Toyota Gazoo Racing scored a comfortable 1-2 finish in the first FIA WEC race since February today at Spa, the #7 TS050 HYBRID of Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway taking the win over the sister #8 car of Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley.
The #8 held the lead in the early stages after the race started under safety car conditions due to heavy rain pre-race. The pole-sitting Rebellion quickly fell by the wayside, struggling with tyre pressure issues, allowing Toyota to run in formation for almost the entire race following their charge to the lead on the first green flag lap.
There was a swap between the two TS050 HYRIDs later on, as the #8 didn’t have a clean run. The car suffered with a loss of hybrid power with Buemi leading in Hour 1, before a software glitch affected Hartley during his stints multiple times, costing the car about 40 seconds. It also made an additional stop as it stayed out on wets with the track drying after the first round of stops, while the #7 didn’t. This meant the team brought the car back in for slicks allowing the #7 to take the lead.
“To be honest, it was unexpected, we thought we would take P3 because of the Success Handicap. We did a mega job, what we had to do, we didn’t expect to have this one. We did a solid job,” Mike Conway said after the race.
After that the #7 went unchallenged, and finished ahead of the #8, which caught back up through multiple safety car periods but had to splash and dash at the very end, eventually crossing the line 34 seconds off the winning car. The victory was the #7 crew’s third of the year, and Toyota’s fourth, extending the points lead for Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez over their teammates in the #8.
Behind, Rebellion’s R-13 completed the podium, the car off the pace all day, the Toyota’s four-wheel drive system proving to be a huge advantage in the changeable conditions. Nevertheless Rebellion will head to Le Mans confident in the car’s reliability after another strong weekend on that front for the Swiss-flagged crew.
The fourth car in the class was the returning ByKolles CLM, which ran as high as third after Rebellion were caught on the wrong tyres in the opening hour and needed another stop. But the car faded, the team battling with electrical issues throughout before the car needed to be pushed into the garage with 38 minutes remaining for repairs to the engine bay. It did, just about, limp to the line, leaving the team with plenty of work to do before Le Mans.
United on top once again in LMP2!
LMP2 meanwhile, proved to be a thriller. United Autosports took the win, after a strong performance from Paul Di Resta, Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque. It was not a dominant run for the British team though, as both Racing Team Nederland and Signatech Alpine looked strong, if not stronger, throughout.
But it did continue a remarkable streak of five straight LMP2 wins in ELMS and WEC competition for Richard Dean’s crew, the last time United didn’t win an LMP2 race was back in Bahrain at the end of 2019!
The driver of the day was clearly Giedo van Der Garde. He was simply sublime in the opening portion of the race, driving from the very back of the grid to the lead of the class in under three hours. Job van Uitert then took the wheel and held onto the lead for the team, but he couldn’t quite build a big enough margin for Frits van Eerd to defend towards the end.
Van Eerd tried hard to keep the United ORECA and Alpine at bay, but Di Resta made short work of him at La Source, dropping him to second. Unfortunately for Signatech, the team’s chances of challenging for the win in the final hour ended abruptly when Thomas Laurent came across Frits van Eerd to fight for second.
Laurent attempted to take the place up the inside through traffic heading into Blanchimont, but Van Eerd closed the door and sent Laurent onto the grass and spinning into the barriers, destroying the A470. Thankfully Laurent climbed out under his own power. It was a hugely disappointing outcome after such a strong run for him and the team which at one point saw Laurent squeeze past Di Resta around the outside through Eau Rouge and up Raidillon before the incident; clearly the move of the day.
“I really didn’t see him, I didn’t know what happened. I came around one lap later and saw the big crash happened. I was glad to see he was ok, I’m so so sorry. I hate that it happened,” Van Eerd said after his stint.
The crash ended Alpine’s remarkable run of consecutive points scoring races which dates back to the 6 Hours of Nurburgring during the 2015 season.
Cool Racing would go on to take second, after slowly climbing up the order towards the end when Nicolas Lapierre was aboard. Racing Team Nederland would eventually take third after van Der Garde climbed back in for the end and snuck past Mark Patterson’s High Class Racing ORECA after a spin at the Bus Stop with just under 20 minutes remaining.
High Class, after a really strong run through Kenta Yamashita and Anders Fjordbach’s stints would take a strong fourth place finish, but come away slightly disappointed for missing out on a maiden WEC podium.
Porsche wins GTE Pro war
GTE Pro was a complete lottery throughout. The racing was hard and fair, with all three makes in with a chance during this one.
Early on Aston Martin struggled in the wet, but came into its own as the track became drier and less treacherous. AF Corse held the advantage early, Alessandro Pier Guidi the man to beat in the wettest conditions. Porsche too looked odds on for the win at various points with both 911 RSR 19s.
When all was said and done it was the #92 Porsche that took the victory after a late error by Maxime Martin, the Belgian running wide in the #97 allowed Kevin Estre through to take the lead in the final stages.
The #97 would then pit at the very end and drop to third anyway. This meant that the sister ‘Dane Train’ #95 Aston Martin – which leads the title race – took a strong second. Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen were as rapid as ever, and were able to recover from a puncture early in the race to claim more Silverware.
It was so tight for the final podium place, as Martin exited the pits after the late splash right in front of James Calado’s #51 Ferrari and Gianmaria Bruni’s #91 Porsche that were scrapping for fourth throughout the final hour. But no moves were made as the three cars couldn’t quite make anything stick
Perrodo, Collard and Nielsen extend Am points lead
GTE Am, like Pro, was unpredictable. The Porsche teams as a whole looked strong for much of the contest, as Dempsey Proton, Project 1 and Gulf Racing all spent lengthy stints with their cars in the top three spots.
After the changes of conditions and various caution periods, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari would emerge the winner, the title leaders coming on strong late, and looking untouchable at times during Nicklas Nielsen’s stints. But Francois Perrodo and Manu Collard were impressive too and thoroughly deserved the victory, their first since the season opener at Silverstone last year.
Following an up and down race for the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche, Matt Campbell would steer the Porsche to second ahead of the hard-charging TF Sport Aston Martin which struggled early in the wet but found speed with the dry track late to score vital points for the team’s title challenge.
Both of Team Project 1’s Porsches finished just off the podium in fourth and fifth.
Next up for the FIA WEC teams is the Le Mans 24 Hours next month on September 18th-19th.
More to follow…