the ideal place for teams to test bits & pieces of their Le Mans specific aero packages. Spa is a favourite track amongst the driver, always good for some exciting races. Last year, Audi and Porsche fought some jawdropping battles during the race. If Toyota can get into the mix again this year, we could be in for another amazing race in the Ardennes.   

After their victory at Silverstone, Porsche (as well as Audi and Toyota) headed on to Spain for some intensive testing ahead of Spa and Le Mans. No third cars for both German manufacturers, so we'll have the same LMP1 grid as we saw at Silverstone, with 9 cars. 

Over 4 days, Porsche did an astonishing 7642 kms of testing at the Motorland circuit. No pictures of the cars were shown or published, but Porsche has done some very extensive testing with the all new low downforce kit for Le Mans. At Spa this weekend, they will run the 919 in a mixed configuration. Some of the Silverstone high downforce will remain, added with some Le Mans specification for minimum downforce. Porsche has also been testing at Spa in March, but ran a different aero spec back then. 

Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1 : “Both our cars were competitive enough to win the Silverstone race, but both had incidents. In Spa we must have a package in place that’s just as competitive, but serving different demands. Spa may see a new balance of competition. We have to fully exploit the 919 Hybrid’s potential, finish the race with two cars and score as many points as possible.”

After the race at Spa, Porsche will head over to Aragon again for more testing ahead of the big one in June. 

After Audi lost its Silverstone victory due to excessive wear of the skid block underneath the #7 car, the Ingolstadt based team will be eager to claim victory again at Spa. Much will depend on the aero kit and the evolution Audi has booked after testing in Spain in the past week. In Silverstone they had the pace in the wet, but in dry race conditions, Porsche managed to leap away from the all new R18.  Up untill now, Audid didn't give any details about the aero package they will run at Spa. In the past years one of their 3 cars was in Le Mans spec, it will be interesting to see whether they will use the low downforce kit on one of their cars this weekend. 

Audi is aiming to continue its string of podium successes at Spa-Francorchamps. Since 2010 the team has clinched 10 trophies down there, including victories in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Andre Lotterer won the race in 2013 and 2015 with teammates Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer, and will want to add a third victory to his palmares.

Toyota Gazoo Racing was the only team with 2 cars at the finish in Silverstone and arrives at Spa as manufacturer championship leader. A short trip this time for the team with its base at Cologne, just across the German border.  Extensive testing last week gave the team the chance to better understand the all new TS050 and test a new aero kit for Le Mans. Both Toyota's will race in their high-downforce specification though, as used at Silverstone meaning the team will look to implement lessons learned from the opening race. Toyota expects to show improved performance at Spa, and get to know more about the ideal set up for Le Mans. Kamui Kobayashi returns to a track he knows well from his time in F1 and GP2, after learning a lot in his first race in an LMP1 prototype at Silverstone.

Toshio Sato, Team President: “Spa is one of our home races, as it is so close to Toyota Motorsport GmbH in Cologne and also to Toyota Motor Europe in Brussels. So we are looking forward to seeing a lot of supporters in the grandstands and we want to give them a performance to celebrate. Even if the result at Silverstone was pretty good, we know we need to show more performance if we are to achieve our targets this season. The team has been working flat-out to improve, including our test session in Spain. I would like to thank them for the big effort and I hope we can see the reward this weekend in Spa, which is an important step on the road to Le Mans.”

At ByKolles Racing James Rossiter will replace Pierre Kaffer again, who has other racing commitments during the weekend. Kaffer will be racing at Le Mans though.

No changes at Rebellion for the second round of the championship, with Silverstone winners Imperatori, Kraihamer and Tuscher in the #13 Rebellion R-One AER and Heidfeld, Prost & Piquet Jr in the #12 sister car.

Kristof Vermeulen.