Much like round one of the season at Silverstone, Porsche looked set for the win with superior pace over a single lap, but as the day wore on Audi came into play and eventually scored a second win in two races. Benoît Tréluyer, Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer claimed victory for the German marque in the #7 Audi R18 e-Tron Quattro, ahead of the #18 and #17 Porsche 919 Hybrids respectively.
The deciding move came in the final third of the race, after a monster stint by Lotterer gave Tréluyer a chance to pounce on the lead Porsche. Following a few laps of intense fighting between the two prototypes, the Frenchman made his move round the outside of Marc Lieb’s #18 919 at Pif Paf to take the lead of the race. Treluyer’s ability to run two-and-a-half stints on the Michelins was crucial, giving Audi a reasonably comfortable cushion in the end.
“It was really tough, I think I only had three dry laps on Friday, so to go flat out on new tyres on my first lap was special,” said Treluyer. “I knew I had to push and preserve the tyres at the same time. I pushed a bit too hard in my second stint and got on to the marbles a few times. Audi has done a great job to give us a high-downforce, low-drag car.”
Lotterer added: “That was awesome, I was flat out all the time. It was tough with the Porsche coming back at me, I was on the edge every corner – but this is what we live for. Our strenght was in sector two, so we had to take more risks in traffic sometimes, but we could go around the outside so it was okay. The race is past now and we’re looking towards Le Mans. It’s nice to have these results but they were hard earned – we’re not necessarily the fastest or the favourites.”
Fassler: “It looked similar to Silverstone in the beginning, but the Kemmel straight is too long so we don’t have a chance against the Porsche there. It was a long race, good fun and a fair fight. I struggled a bit with front locking early on, but I think I put on a bit too much rear bias to compensate.”
After dominating in qualifying, it just wasn’t meant to be for Porsche. Lieb in second-place car said. “The double-stinting didn’t really work – it was a close fight with Benoit on fresh rubber – it got a bit hot and we touched, but we shook hands and apologised – it’s okay, we race hard and fight hard.”
The polesitting #17 919 of Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard led the opening stages of the race, but had to serve a costly stop-go penalty. Hartley outbraked himself going into the Bus Stop and drove through an escape road to rejoin the track, narrowly missing a couple of marshals on his way through. An issue with the rear suspension cost the trio further time later in the race, but a great second half push from them meant they were able to salvage a well-earned podium spot.
“I knew there was a gap in the wall at Bus Stop and I thought it would be too difficult to turn around so I squeezed through,” said the Kiwi. “But they decided it was too dangerous so we got the penalty – the outbraking was my error, though.”
“First off, congrats to the #7 guys, that was a great job,” added Webber. “I think they did 60 laps on a set of tyres – you wouldn’t get that in the ‘other formula’! We had too many own goals today, but that’s how it should be – we don’t want to be gifted results if we weren’t performing at the highest level. I’m surprised that we were able to get back as well as we did – our car speed was good and fortunately the races are long enough that you can make it back.”
The third Porsche didn’t feature. Nick Tandy dived up the inside of the #91 Porsche going into Pif Paf during the frontrunners’ first run through the traffic in the opening laps of the race, hitting the side of the 911 and sending the car into the wall. Lengthy repairs sent it to the back of the field. It ended up sixth.
Attrition really affected the LMP1 class overall. Electrical gremlins ended the #8 Audi’s hopes of a win, ByKolles retired early due to mechanical woes, and the #1 Toyota suffered multiple losses of power throughout the second half of the race.
Toyota in general struggled to challenge the Audi and Porsche throughout the whole weekend with the #1s setbacks aside. Their pace was never good enough to contend over the duration of the race, meaning they’ll go into the Le Mans knowing they have a lot of work to do if they are to remain contenders in France.
Second and third place is by no means a failure for Porsche’s two full-season WEC entries, but the’ve once again left the circuit wondering what could have been. It came down to tyre management and the #7 Audi had the ultimate consistent pace to keep them in the running, and give them a shot at victory.
The trio in the #7 ran faultlessly as they did at Silverstone, to hand Audi its 15th win in the World Endurance Championship, and maximum points heading into the Le Mans 24 Hours. Nevertheless it was a great advert for the sport once again in LMP1, with several clashes between the leading factory cars throughout the race leaving the fans at the circuit and watching at home with plenty of storylines going forward.
In the LMP2 class it was all Jota Sport in the second half, after its Gibson was driven superbly by Harry Tincknell, Simon Dolan and GP2 graduate Mitch Evans in his first sportscar race. Tincknell took the lead in the opening laps from the #26 G-Drive Ligier of Sam Bird, but was handed a penalty for jumping the start.
The set back didn’t effect the result however, as in the remainder of his stint, Tincknell managed to climb up the order, handing the car over to Evans to continue their charge back to the head of the field. Once the Gibson retook the lead, it remained unchallenged and they once again had a great showing in the Ardennes.
Tincknell: “The penalty was unfortunate – I thought I made a great start but it was too good! I was annoyed with myself but I channeled that into aggression to catch up. The key to the race was how we looked after our tyres at the end of our stints.”
Dolan: “Harry and Mitch did a great job – it was just a matter of me managing the gap, saving the tyres and handing it back to them. This is a vital massive confidence boost for the team going into Le Mans – sometimes people consider the ELMS a poor relation but we’ve come into WEC again and we’ve smashed them!”
Evans: “That was a mind-blowing first weekend in sportscars. I had a really good first stint, I couldn’t beleive the gap I could pull. This gives me a lot of confidence going into Le Mans. The traffic was fine, it was mainly about watching out for the P1s, they’re so fast.”
Second place in the class was filled by the #28 G-Drive Ligier of Gustavo Yacamán, Pipo Derani and Ricardo Gonzalez, which took the runner-up spot after the sister car hit trouble running second during hour five; engine troubles left the #26 limping round the circuit – it finished but at the bottom of the results. Crucially, it cost them valuable points after winning the Silverstone round.
Third place was taken by Team Sard Morand’s Morgan, which ran well all weekend in what was a great way to start their delayed campaign.
The GT classes saw Aston Martin do the double. The #99 won its first-ever WEC race with Richie Stanaway, Fernando Rees and Alex MacDowell driving. They were the fastest of the Astons during qualifying and continued their form in the race, leading from pole and controlling the Pro class right up until the final hour of the race when AF Corse tried to play upset.
Darren Turner, Stefan Mücke and Rob Bell ran an alternate strategy in the #97, but it didn’t pay off. The trio ran second in the class at various points but fell away towards the end, as Giamaria Bruni began to make a run for the lead. The Italian gave the #51 Ferrari 458 the top spot in the class breifly, after a scrap with MacDowell, but a slow stop – which was penalised eventually for a stray wheel rolling onto the main strip of road in the pit lane – dropped him to second.
“We played our strategy by ear,” said Richie Stanaway after the race. “We had done some analysis of our race at Silverstone and had understood where we had lost time. Our pit stops were perfect. Ferrari did a mistake, that is also what we needed to win this race”
As Bruni made a final charge for the lead, the team received their minute stop/go penalty from the stewards and after coming in to serve its punishment, fell to fourth. The remaining spots on the podium were taken by the #92 and #92 Manthey Porsches respectively after a remarkably quiet outing.
It was a far more calm affair in Am for Aston Martin, its #98 Vantage with Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Francesco Castellacci behind the wheel made it look easy. They led the class practically from start to finish, coming home a lap ahead of the rest of the field.
AF Corse (#83) and SMP Racing made up the remaining podium spots after Larbre’s Corvette was taken out of contention following an off by Kristian Poulsen at Courbe Paul Frère while being lapped. The damage to the rear of the C7.R was significant enough to deem it un-drivable.
Next up on the calendar for the WEC runners is the Le Mans 24 Hours, and from what we’ve seen so far at Silverstone and Spa, it has all the ingredients to be an all-time classic.