Rain towards the end of Hour 2 has created an uncertain picture across the four classes at the half-way point of the FIA World Endurance Championship season opener. The order is closer than anticipated, courtesy of not just the weather, but also a Safety Car that is currently controlling the race as we head into the second half.
It’s a Toyota Gazoo Racing 1-2 at the head of the overall order, with Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 finding more pace in the wet conditions compared to Brendon Hartley in the #8. The decision to move to wet tyres came several laps later for the Japanese outfit compared to a majority of the field, with the team initially looking to brave what was set to be a short shower on dry tyres.
Indeed, the showers only lasted roughly 20 minutes, before the rain lapsed and the track started the process of drying. The changes back to slick tyres are all-but-complete as of half distance, though many teams are on varied strategies still.
The Rebellions hold third and fourth overall, and, in the case of Nathanaël Berthon in the #3 particularly, are keeping the Toyotas honest. Berthon was within a minute of the TS050 Hybrids before a Safety Car period that is ongoing, because Rebellion pitted its R-13s for wets when the showers started while the Toyotas stayed out and were roughly 15 seconds a lap slower on slicks.
The cause of the Safety Car was a collision between the #71 AF Corse Ferrari and the #6 Ginetta of Oliver Jarvis, and though the latter has continued on its way, other issues including the loss of a wheel have hampered the car’s progress heavily.
The #5 is in better shape, currently seventh overall with Egor Orudzhev at the helm.
In LMP2, the Racing Team Nederland ORECA outfit has held a commanding lead for most of the race to date, with Job van Uitert building on a great opening stint from Giedo van der Garde.
Van Utiert had been building a gap over the second-placed Nicolas Lapierre (#42 Cool Racing ORECA), setting some of the fastest laps of anyone in the tricky wet conditions.
Fortunately for Cool Racing, the Safety Car released Lapierre as he was ahead of the overall leader in the train, which will mean the Frenchman is relatively close to the Dutch racer once green flag running resumes.
The third-placed car in the class, Pierre Ragues’ #36 Signatech Alpine A470, is a lap behind, and directly behind Ragues in the Safety Car queue.
United Autosports’ day ended after just two laps, the #22 ORECA suffering an electrical on its debut in these hands. That’s two (different) electrical issues in two days for United, costing it results with its new ORECAs in both the ELMS and WEC races here at Silverstone.
“I made a good start and was comfortably tucked in behind the class leader but on the exit of Stowe I heard a popping sound and then the car immediately lost all drive,” explained Di Resta, who started the race aboard the #22.
“I did a power cycle but the engine wouldn’t fire-up and there was also a little smoke in the cockpit. It’s disappointing as having been in the top-two of every session, we were looking very strong to win or be on the podium at the very least.”
In GTE at the halfway mark, the biggest story was the demise of the AF Corse’s #71 488 GTE. Miguel Molina, who was running second, and had stayed on slicks through changing conditions, tangled with the #6 LMP1 Ginetta at Becketts, pitched into the Armco with significant right-hand damage to force a safety car intervention.
After a front-row grid lock-out and a strong showing early in the race, the retirement of the LMGTE Pro Ferrari was a further turn of fortune, after the pole-sitting sister #51 car having pitted early with a front left puncture and currently struggling back into play.
“I’m very disappointed with Jarvis and this crash, it’s slippery with slick tyres why would you overtake there?” Molina’s teammate Davide Rigon said after the incident.
“I did two hours today and it’s not possible to overtake there. We were looking good to win this race or get a podium. We don’t deserve this. I’m disappointed in Jarvis, I’m not going to talk to him anymore now.”
Though rain was predicted, the extent of the wet conditions caught out Aston Martin Racing, who gambled on slicks throughout with their LM GTE Pro and Am entries.
Having led the ‘Pro field temporarily, the cars were re-pitted for wets as luck swung away from them. This left the Porsche GT Team pair 1-2 , Christensen’s #92 car leading from Lietz in the #91 under the safety car as slicks were reconsidered.
In Aston Martin’s first showing of its new car in the GTE-Am, Salih Yoluc showed well, leading early from pole.
Charging hard in the leading group, Francois Perrodo set a new AM lap record in the #83 AF Corse Ferrari, 1:58.698. Dalla Lana’s Aston took fuel only at the first FCY, to take on Aston Martin’s representation at the front as Yoluc had dropped back.
Recovering, Yoluc tagged Perfetti’s Project 1 Porsche, both cars spinning to the run off at the Village right hander, handing Francois Perrodo’s #83 AF Corse the lead from Riccardo Pera’s #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche.
Image courtesy of Toyota Gazoo Racing