Monday 29 April 2019

FIA WEC: 34 cars to race at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps this weekend

The FIA World Endurance championship returns to the iconic Spa-Francorchamps this weekend for the penultimate round of the 2018/2019 super season ahead of the big finale in Le Mans.  While Toyota in LMP1 and Porsche in GTE Pro are miles away from the competition in the championship, LMP2 and LMGTE Am still have all to play for.

The weather forecast for Francorchamps looks very interesting to say the least.  While we had sunny weather and warm temperatures in the past years, 2019 might be the one race with some real “Spa-weather”.  Temperatures in the Ardennes are dropping down as from Thursday on with (heavy) rain predicted, (almost) freezing temps at night and even a hint for snow on Saturday.

Toyota arrives in Spa, one of their home tracks with the factory based in Cologne, leading both the drivers and manufacturers championship with the TS050 Hybrid.  The TS050 will be equipped in the team’s new low downforce spec, which has been tested recently in a 4.000 km test at Paul Ricard. 

With 151 points after 6 races, Toyota can secure the teams championship this weekend in Spa. They have an advantage over Rebellion Racing of 53 points (98) and 80 points over SMP Racing (71). In the driver’s championship Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alsono are in the lead with 135 points; 15 points more than Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway in the #7 Toyota. Gustavo Menezes and Thomas Laurent (Rebellion #3) are in third position with 81 points, followed by Mathias Beche with 73 points and André Lotterer & Neel Jani with 63 points. 

For the first time this season, the non-hybrid LMP1 cars will have no restriction in the amount of fuel energy they are allowed to use per lap. This means they will no longer have to lift and coast on the long high speed sections at Spa and finally are allowed to race flat out. Whether this will be the case at Le Mans too is still unclear at this moment.  The Rebellion, ByKolles and Dragonspeed however did get a weight increase.  Their minimum weight now up to 824 kg instead of 818 kg.  

At Rebellion, Andre Lotterer takes his seat back in the #1 R13 after missing out the last race in Sebring due to his Formula E commitments.  Both Rebellions are expected to be racing in their new low drag body kit which has been tested in Aragon last week.  James Allen will race the #10 Dragonspeed BR1 instead of Renger Van Der Zande. Allen had a strong performance with the team at Le Castellet, winning the opening race of the ELMS 2 weeks ago with Hedman and Hanley in the Dragonspeed LMP2. (Update: The #10 Dragonspeed entry will not race this weekend at Spa.  The team have not been able to acquire  the electronics that needed fixing after their DNF at Sebring.)

A big driver change in the #11 SMP Racing BR1, where Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne will make his sportscar debut at Spa this weekend.  Even more, it’s only the second time the former F1 driver will race a closed cockpit car in his career.  Vandoorne, who now races in the Formula E championship, will take Jenson Button’s place in Spa and at Le Mans, racing together with Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin. 

ByKolles will race its Enso CLM P1/01 for the first time with the Gibson engine after sitting out the 1000 miles of Sebring in March. Tom Dillman and Oliver Webb return to the Austrian team, and will be joined by Italian driver Paolo Ruberti.  Ruberti will make his debut in the LMP1 class, and returns to the FIA WEC after racing with the Larbre Corvette in 2016. 

The race for the title in LMP2 seems to be the one that will go down to the wire.  With the top 3 cars only separated by 7 points, all is still to play for between Jackie Chan DC Racing and Signatech Alpine Matmut.

Jackie Chan DC Racing has both of his cars in the top 3, separated by the Signatech Alpine Matmut.  The #37 Jackie Chan Oreca 07 leads the championship after rather win in Sebring with a completely new driver line-up.  With 130 points after 6 races, the Jota run Oreca has an advantage of just 5 points over the #36 Signatec Alpine.  The second Jackie Chan Oreca (#38) follows closely with 123 points. Best of the rest is the #31 Dragonspeed, which has collected 92 points so far. 

Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet are leading the drivers championship with 125 points, 2 points more than the #38 crew of Gabriel Aubry, Ho-Pin Tung and Stéphane Richelmi. The former drivers of the #37 Oreca are still in third place but won’t race anymore, so third place in the championship is basically for Pastor Maldonado and Roberto Gonzalez in the #31 Dragonspeed with 92 points. 

G-Drive is using the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps as their annual prep for Le Mans by with the recently rebadged Aurus 01 (Oreca) for the first time in the FIA WEC.  Roman Rusinov will share the car with Job Van Uitert and Jean-Eric Vergne, the latter one missing out the ELMS Le Castellet race due to a clash with Formula E in Rome.  After winning the race in 2017 and 2018, Rusinov & co will certainly be out for a third win in a row. 

Norman Nato, who took pole position for G-Drive at Le Castellet earlier this month, will now race with TDS Racing where he will replace Loic Duval.  Duval is tied with the DTM race at Hockenheim next weekend, but will be back with the team for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

Nicholas Boulle has been added to the #50 Larbre Competition Ligier JSP217.  He will join team regulars Erwin Creed and Romano Ricci in Spa.  Boulle is no stranger to LMP2 racing as he raced at Le Mans with Jackie Chan DC Racing last year, finishing 8th in the LMP2 class with David Cheng and Pierre Nicolet.  The American driver already ha some experience in Spa after finishing third in last year’s Spa 24 hours in the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari. 

Contrary to Sebring and Spa last year, all cars in LM GTE Pro will be driven by the team’s regular WEC drivers.  In other years, Spa was the ideal race for most teams to have their Le Mans line-up in the cars.  No driver changes to be noted, but an important change in the sporting regulations. As per decision by the FIA Endurance Committee, all Pro cars must be equipped with a homologated “Fuel Flow Meter”, starting at the Le Mans test day.  A decision that has been made with unanimous agreement of all LMGTE Pro manufacturers and the approval of the Endurance Commission.  So far the Fuel flow meter will only be used to collect data and won’t have any effect on the regulations or a restriction of the fuel flow as in LMP1.

After 6 of the 8 races in the Super Season, Porsche has built up a massive lead in the championship over the other manufacturers.  With a total of 227 points, Porsche leads Ferrari with 110 points.  A lead that big so the team from Stuttgart might be able to clinch the title even before the last race at Le Mans.  The battle for second place will be very intense though with just 2 points between Ferrari (127) and Ford (125).  Aston Martin isn’t far behind with 102 points so far, followed by BMW who have scored 87 points over the first six races of the season. 

Porsche also dominates the drivers championship, with Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen leading with 125 points.  Sebring winners Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz are in second place, with a total of 100 points.  Third place is for Ferrari drivers Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado with 80,5 points, followed by Ford drivers Olivier Pla and Stefan Mücke with 69 points so far.

Team Project 1 leads the GTE Am championship with a total of 103 points after 6 races.  Egidio Perfetti, Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey have an advantage of 25 points over the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Giancarlo Fisichella who have a total of 78 points so far.  9 points further down is the #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda with 69 points, with the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin right in their tail with 68 points. If Project 1 manages to win this race in Spa, they might take a big step to the WEC title in their first season in the championship. 

Two notable driver changes in the Am class, in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche and the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin.  Julien Andlauer won’t be able to make it to Spa due to his commitments in the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland in Hockenheim.  He will be replaced in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR by Ricardo Pera who joins team owner Christian Ried and Matt Campbell .  Pera who races with Ebimotors in the European Le Mans Series already drove the #88 sister car during the 6 hours of Shanghai with Matteo Cairoli and Khaled Al Qubaisi.

Euan Hankey makes his return to the #90 Aston Martin Vantage of TF Sport alongside Salih Yoluc and Charlie Eastwood. Since Silverstone last year, Jonny Adam raced the blue Vantage, but will now be replaced by Hanley who returns to the team for the first time since Le Mans 2018.

Track action in Belgium starts on Thursday with the first two 90-minute practice sessions.  Race start is scheduled for Saturday, March 3rd at 13h30.  If you’re heading to the track, bring your snowboots and winter jackets, they might come in handy this year. 

Kristof Vermeulen.
Pictures: Kristof Vermeulen, Erik Junius & Jellybaby.Media