FIA WEC Report: Spa
Audi made up for Silverstone exclusion in race of attrition.
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