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Spa 24 Hours: Hours 5-6 (20.30-22.30) Kaspersky Continues To Lead

Several Audis hit trouble

At the start of the fifth hour, Caldarelli brought the #63 Lamborghini into the pits for a routine stop after a stint of 62 minutes, staying behind the wheel for a third stint. Two laps later, Calado came in at the wheel of the leading Kaspersky Ferrari, to hand over to Fisichella, leaving the #8 Bentley (Abril) in the lead of the race.

Behind, Buncombe brought the #23 Nissan in from second place, handing back to Chiyo, the Nismo team being the only one of the leading group not to have double-stinted at least one of their drivers.

A less routine pit stop was experienced by the #75 Audi ISR, which came smokily to a halt in the pits to remove debris from blocked radiators after an off-course excursion.

Abril’s Bentley hung onto the lead up to the completion of his stint, which ran slightly later because of his later start (explained in the update of two hours ago). Bentley played the stint to its limit though, bringing the Monagasque driver in 30 seconds before the expiry of his 65-minute drive-time restriction. Andy Soucek took the Bentley back into the race, having dropped back to 12th place – but still only 90 seconds behind the race leader.

Good pit work from the WRT team ensured that, following the pitstop cycle, the #2 and #1 cars got ahead of the #63 Lamborghini. The pit time from both cars for their two most recent stops were all less than a second over the minimum stop time.

Less good news for WRT came as the #17 Jamie Green car was notified as a retirement, then at just after 9pm, Stephane Richelmi stopped the #6 WRT Audi at the Bus Stop chicane with an apparent electrical failure. His attempts to get the car restarted failed, so the third FCY of the race was called as the tow truck appeared on the scene.

Seconds later, #333 Pro-Am Ferrari was also stationary at the end of the Kemmel straight, never to move again. It has now been formally notified as a retirement. With work still going on to clear the track, the FCY turned into a Safety Car period.

At the WRT pit, while one team of mechanics was sent to assist Richelmi, those looking after the #2 and #1 cars took the opportunity of the FCY to make pit stops. Mies and Garcia (respectively) stayed at the wheel, although both cars were given a fresh set of tyres. This allowed the #63 Lamborghini back into second and elevated the #84 HTP Mercedes to third.

The green flag was waved after just under 20 minutes of neutralisation, which reduced the gap between Fisichella in the lead and Engelhart in second from 40 to just 3.5 seconds, but the Ferrari once again started to pull away.

The stewards were continuing to keep busy issuing drive-through penalties, in particular for the #4 WRT Audi for causing a collision, and also for the #777 HB Racing Lamborghini and the #5 and #6 Audis for exceeding their maximum stint time.

As darkness fell on the Ardennes mountains, news of retirements came through for Audis #75 (the ISR car’s radiator blockage having caused terminal overheating) and #6 (a total and irreparable electrical failure). In addition, the #59 McLaren was also posted as a retirement due to a mechanical failure.

Fisichella stopped after a 64-minute stint to hand the Kaspersky Ferrari over to Marco Cioci, losing the lead as he did so and the #63 Lamborghini also pitted, Engelhart staying on board for a double stint.

This left the WRT Audis in the lead (following their stop during the FCY), Mies ahed of Garcia by three seconds and Soucek in the Bentley third, another four seconds adrift, but due a stop.

Until, that is, Garcia was penalised with a drive-through penalty for exceeding the track limits too often – the first of the leading group to trip up. As a result, the car fell to seventg place and Christopher Haase got into second place in the Sainteloc Audi (#25), while the #75 ISR Audi of Kelvin van der Linde went third.

Behind the three Audis, Tristan Vautier was in the leading Mercedes (the #88 AKKA ASP car) in fourth, ahead of his team-mate Edoardo Mortara in the #90. Sam Tordoff had his fingers crossed in the Strakka McLaren in sixth, just one second behind the AMG GT3.

At 15 minutes before the six-hour mark, the #2 WRT Audi came in for a routine stop, Connor de Phillippi taking the car back out after another perfect stop from the Belgian Audi Club team. Less perfect was the stop for the #1 car: having already lost places as a result of a drive-through penalty, the team then had to ‘play a joker’ for a stop 0.058s under the limit (four jokers are allowed, for times up to a second off the minimum time).

The #14 Emil Frey Jaguar stopped out on the circuit in clouds of smoke in the darkness and was pulled behind the barrier under local yellow flags – Lorenz Frey got out of the car, disgruntled.

At almost 10:30pm, the fourth FCY of the race occurred, due to an Ombra Lamborghini stopping on the downhill out of La Source. It got going again and the track went green after just three minutes.

The gap between the leading 10 cars was still only just over a minute; with six hours gone, there were 17 cars still on the lead lap.