Thursday 4 May 2017

FIA WEC 2017 - 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps: GTE Preview

The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team heads on to Spa leading both the driver and manufacturer standings in the FIA World Endurance Championship following their win in Silverstone with the #67 and fourth place for the #66.

No driver changes in the Ford GT's which are running their Le Mans driver squads again in both cars. Pipo Derani joins Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx again in the #67. Billy Johnson teams up again with season regulars Stefan Mücke and Olivier Plan in the #66 Ford GT.

Ferrari were very close to the pace of the winning Ford in Silverstone, with the #51 488 GTE finishing second last month. The #71 had an unlucky race, falling back into the order after a collision with one of the Rebellion LMP2's. Davide Rigon and Sam Bird did however fight back to fourth overall in the GTE-Pro class.  Let's see if they put their cards on the table here in Spa, matching the pace of the Ford's, or will the prancing horse wait 'till Le Mans to go all the way ?

The debut of the new - not to be called mid-engined - Porsche 911 was successful for the #91 of Mark Lietz and Fred Makowieki who finished on the third stop of the podium. They might even have been in contention for a double podium finish, but the #92 had to abandon the race early after a fire in the engine compartment. Porsche's new weapon did show some good pace already for its first race in the FIA World Endurance Championship, which looks very promising for Le Mans next month.

Aston Martin Racing also returns with their Le Mans driver squads for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. Silverstone was a disappointing race for the Astons, lacking pace and finishing sixth and seventh in class. They will need to find at least a second per lap to be competitive throughout the season.  Defending champions Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen have Richie Stanaway by their side again for this race and Le Mans in the #95 Vantage V8. The #97 Vantage - back in its classic green AMR livery - will be driven again by Darren Turner, Jonny Adam and Brazilian Daniel Serra.

Suspense in the Am class in Silverstone last month, when FIA WEC debutants Clearwater Racing won their first race on the world endurance stage after a crazy last lap.

Matt Griffin slipped from third to first when Miguel Molina in the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari collided with the leading #98 Aston Martin of Pedro Lamy in the final lap of the race. Griffin got into the lead in the final hour of the race, but fell back when he needed a splash & dash with just a few laps to go. An impressive debut for the Asian Le Mans Series GTE champions, who seem to be right in the mix for a possible challenge for the championship. 

Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda will be out for nothing else than the win in Spa. Taking pole position in Silverstone and dominating the race until Miguel Molina decided to crash into him. The #98 Aston Martin Vantage has the most experienced team in the class, and with the car fully updated to the 2016 spec, you might say they are the favourites for the title this year. 

The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari showed some great speed in the hands of Miguel Molina, Ferrari's latest factory driver ... until his move into the leading Aston left him stuck in the gravel trap unable to finish and losing some very valuable championship points. If they can hold it together in Spa this weekend, expect them to be back into the fight for the podium.

Both Porsches - still in their 2015 trim - seemed to be lacking pace to keep up with the front runners in class, racing against the 2016 Aston Martin and Ferrari's.  Spa will be tough for them too, with the long straights and fast corners sweeping through the Ardennes.  

Track action starts at 11.45h for the first 90 minute practice session around Spa-Francorchamps. 

Kristof Vermeulen.