FIA WEC Re­port: Spa

Audi made up for Sil­ver­stone ex­clu­sion in race of at­tri­tion.

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By Edd Straw

For the first half-dozen laps, it was busi­ness as usual in the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship at Spa. Over a year since its last de­feat, Porsche was run­ning first and se­cond and on course to win again. But just over six sec­onds back lurked the #8 Audi R18 e-tron quat­tro of Lu­cas di Grassi, Loic Duval and Oliver Jarvis that ul­ti­mately, ended its run of mis­for­tunes and mishaps with vic­tory.

By Audi’s own ad­mis­sion, it didn’t have the quick­est – or even the se­cond quick­est – car at Spa, but it did have the one that had the clean­est run. And as its ri­vals hit trou­ble, a crew de­serv­ing of some good luck for once came to the fore.

First to hit trou­ble was the #2 Porsche, started by Marc Lieb. One mo­ment, he had closed up on the sis­ter #1 car of Timo Bern­hard and was threat­en­ing to take the lead, the next it slowed. The prob­lem wasn’t ter­mi­nal, but led to the Porsche 919 Hy­brid com­plet­ing the rest of the race with sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced elec­tri­cal power. “It’s a don­key, but it goes and goes,” was how Lieb put it dur­ing the race, ac­cord­ing to team­mate Neel Jani, and de­spite lap­ping five or more sec­onds off its early pace for most of the rest of the race, prob­lems for oth­ers al­lowed the crew to sal­vage se­cond.

That briefly pro­moted the #8 Audi of di Grassi to se­cond, but so strong was the pace of the new Toy­ota TS050 in the hands of Se­bastien Buemi, who had al­ready over­taken the sis­ter ma­chine of Mike Con­way and then the #7 Audi of Benoit Tre­luyer, that he soon bat­tled his way up into se­cond place.

That be­came first for Buemi af­ter the open­ing round of stops, dur­ing which he did not take fresh Miche­lins. In­evitably, the tyres put him at a dis­ad­van­tage and Bern­hard, now in se­cond place, rapidly closed him down. But mo­ments be­fore he was able to pass, the #1 Porsche was the vic­tim of its own bad luck, suf­fer­ing a front-left punc­ture early in the lap.

Af­ter crawl­ing back to the pits, the car sub­se­quently suf­fered an­other punc­ture (this time a consequences of the spoiled body­work cut­ting the tyre) be­fore hav­ing to spend just over an hour in the garage for the front-axle en­ergy re­trieval sys­tem to be changed. The car made it back out just in time to com­plete enough laps to be a clas­si­fied fin­isher.

This put the #8 Audi, now driven by Duval, back up to se­cond. But for the next few hours Buemi and then An­thony David­son ex­tended its lead be­fore Kazuki Naka­jima took over. This was a hugely en­cour­ag­ing per­for­mance, with the Toy­ota run­ning strongly in the reg­u­lar aero­dy­namic con­fig­u­ra­tion it felt was most com­pet­i­tive around Spa com­pared to the low-down­force Le Mans spec­i­fi­ca­tions Porsche and Audi reck­oned to be su­pe­rior.

Then, with a one-lap ad­van­tage, the #5 car slowed with an en­gine fail­ure. It re­turned to the pits and only took to the track again for one fi­nal lap run­ning on only elec­tri­cal power to en­sure it was a clas­si­fied fin­isher, ahead of the #1 Porsche.

With the sis­ter Toy­ota al­ready out of the run­ning with an en­gine prob­lem caused by an elec­tron­ics fail­ure (af­ter Con­way lost time dur­ing his early dou­ble stint to re­pairs af­ter clash­ing with the BR01 of Vik­tor Shay­tar at the chi­cane and be­ing hit with a penalty) and the other Audi hav­ing had its floor re­placed fol­low­ing dam­age on a kerb early in the race, that left the #8 car in the clear. Jarvis com­pleted the stints, in­ter­rupted only by a safety car pe­riod af­ter Ford GT driver Ste­fan Mucke’s crash at Eau Rouge, which al­lowed the Audi crew to com­pete a pre­cau­tion­ary change of the tail sec­tion.

The #2 Porsche came home two laps down in se­cond, with the pri­va­teer #12 Re­bel­lion-aer tak­ing a se­cond suc­ces­sive podium thanks to the prob­lems suf­fered by the works cars. The sis­ter #13 Re­bel­lion took fourth af­ter Fassler suf­fered mi­nor dam­age in the #7 Audi when he hit an LMP2 car when on course to take the position.

While the top four over­all were sep­a­rated by five laps, less than five sec­onds cov­ered them in LMP2 thanks to the safety car in the clos­ing stages. Sig­nat­ech Alpine ORECA driver Ni­co­las Lapierre, af­ter a late splas­hand-dash, emerged from the pits close be­hind Pipo Derani in the Ex­treme Speed Mo­tor­sports Ligier. Derani dived to the in­side of Marino Fran­chitti’s Ford GT at Fagnes with five min­utes re­main­ing, only for Lapierre to sweep around both to seal vic­tory. ■

Three years of try­ing, bat­tling plenty of bad luck along the way, fi­nally re­warded Christo­pher Mies and Enzo Ide with vic­tory in the main points race when the Blanc­pain GT Se­ries Sprint Cup made a re­turn to Brands Hatch.

Two solid per­for­mances by the drivers and a light­ning quick mid-race changeover earned the Bel­gian Audi Club R8 drivers suc­cess by just over half a se­cond af­ter an hour of hec­tic ac­tion.

They beat a Mercedes AMG, which brought to­gether the vast ex­pe­ri­ence of 51-year-old Ger­man Bernd Sch­nei­der and the youth­ful en­thu­si­asm of 20-year-old Dutch con­tender Jules Szymkowiak. This pair­ing won the ear­lier qual­i­fy­ing race.

Third place was well earned in a star turn by Maxime Soulet and Andy Soucek, whose Bent­ley started the qual­i­fy­ing race 24th and fin­ished 10th, then moved into se­ri­ous con­tention for vic­tory in the main event. They were chased to the flag by the Mclaren 650S of Rob Bell and Al­varo Par­ente.

The Bel­gian team’s win will have been lit­tle con­so­la­tion for the man who dom­i­nated Brands in 2015, Lau­rens Vanthoor, whose Audi Club car had an early punc­ture and fin­ished 15th on the driver’s 25th birth­day. Nor will it take away all the pain of two more team cars, one of them crewed by Brits Michael Mead­ows and Stu­art Leonard, crash­ing out to­gether.

Szymkowiak and then Sch­nei­der dom­i­nated the qual­i­fy­ing race, whose prin­ci­pal pur­pose was to set the grid for the main event. They beat the R8 shared by Mar­lon Stockinger and Franck Per­era, which Per­era had put on pole in a shootout when the top 18 cars in a mam­moth 37-car field were cov­ered by less than a se­cond. Mies and Ide fin­ished third and Bell and Par­ente eighth. Mead­ows and Leonard, the only all-bri­tish pair­ing in the race, won the Sil­ver Cup class in 15th from 23rd on the grid, Mead­ows hop­ing to con­vert this into a top 10 fin­ish later.

Sch­nei­der took con­trol from the start of the main race with Ide giv­ing chase but the Vanthoor car was soon in trou­ble, fall­ing from fourth to the tail end af­ter a slow lap and a stop for a re­place­ment wheel. Soulet was on a charge in the Bent­ley, pass­ing Stockinger/per­era for third and hound­ing the Audi for se­cond place be­fore pit­stops tem­po­rar­ily scram­bled the order.

The Mercedes was ham­pered by lapped cars just be­fore its stop and dithered slightly in the pits, al­low­ing Mies to jump ahead in the R8 be­fore Szymkowiak dived into the path of the Bent­ley in the pit road to avoid los­ing se­cond place as well.

Ten­sion rose in the Audi pits when the safety car was scram­bled so that the Mead­ows ma­chine and its team­mate could be moved at West­field. But de­spite Mies’ lead shrink­ing al­most to noth­ing he de­fended per­fectly for the last few min­utes to com­plete a pop­u­lar tri­umph. Soucek spent too long af­ter the green flag try­ing to pass un­help­ful back­mark­ers, but suc­cess­fully kept the Mclaren at bay to se­cure the fi­nal podium place.

Jarvis/duval/di Grassi cel­e­brate Porsche led early on

Big field of GTS lit up Brands

Mies and Ide took win for WRT Audi

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