Le Mans Series/ILMC GTE report
Our report directly from Spa concentrated on top LMP classes but there was also plenty of action in the new GTE class. It is former GT2 class slightly adjusted. The former GT1 class was abandoned, as expected for past couple of seasons as it is virtually dead, artificially maintained in so called World GT1 Championship. Apart from Nissan all manufacturers really take care about GT2/GTE or lower classes. At Spa several important manufacturers were presented in the class. Apart from traditional Porsche and Ferrari, which were recently joined by BMW, which is unlike the first two named makes represented by official factory team. These makes were supported by two private Aston Martins and also brand new Lotus Evoras, making their racing debut. They are also factory cars run by Austrian JetAlliance team. These nice new machines are yet slow on straights. The aim of the new Lotus team was to finish the race and we may already reveal that one of the cars really crossed the line. We wish the new team a very successful future as Lotus plans looks very promising including closed LMP2 car and it would be great if all that would materialise.
Those five marks were joined by Corvette, which was however represented only in the Amateur class unlike at Sebring, first ILMC round, where factory cars finished strongly. The GTE class had two classifications for teams and drivers called GTE Pro and GTE Am. This was created to give less professional teams some chance to fight for class victories and also cleared the gap created by cancellation of the GT1 class.
The race saw a domination of Ferraris. Especially the new types F458 Italia are not only very pretty but also very quick. Not only they had top three GTE positions on the grid but also led during entire race. Only during the pit stops it happened once that BMW M3 appeared in the lead for four laps at the end of the fifth hour. The Pro race was mainly a battle of two AF Corse Ferraris with JMW Ferrari. They changed the lead for three hours but them the JMW car pitted for many lap for repairs. There was another Ferraris leading for a single lap but it was in the same period of pit stops as the BMW scored leading, replacing just this Ferrari of Team Farnbacher.
The finish was partly sad for AF Corse. Their car no.51 (Fisichella/Bruni) won the Pro class. But their teammates in no.71 (Melo/Vilander) retired 13 minutes before the end of the race and thus were not classified. So the Farnbacher no.89 (Farnbacher / Simonsen) took the second spot and best BMW (Priaulx/Alzen) was third. Delayed JMW Ferrari was classified 7th in Pro class but finished behind many Am cars. This amateur class was won by a IMSA Porsche driven by Armindo/Narac ahead Ferraris and the lone Corvette, entered and prepared by Larbre Competition.
There was also a good racing outside the Le Mans Series but it was disappointing not to see the Classic Endurance Racing (CER) this time at Spa. Classic Group 4, 5 and 6 cars from the late 1960s and the 1970s were really missing this weekend. They were replaced by the Speed Euroseries for CN cars with Honda 2000 cc engine. The races were not bad but the cars were visually slow and almost all looked the same, despite a variety of types and makes. One make was however withdrawn prior to the official part of the race meeting following a serious accident during testing on Wednesday. It was team WFR. Norma, and Juno were joint by former Formula 1 manufacturers Ligier and Wolf. The biggest favourite of the race was Spanish Ander Vilarino, son of multi-European Hill Climb Champion Andres. He easily led in the first race but after driver changes his co-driver was slower and the car was being quickly caught by another Norma dressed in nice red colour. The race, which lasted 90 minutes, was concluded by a very close finish when Vilarino's co-driver won by only a length of the car.
Saturday's Formula 3 was also an interesting race, despite those cars are usually far away from our attention. We were a little too early prepared on the grandstand for the warm up and accidentally caught the start of this casual race that turned out to be a bit exceptional. The stand start is hardly really safe and also this time it was a drama when the green went on and Marco Sörensen on pole position stalled on the grid. Thanks God all the cars from the behind noticed him early enough to go by and even before the final car crossed the finish line, Sörensen made his car moving. It was then interesting to follow his improvement. He was 9th in the first lap, then twice 8th. The next lap he moved to 6th and so on. In the final lap Sörensen was already second behind the leader but the race as such was unfortunately too short. Had it lasted a lap or two longer, we could have a good battle for the win but anyway Sörensen made the race interesting despite the cars were generally boring and all the same.
Final support race was Radical Masters. Unfortunately, we have not seen any of their races. Our plan was to follow their second race on Friday but it was cancelled following Lahaye's accident in OAK Pescarolo after which the track required some repairs. We have heard that the drivers were rather upset but had to go home.
The second race of Speed Euroseries was only 60 minutes and it was strongly influenced by safety car period thus making the results almost meaningless. Vilarino was in the big lead but it was cut to nothing during the SC when the slow co-driver sat in. Perhaps quicker drivers should not start the cars if there is a prospect of SC period as their performance can be easily wasted. The first Speed Euroseries race was much better. The next stage for us is Imola, the joint ILMC/Le Mans Series race following Le Mans 24 Hours, and we are going to be there in action once again.