Wednesday 3 May 2017

FIA WEC 2017 - 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps: LMP preview

La Source, Eau Rouge, Raidillon, Les Combes, Rivage, Pouhon, Fagnes, Stavelot, Blanchimont ...  Spa-Francorchamps sets the stage for the second round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship. The 6 hour race on the oldest track on the FIA WEC calendar (established in 1922) - and probably the most beautiful in the world - is also the yearly dress rehearsal for "the big one" next month, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

A field of 30 cars will go into the La Source hairpin on Saturday afternoon, lead by the LMP1 machinery of Porsche and Toyota. Porsche arrives with their 2 full season 919 Hybrids in the Ardennes, where as Toyota will - for the first time - enter a third TS050 Hybrid which will also race at Le Mans.

6 cars will race in LMP1, the third Toyota now joining the field in preparation for Le Mans.

Spa-Francorchamps will be the first race for Toyota Gazoo Racing with three TS050 Hybrid's at the start. After winning the first round at Silverstone, Francorchamps is something like a home race for Toyota, located just 120 km from their headquarters in Cologne, Germany. 

With Spa being the final competitive action before the Le Mans 24 Hours, Toyota Gazoo Racing will utilise both of its permitted 2017 aero packages. Both full season FIA WEC (#7 and #8) entries will use the high downforce aero package in which they raced at Silverstone. The #9 car of Stéphane Sarrazin, Yuji Kunimoto and Nicolas Lapierre will race in Le Mans trim with the low-downforce aero package. 

Toshio Sato, Team President: “We made a strong start to the season and we hope to continue this at Spa. The competition against Porsche is intense and we are looking forward to another close fight. Our high-downforce TS050 HYBRID performed very well at Silverstone, but Spa is a different circuit so we have been working hard to get ready. This year we have three cars for the first time, which gives us a chance to try out our low-downforce car in race conditions. We have tested it extensively over the winter, so this weekend we are taking another step in our Le Mans preparations.”

Porsche returns to Spa with both 919 Hybrids leading the manufacturer world championship after the first round in Silverstone. Porsche continues to focus on preparing for Le Mans next month, and will run both cars in low downforce configuration, as in Silverstone.

At Silverstone Porsche wasn't far behind Toyota despite running a different aerodynamic package, even challenging Toyota for the win during the race. Spa will be even more interesting, with the long straights and high speed corners which are much more suited for a low aero car than Silverstone.

Andreas Seidl, Team Principal: “The Spa rollercoaster provides such a variety of demands, that you always need to find compromises. It’s a split to create a car set-up that is suited for the long flat-out sections but one that also enables the drivers to handle the car through the winding middle sector. Regarding aerodynamics, due to regulations, we are less flexible than in 2016 but I regard the 919 Hybrid well armed in this respect as well. In terms of reliability and team effort, Silverstone was first-class. We now want to deliver another flawless performance in Spa.”

ByKolles remains the only non-hybrid competitor in the LMP1 class. Despite a disastrous prologue in Monza, only managing a few laps in the evening session, the ENSO CLM P1/01 did run a substantial distance at Silverstone. Their did come to an early end in a collision with the #97 Aston Martin at the pit entry. The car still does lack speed and reliability to be really competitive and stay ahead of the new breed of LMP2's. 

11 cars will race in the LMP2 class this weekend, adding 2 to the Silverstone entry list. Signatech Alpine Matmut enters its second Alpine A470 and Tockwith Motorsports will field their Ligier JSP217, adding some variety into the LMP2 field and the debut of the new Ligier in the FIA WEC. 

Jackie Chan DC Racing and Jota Sport took a well deserved and historic victory at Silverstone last month, becoming the first ever Chinese team to take a win in the FIA World Endurance Championship. The #38 Oreca07 of Ho-Pin Tung, Oliver Jarvis and Laurent Thomas crossed the line first in Silverstone after taking the lead in the final hour of the race. 

The Chinese/British team will be out for a second victory at Spa this weekend, consolidating their lead in the championship and a perfect preparation for Le Mans. The #37 of David Cheng, Alex Brundle and Trsitan Gommendy had a disappointing and anonymous race in Silverstone, only managing 8th in class so they'll be out for a much better result this weekend.    

The Vaillainte Rebellion squad made an impressive return to the LMP2 class in Silverstone. Earlier this week they presented their new "Michel Vaillant" livery in Brussels, which is on display here in Spa but won't be out on a racetrack until Le Mans. After finishing second in Silverstone, only losing the lead in the final hour of the race, the #31 of Julien Canal, Nicolas Prost and Bruno Senna will be out for the win here in Spa. The #13 of Mathias Beche, David Henemeier Hansson and Nelson Piquet Jr wasn't too far off the pace in Silverstone and will undoubtably be out for a 2 car podium finish this weekend. 

TDS Racing had a dream debut in the FIA WEC last month, finishing on the podium.  Last years GTE Am champions François Perrodo & Emmanuel Collard, joined by Matthie Vaxivière took third place in the LMP2 class. Bad luck though for Vaxivière, who suffers from a fracture on his left foot after a training accident, and won't be able to race at Spa this weekend. He will replaced by Ben Hanley, one of the drivers of the Dragonspeed Oreca in the European Le Mans Series. 

The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca was unlucky at Silverstone, starting from pole but losing out time early in the race due to problems with a door mechanism on their Oreca07. Finishing fourth at Silverstone was the highest possible after a lengthy recovery drive by Roman Rusinov, Alex Lynn & Pierre Thiriet. The #26 crew will surely be out for at least a podium finish in Spa this weekend.

Signatech Alpine Matmut arrives at Spa with both of their Alpine A470's.  The second Alpine (#35) - which was also present at the prologue in Monza - will be driven by Pierre Ragues, André Negrao and Nelson Panciatici. Nicolas Lapierre is on driving duties with Toyota in the #9, and will be replaced in the #36 by reigning LMP1 champion Romain Dumas here in Spa and at Le Mans.

Both CEFC Manor TRS Racing Oreca's had a bit of a quiet race in Silverstone, finishing sixth and seventh after 6 hours. They ran a steady race but never were able to fight with the top of the class or for a podium finish. Spa should give them another good opportunity for the new driver line-up to get used to the cars and up their learning curve ahead of Le Mans. 

Making their debut in the FIA WEC is British team Tockwith Motorsport.  In less than a year, the team went up from GT3 to LMP2 in an impressive way and is now preparing itself for their debut in the FIA WEC and the 24 Hours of Le Mans next month. Tockwith brings some variety in the LMP2 field, where as all full season entries are Oreca 07's. The #34 Gibson powered Ligier is the first to compete with the Oreca's in the FIA WEC.  

Full season drivers Nigel Moore and Philip Hansson will be joined by former F1 racer Karun Chandhok in Spa and Le Mans. Chandhok brings in a lot of experience for the team and will make his fifth start at Le Mans. His last race in la Sarthe was in 2015 with Murphy Prototypes.

Useful links for this weekends race:

Kristof Vermeulen.