After six hours of drama caused by heavy snow, rain, hail and bouts of sunshine, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s #8 Toyota TS050 HYBRID has won the 2019 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
It’s Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi’s fourth victory of the season and second in a row after their run at Sebring back in March.
“It was a crazy day, with crazy weather. We didn’t expect snow in May! It was lucky for us, we feel sorry for the sister car. We secured the Team’s Title, so it’s an important result. Now we head to Le Mans,” said Nakajima.
In what turned out to be one of the more remarkable races in WEC history, the race ran without a red flag stoppage until the final 10 minutes of the race, despite multiple safety car periods and full-course yellows for showers of snow and hail which shook up the running order continuously.
Tyre choice and risk-taking in the strategy department was key here, with all four classes featuring tight battles for podium spots right until the end.
Behind the winning Toyota was a battle between the #3 Rebellion with Thomas Laurent and #11 SMP BR-1 with Mikhail Aleshin fighting throughout the final hour, with only four gears.
The two were rarely separated by more than a handful of seconds but with the SMP pitting first, the Rebellion was able to extend the gap and held onto second until the end.
“We had a gearbox issue with our car,” Aleshin told DSC. “We had only four gears for the last two hours. We still managed to finish P3, ok we gave a position to the Rebellion but finishing third with four gears is a very good result. The car was great, the team did a fantastic job. SMP Racing was improving all weekend.”
During the final safety car period, the Rebellion had a few cars buffer in the queue and was able to hold the place during the final sprint before the red flag.
Fourth was the #17 SMP BR-1 which ran faultlessly after one of its wheels came off during the race, costing the car valuable time earlier in the race.
The #1 Rebellion came home fifth, ahead of the #7 Toyota which could not make up for lost time on the rest of the LMP1 field after a sensor failure at the halfway mark cost it four laps.
DragonSpeed scores its first WEC win
In LMP2, Pastor Maldonado led home a DragonSpeed win for the #31 entry after a tactical race came to them. Running in the midfield for much of the race, the car came to the front at the end, being involved in wheel-to-wheel battles, with a question mark over Roberto Gonzalez’s drive time hanging over it.
But the red flag may just have saved the day, the Mexican unable to get back in the car.
“We didn’t have the Dragonspeed P1 car but we had the engineers here working on strategy,” Gonazlez said to DSC. “It was very challenging. The strategy was that Anthony was out there and when the weather was improving I was going to go out in the car and do my time, my minimum time.
“To be honest we achieved that, Almost. To 99%. I had one minute more to do. When I came out of the car everyone was really happy with my performance but my Engineer said: ‘I have bad news to give you – we pulled you out one minute before your driving time’
“I was like, ahh why did you do that? But we had no more fuel. We couldn’t’ do one more lap. We had to pit. It is a gamble. We hoped for a safety car situation to get me back in. But it kept going and going. We were on the edge.
“During the last 20 minutes, I was already with my helmet on waiting on the safety car to do one lap. That is all I had to do. Then go back in and put Pastor back in the car. The best thing that happened to us was the red flag at the end.”
In second was the G-Drive Aurus which got the jump on the Signatech Alpine. The fight for second, third and fourth was intense in the final moments of the race after the green flag was shown but there were no changes despite the three being separated by just over a second.
For G-Drive it was another strong run here in Belgium and particularly impressive for WEC debutant Job Van Uitert, who along with Roman Rusinov and Jean-Eric Vergne was in the hunt throughout, through the various storms.
The other Championship contender in LMP2, the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing came home fourth in class after fighting with their title contenders in the Alpine throughout the afternoon.
Lynn and Martin prevail in Pro
In GTE Pro, Aston Martin Racing’s #97 Vantage AMR held on for a big victory, after a last-gasp dice between Maxime Martin and James Calado in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. The Belgian on this occasion was able to hang on to score himself and Alex Lynn their first WEC wins and AMR its second of the season with the new Vantage.
It was one of the most unpredictable GTE races in recent memory and featured battles up and down the order throughout.
“It was a crazy race,” Lynn, whose only other sportscar victory came at Sebring in 2017, told DSC. “It was far worse being in the garage and watching Max than it was being out there in that weather.
“The team was awesome, every strategy call was spot on, but it was a mentally tough race, probably worse because we knew we could be strong here and the conditions just kept throwing more pressure to deal with, at us.
“Every team was in with a chance at some point, and I’m just delighted that we’ll get to Le Mans with a win in the bag for Max and I and can focus now on getting the next one.”
The #91 Porsche finished third on the road but was handed a 17-second penalty for a drive-through penalty for a collision at the Bus Stop which it was unable to serve before the race was called.
The car eventually was classified eighth, with four points only, putting it 36 points back in the Championship standings from the #92 Porsche that finished fourth on the road, promoted to third after the sister car’s penalty.
The two 911 RSRs are the only driver squads now in the World Championship hunt, with Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre on the brink of the title.
Porsche sealed the all-important GT Manufacturers’ FIA World Endurance Championship today over Ferrari too, on the same day that Toyota won the Team’s title in LMP1.
Further down the order was a strange race for BMW and Ford.
The MTEK M8 GTEs spent the race rising and falling down the order, clawing their way back into contention in the final hour.
With the future of BMW’s WEC programme believed to be in question, will MTEK’s determination in Belgium, fighting hard with a car that often wasn’t quickest, make a difference in the final decision from the board? The better of the two M8 GTE’s, the #82, ended up fourth.
Ford, which is also going through a similar situation with its future in the WEC believed to be in doubt, was the only brand that really was unable to stay in the fight.
After taking pole yesterday, the GTs didn’t have the raw pace in the poor conditions, a drive through for the #67 and a gamble on tyres for the #66 in the rain proved costly, with the former finishing fifth, and the latter 10th.
Another win for Dempsey Proton in Am, drama strikes points leaders Spirit of Race and Project 1
GTE Am was won by the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche, with the #90 TF Sport coming achingly close to converting pole into a win, classified second (again at Spa). The Clearwater Ferrari completed the podium.
But the real headline here is that the title battle between the Project 1 Porsche, Spirit of Race Ferrari and the three cars below it in the standings, will go down to the wire.
A dramatic second half of the race saw both Spirit of Race and Project 1 involved in incidents.
The two teams, who are locked in a battle at the top of the GTE Am title race, finished up fourth and fifth respectively, after drama in the closing stages. The Spirit of Race 488, which is the chaser of the two in the points, was spun at the Bus Stop by the #91 Porsche, dropping Giancarlo Fisichella behind the Project 1 machine.
Moments later though, Egidio Perfetti in Project 1’s 911 came into contact with the Clearwater Ferrari at Piff Paff, sending the Norwegian into the barriers. He did continue but finished behind the Ferrari, closing the points gap ahead of the finale to 23 points.
The top five cars are still mathematically in with a shout too, the TF Sport Aston, the #77 Proton Porsche and #98 Aston Martin all still in the hunt.
Next up is Le Mans, and there’s so much to play for!
Photo courtesy of Toyota Gazoo Racing