Entry and History
The first weekend in May, Spa-Francorchamps traditionally hosts its top sport car racing event. With a tradition into the 1960s this usually 1000 Kilometre race was this year officially renamed as 6 Hours of Spa, after adopting the 6-hour format already in 2011. The biggest news for the race this year is however a fact that it is the first World Sports Car Championship race held in Europe after 20 years. FIA and ACO decided to organise an official World Endurance Championship after one and half experimental seasons of Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC). The Spa is actually a second race in the series of eight races.
The first one was held in Sebring, USA, exactly as it was in 1953 when the original World Sports Car Championship was created and its first race Sebring 12 Hours started the new era. It was then won by American factory Cunningham constructed and raced by Briggs Cunningham's team. This year's Sebring inaugural race of the re-created championship was won by one of three factory entered Audis R18. Unlike in 1953, this year's win was quite expected as the only other serious contender for the title, a Peugeot factory, left the championship 5 minutes before the entry closing date. Audi was thus left alone.
Toyota, which was planned to enter the championship in selected races (Le Mans, Silverstone and Fuji), expanded their programme after the Peugeot withdrawal to save the new championship. They were not able to prepare a car for the first Sebring race but one Toyota was originally entered for Spa. Unfortunately a test accident prevented the Oreca-run team to debut the new Toyota in Belgium. The first chassis was damaged beyond immediate repair and the second chassis was not supplied earlier then a short time before the Spa. The team then made a short stop in Spa while on a way to Magny-Cours test. A few promotional photos were taken along with Audi, another new car powered by a hybrid technology as well as Toyota.
Free Practice Sessions
To make the battle for the lead here little more interesting Audi entered two 2-car teams - one with the new Hybrid power while the other two cars were updated 2012-models of original cars raced successfully last season and in Sebring. All four Audis took the first four positions in yesterday's two and today's morning free practice session. There was no big difference between the cars called Audi R18 e-tron quattro and Audi R18 Ultra, however the Hybrid race number 1 was at the top in all three sessions.
Two Rebellion Lolas were usually right behind the Audis but in the second free practice session a Dome entered by Team Pescarolo was quick enough to split the two Lolas. The Dome is the car that almost successfully appeared in Le Mans 2008 but was not seen much since then. This year Pescarolo is going to enter this car not only in tomorrow's 6 hour race but especially in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Unfortunately, the car is then scheduled to disappear while Pescarolo will continue to enter his own cars. Unfortunately latest Pescarolo 03 based on last year's Aston Martin AMR-1 chassis was not ready for Spa and became a second withdrawal, after the Toyota.
Otherwise the field is full of cars not only WEC regulars but six team from European Le Mans Series, which were encouraged to join the Spa race after the cancellation of the Zolder ELMS race. Apart from those ELMS guest entries, there were other special entries, like those two additional non-hybrid Audis or the Dome. Total 42 cars entered the practice session. However a heavy accident of one of the ELMS entries, which happened about 5 minutes before the end of the second Thursday's session, diminished the field to just 41 entries for the qualifying and the race. The crashed car which the team decided to withdrawn to save spares for the next month's Le Mans 24 Hours was the Status GP Lola 2012 Coupé, driven at the time of the accident by A. Sims. It was a driver error and it is really bad as this Lola was one of the quickest closed cars in the LMP2 field. Fortunately the driver was unhurt. Another accident happened in the first session. It was Honda Racing Developments LMP1 car of the Strakka Racing when driven by N. Leventis. It was easily reparable and only effect for the race meeting was it missed the second session.
In LMP2 it was mainly OAK-Pescarolo, a.k.a. Morgan no.24 and Oreca entered by Pecom Racing that usually topped the results sheets. But in the Friday's afternoon qualifying they were only 4th and 6th respectively while the LMP2 pole was won by ADR-Delta Oreca no.25, ahead of Lotus-Lola no.32, which was leading the class for a substantial part of the session, and a Jota entered Zytek no.38. The other Lotus-Lola, no.31, was also rather quick, and gained fifth class position on the grid.
In LMP1 the situation was only slightly different from free practice session. Audis were very easily at the top, but this time it was no the hybrid no.1 at the top, but rather the hybrid no.2. Then it was no.4, no.1 and no.3. The Audis were not much quicker than in the last free practice session, so one could think if they really tried to do their best against relatively weak competition. The best improvement was evident for both LMP1 HPD entries which not only beat slightly improving Pescarolo Dome but the quicker Strakka entry even got between the two Rebellion Lolas, which can be generally considered closest competitor to Audis. JRM entered HPD was 8th ahead the Dome and a bit outpaced OAK-Pescarolo. Then those already mentioned LMP2s followed.
The best GT car was classified 28th right behind slowest prototype, the ELMS Norma, and it was Luxury Racing Ferrari no.59 followed by another Ferrari, entered by AF Corse, which overtook lonely factory Aston Martin at the end of the session. The best Porsche was next, a Felbermayr entry and it was the only Porsche entered in the GTE Pro category, which features only 5 cars, all regulars entered for WEC. The best GTE Am entry was IMSA Performance Porsche, 33rd overall, followed by two Ferraris and two Corvettes.
A positive message so far is the weather. Despite it was generally expected to rain at least for the qualifying, in fact apart from a very short and slight shower in the third session, it was always dry and sometimes sunny. The worst weather forecast was originally for the Saturday's race but the latest update suggest that even the race could be run in dry conditions, though it could be almost 10 grades lower temperature. We will see tomorrow, especially if Audi gains another WEC win before the Toyota debut in the next WEC race, which will be Le Mans.