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FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Spa 2015

30th April - 2nd May 2015

Event report

Thursday rainy practice sessions

Second round of World Endurance Championship is held this weekend in Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. This traditional race meeting is prolonged into three days this year. Today, on Thursday two free practice sessions were on the programme. They really happened but due to very rainy weather all day, there was no much to follow and the times were not really significant, since it is expected that the rain would stopped during tomorrow and the race would be held under dry conditions. Both practice sessions were more or less dominated by Porsches. Only Toyota no.1 in practice 1 could break into the Porsche trio and was classified second, while in the second practice session it was Audi no.7 that managed to be classified third ahead of one of the Porsches.

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However there was a bit drama in the first session. After an hour the rain became heavier, water made almost invisible wall when Oliver Jarvis in Audi no.8 and Kazuki Nakajima in Toyota no.1 were catching some LMP2 runners. In the end Nakajima ended up in the rear of Jarvis' Audi and both cars were significantly damaged and the session was red-flagged. Nakajima was taken to the hospital for checks. They discovered that he has fractured vertebra and cannot take any further part in the meeting. Both cars then skipped the second session while being repaired. The Toyota got its chassis damaged so the car will be rebuilt around a new tub.

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Because the first session started with just very light rain, the final times were about 10 seconds better than in the second heat. It was interesting that the LMP2 class was always topped by the new Strakka Racing Dome S103 ahead of Gibson 015S, which is nothing else but renamed and upgraded Zytek which was run for the last few seasons. Two G-Drive Ligiers were next in both sessions followed by GTE armada represented here by Aston Martins, Porsche 991s and Ferrari Italias. A lone Corvette in hands of team Larbre returned to the championship and also made a trip here but just in slower class GTE Am. Not that there were not more LMP2s, the class actually increased in numbers very much but other three Ligiers of other teams, factory Alpine or a new Oreca 05 Coupe simply did not run appropriately in these difficult conditions and were beaten by Grand Touring cars - as well as was former Lotus, now called purely CLM P1/01 (regardless chassis plates still confirms it is Lotus). Actually the car entered by Team Bykolles finished 27th and 24th respectively in both sessions, which is really not a big achievement for an LMP1 car in a field of 34 cars, which are present here at Spa. For the team it would be important to finish the race and get some points for privateer LMP1 championship - while their only concurrent, Rebellion Racing is absent here due to new engine installation. Another notable entrant missing here is factory Nissan with their new LMP1 cars. It appears that Nissan tried to be too original and now struggles to get their ugly creation running properly, so the debut was provisionally postponed up until Le Mans.

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Friday dry practice and qualifying

Free Practice

Despite pessimistic weather forecast also for Friday, there were no signs of rain today, so we could follow the latest generation of LMP1 running at full speed for the first time this year. Three fastest cars in the third one-hour practice session actually broke five-year old track record for sports car which was set by Peugeot in 2010. The actual time was 1:57.884. Now Audi number 7 set in a free session 1:57.368, Porsche no.19 was only 0.011 seconds slower, and even the third Porsche no.18 was faster than the Peugeot. All three Porsches and two Le Mans versions Audis were within less than a second. Toyotas more than 2 seconds slower than the fastest Audi and Porsche. The third Audi, which is running standard setup completed almost the same number of laps as other factory cars but still was very much off the pace , running best at 2:02.

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The top LMP2 cars were clocked at 2:08. One of Ligiers of G-Drive Racing was now best in class for the first class, closely followed by the only new coupe Oreca 05 in the field, entered by KCMG team. The third was a Le Mans Series regular Jota Sport Zytek, running now under a new branding of Gibson. Last year the ELMS guest team failed to win the LMP2 race only by a single second to G-Drive team, who was still running Morgans last season.

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Infamous CLM private LMP1 entry now beat half of the LMP2 field, while in GTE it was Ferrari, Aston Martin, Ferrari followed by another two Astons. Semi-factory Manthey Porsches 991s did not feature within their GTE Pro class and rather sandwiched best GTE Am Aston Martin, which was followed by a lone Corvette C7.R and rest of Porsches and Ferraris, which actually formed the base of the amateur portion of the GTE class.

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Qualifying

Qualifying session started at 6 o'clock evening with a GTE section. It turned out to be a battle between Aston Martins and Ferraris. Porsches, despite setting highest speeds on straights among GT cars, were somewhat slower than their GTE Pro opposition. In the end Aston Martin won both classes. In Pro ahead of Ferrari, and in Am ahead of the Larbre Corvette and only successful Porsche, of team Proton Competition. LMP qualifying saw a dominance of the Porsche team. In the first part Lotterer in Audi no.7 held briefly a second position with Porsches 1st, 3rd and 4th. But when second drivers went out and the result was based on average of both drivers, Audi no.7 moved down to fourth. Audi no.8 was one second behind but still safely ahead of both Toyotas. The Japanese team then produced a press release expressing their disappointed about how much slower they were compared to Audis and Porsches. In fact all factory LMP1 cars, except for Toyota no.2, actually broke the official qualifying Peugeot lap record set in 2010. The fastest Porsche no.17 was clocked at 1:54.755, which is a fantastic improvement of the track lap record. And it also confirms that now we have on a track the fastest sports prototypes ever raced. It will be very interesting to follow what will happen in Le Mans. Would the aging lap time 3:13.6 set in 1971 finally broken? With all those chicanes and new turns? So far the fastest modern sports prototype was Peugeot in 2008, 3:18.5, so improvement by five seconds in more three minutes might do it. Improvement in Spa this year is more than 3 seconds within less than 2 minutes. Theoretical improvement, if it was same as in Spa, could bring time 3:12.97!

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To complete the report from today's qualifying, it is needed to say that G-Drive Racing Ligier won the LMP2 class, ahead of apparently the prettiest car in the field, KCMG Oreca 05, Sard Morand Morgan, another G-Drive Racing Ligier, Gibson and Alpine. Pretty nice diversity in the lower prototype class, diversity, which is planned to be killed administratively by the new rules in 2017. It is worth to say that at the end of the session, it was even sunny and we expect to have a better weather tomorrow

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Race

After some Porsche Carrera Cup races, which were the only support programme to the WEC, in the afternoon all 34 gridded for the Le Mans style start procedure. It has been adopted for all WEC races this year. Cars are gridded side by side each other in front of pit wall. At 2:.00 the grid walk ended and everything was being prepared for the flying start scheduled at 14:30. Two formation laps, green light and the show started. Everything went well without any accident or collisions. Porsche took the front, then Audis. Early attempts of Toyota no.2 to get ahead Audis was only partly successful. After a couple laps, it was delayed somewhere on the track, and since then Toyotas played really a minor role in the race. Porsche no.17 and no.18 were at the top while Porsche no.19 and Audi no.7 were fighting for third. Then the front of the field caught GTs and the Porsche no.19 became a victim. Hitting Porsche 911, losing front body panel and slightly hitting the wall. Return to the track, and repair in the garage cost the car full two laps, which it actually never regained back.

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Soon we had relatively fixed positions, Porsche no.17, Porsche no.18, Audi no.7 and Audi no.8. The third Audi and Toyotas were simply not quite at the pace of these top cars. In the second hour the leading Porsche no.17 first got stop and go penalty, and soon after had to go to the garage for a short repair. This actually put Porsche no.18 into the front ahead of two quick Audis. The race later developed into a close battle between the last Porsche running without problem, no.18, and the Audi no.7. Its sister cars was running in the same lap further back in third, but in the second half of the race, it slowed down on the track, turned to the pits and garage. When repaired it returned just ahead of LMP2 field.

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Even worse technical issues developed for the Toyota no.1. Two lengthy pit stops moved it deeply among the LMP2 field. Then it was repaired well and the Toyota could finish 8th, as the last of the factory LMP1s. Audi no.8 ran off track with less than 5 minutes before the end of the 6 hour race. When recovered, it finished 7th. Early delayed Porsche no.19 was classified 6th, three laps behind the winners. Toyota with their race surviving no.2 could not do better than 5th, while slowest Audi no.9, which ran without major issues entire race, nearly hit the podium finish.

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The battle for the win was very exciting, with Porsche no.18 catching Audi no.7, later after pit stops and tyre changes situation reverted and Porsche was catching Audi. In the end, probably a better pit stop strategy, maybe a bit more luck during overtaking slower cars, Audi remained at the top during the last minutes and celebrated the second victory this year. Porsche was once again, very close second. The third position was taken by another Porsche, the no.17, which finished one lap down after a trouble free run in the second part of the race.

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LMP2 class had a ELMS guest entry Gibson, ex-Zytek Jota Sport, at the top for most part of the race. The car suffered stop and go penalty in the first hour for incorrect start, however at the end of the first hour it was already second and since the second hour at lead the class all the way. G-Drive Ligiers were running next, until better of them, no.26 smoked and had to retire to the garage (it was then released for the final slow lap to be classified). The other G-Drive Ligier, no.28, then finished second ahead of Morgan entered by Morand SARD, which kept podium finish after a nice battle with KCMG Oreca Coupe - this car actually started from the pit lane a long time after GT cars were away and actually lost half a lap, if not more, even before the race really started.

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In GTE it was a battle between Aston Martin no.99 and Ferrari no.51. Unfortunately the Ferrari was given 2-minute stop and go penalty, and the battle was decided. Next two podium finishes behind winning Aston Martin then went to two factory Porsche 991s. Amateur GTE class was won by Aston Martin ahead two Ferraris.

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The weather was nice during the race day; it even started sunny, and then ended cloudy, dark but still dry. The number of spectators attending the 2015 event over the weekend was 54000, up from 46000 in 2014. The next two WEC races are Le Mans and Nürburgring, and we should be back there.

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