Thursday 12 May 2016

FIA WEC - 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps : LMP2 & GTE Race review


LMP2 saw a frantic battle for the podium that lasted 'till the checquered flag was dropped. When the green flag fell, Rene Rast in the polesitting #26 G-Drive racing Oreca05/Nissan quickly pulled away from the competition, building up a gap of 20 seconds. 2 punctures and a switch of bodywork when Nathanael Berthon was at the wheel ruined their chances for a podium finish, losing a lap to the leaders. 

The first full course yellow came out after a contact between Simon Dolan in the #38 G-Drive Gibson and Nicki Thiim in the #95 Aston Martin. Thiim sliding off track, tapped into the tire barrier and flipping over. Luckily Thiim got out uninjured. Dolan was given a stop & go penalty for avoidable contact. 

With the Gibson Oreca05 gone, Manor took the lead with their #44 Oreca05/Nissan driven by Tor Graves, Will Stevens and James Jakes. They kept onto the lead well into the third hour but lost the lead when Graves reported a brake problem and the front left brake needed replacement. The lengthy stop dropping the #44 car out of contention. Alpine now took the class lead in the #36 of Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Stephane Richelmi. Second was the #45 Manor on a respectable distance, followed by the #43 RGR sport by Morand Mexican team. 

Going into the final stint, the first 4 cars in LMP2 were almost nose to tail. The #36 Signatech Alpine leading Silverstone winners #43 RGR Sport Ligier and the #45 Manor Oreca. Meanwhile, the #31 ESM Ligier of Ryan Dalziel, Pipo Derani and Christopher Cumming went up to fourth place. With rising star Derani completing the final stint, we all knew ESM would get a shot a victory at some point. 

The safety car came in with 41 minutes to go, and what followed was a nailbiting shootout. Derani made it up to second during the final pitstop, getting in a fierce battle for second with Filipe Albuquerque in the RGR Sport by Morand. When Nicholas Lapierre was forced to make his final pitstop, Roberto Merhi in the #45 Manor got into the fight, passing both other cars for the lead. He didn't enjoy that for long though, as he got a drive through penalty due to a pitlane infringement. 

Derani now briefly held the lead, keeping of Albuquerque on fresher tires. Lapierre fought back however and with less than 5 minutes to go he put up a bold overtaking manoevre after the double left hander. Passing Derani and the #67 Ford GT in one bold move got him back into first, and victory 5 minutes later. Derani came in second, ahead of Merhi who ultimately surprised Albuquerque and rounded off a fantastic weekend for Manor with their first podium in the WEC. 


In GTE-Pro, AF Corse dominated the class in Silverstone and seemed to do so in Spa too. The #51 Ferrari 488 GTE of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado lead most of the race, and seemed to have the victory in the bag. The first victory for Calado in the WEC ... But then disaster struck. Calado having to come into the pits with less than 8 minutes to go, the car wheeled into the garage with an engine problem. This gave victory to the second AF Corse Ferrari, the #71 of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird, their second win of the year after Silverstone. 

2 accidents upset the GTE-Pro class. First the contact of Nicki Thiim in his Aston Martin #95 and Simon Dolan in the #38, causing the Aston to roll over after hitting the tire wall at the exit of Stavelot. The second accident was a freightening one. With an hour to go into the race, Stefan Mucke rejoined in his #66 Ford GT after a lengthy pitstop due to a turbo problem. A few laps into the race again, Mucke loses control of the car at the exit of Eau Rouge and goes hard into the barriers at the Raidillon. Mucke stayed conscious and escpaed with a few dents and bruises out of the completely wrecked Ford GT. 

The #67 Ford GT sister car of Marino Franchitti, Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell had a faultless race, finishing second after six hours. The #97 Aston Martin of Fernando Rees, Richie Stanaway and Jonny Adam came in third, right behind the Ford.  The #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche never really was into the race and finished anonymously fourth and last in class. 

IN GTE-Am, Aston Martin dominated the competition in the #98 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda. The #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Francois Perrodo, Ammanual Collard and Rui Aguas shortly took the lead after the start, but lost that again after contact with the Ford #67 in Les Combes. The #95 Vantage took the lead again & never really looked back, finished a lap ahead of the competition. Lots of drive through penalty's in this class during the race, either for speeding in the pitlane or exceeding track limits. 

In the first few hours, the #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche 911 seemed to be in contention for a podium spot. It went up to second several times, but dropped down the order in the final hours of the race. The #50 Larbre Competition Corvette took his second consecutive podium, bringing the car home in third position after a rather uneventful race. AF Corse took the second step of the podium with the #83 Ferrari F458 Italia. 

Kristof Vermeulen.