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FIA WEC: Spa Francorchamps, Hour 2 Report

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At the top of the second hour, Bernhard in the #17 Porsche led P1 by 11.5 seconds from team-mate Jani in the #18, with Duval the first of the Audi runners in third at the wheel of the #8. Fassler, Buemi and Wurz made it Audi-Toyota-Toyota in fourth, fifth and sixth, with Bonanomi and Tandy seventh and eighth – the latter still recovering from his coming-together with Estre’s GT Porsche in the first hour.

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Fassler moved into third at Les Combes past Duval, and meanwhile Tandy briefly got stuck on pit entry in the #19. Bonanomi and Wurz were engaged in a titanic scrap for sixth, with Bonanomi running scarily wide on the way up Radillion on lap 17. In P2, Tincknell (Jota) was chasing down leader Bird (G-Drive) after an earlier drive-through for jumping the start, with Derani making it two G-Drives in the top three.

GTE Pro was proving difficult to read due to a variety of strategies being employed by the contenders. Rees led the class for Aston at the 1h15 mark, ahead of team-mate Bell in the early-stopping sister car and Vilander in third in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. Another Ferrari led GTE Am courtesy of Shaytar in the #72 SMP car, ahead of Dalla Lana in the #98 Aston and Poulsen in the #50 Larbre Corvette.

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At 20 minutes past the hour, news came through from race control that the leading Porsche would get a 15-second stop-go penalty for ‘not respecting track limits’ and ‘causing danger to marshals’ after Hartley’s earlier trip down an escape road at the Bus Stop.

Hartley’s co-driver Bernhard took the penalty on Lap 17, allowing Jani in the #18 to assume the lead, but Fassler wasn’t close enough behind to take another position from the early leader. In fact, he ceded third to Duval shortly afterwards – the second time the #7 and #8 Audis had swapped places on track.

The top three in P2 all made their second scheduled visits to the pits together on Lap 44, emerging with Canal leading for G-Drive Ligier ahead of Evans in the Jota Gibson and Yacoman in the second G-Drive.

On the front straight Duval overhauled Bernhard for second. Bernahrd powered past on the Kemmel straight using the Porsche’s hybrid boost, but Duval retook the place under braking into Les Combes. Bernhard briefly came under pressure from Fassler, before the #7 dived into the pits to hand over to Lotterer.

A still-battling Wurz and Bonanomi pitted together on the same lap, and the top two Porsches followed a lap later – but the #17 was backed into the garage. The #17 rejoined down in seventh with Webber at the wheel – a place of ahead of his fellow F1 star Hulkenberg, who’d taken over the #19 from first-stint man Tandy.

In P2, Mitch Evans unsurprisingly closed up quickly on G-Drive silver driver Julien Canal and took the lead of the class on lap 18 with a neat move into the Bus Stop. Gustavo Yacoman was a further 27 seconds behind in the other G-Drive car.

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At the front, Lotterer was clocking some typically rapid laps – 1:58s versus two-minutes plus for the rest of the P1 class. On lap 51, he was 12 seconds adrift of leader Dumas. There was a dramatic moment for Bonaomi in the #9 Audi on Lap 54 when the car’s left-hand window blew out – necessitating an extra stop to replace it.

There was also a spectacular spin for Patrick Dempsey in the #77 Porsche at the exit of the Bus Stop, requiring avoiding action from several runners. The actor was currently the last man running in 31st overall, with the #4 Kolles P1 and #30 ESM P2 entries enduring long spells in the garage and the #96 Aston being repaired after Goethe’s shunt.

So it was Dumas, Lotterer and Jarvis in first, second and third as the second hour came to a close, with Jota continuing to hold the lead of P2 and Rees’ Aston Martin at the head of the GTE Pro field. The #72 SMP Ferrari continued to lead GTE Am class.

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Stephen Errity