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6 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season

2nd - 4th May 2019

Event report

6 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season (event report) - picture number 0016 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season (event report) - picture number 0026 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season (event report) - picture number 0036 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season (event report) - picture number 004

This WEC season is quite unique as it contains two Le Mans 24 Hour races and also two Spa 6 Hour races as its part. The entry is basically the same as a year ago. Only difference is that Ginettas, which then covered a couple of laps and soon after following race at Le Mans were factually withdrawn from the Championship due to sponsorship issues. And despise some activities by Ginetta factory to bring the cars here and for next month's Le Mans, it did not happen. Another car present here last year but not racing, just like Ginettas, is DragosSpeed BR1 LMP1. It was withdrawn several days before the race due to issues with electronic - the official reason. So the three LMP1 missing last year's start failed to appear this year at all.

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Only other small difference but driver changes is the new name for Oreca of G-Drive, the guest entry, which is now called Aurus 01. This is a European Le Mans Series regular, running half of the WEC programme thanks to double Spa and double Le Mans. Unfortunately, not eligible for points.

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Thursday - Practice sessions

Despite rain expected since noon, the first session started with a sunshine and still warm air. Toyotas dominated the first part of the practice but then a bit surprisingly SMP team BR cars took the lead from Toyotas over and finished 1-2 setting the best time nearly two and half second ahead of the best Toyota. Rebellions were behind both factory Toyotas while the only other top class LMP1 car the Enso CLM P1, which was running a new Gibson engine for the first time stayed behind best LMP2 cars: Alpine and Aurus - both rechristened Orecas. In GTE it was Aston Martin, Ford and BMW in the top three.

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The late afternoon session was already wet and mainly raining from the start to the finish. It was interrupted by several red flag periods. The most serious reason was an accident of the winning SMP BR from the session 1, which caused red flag no.1. Two more follows. The changing weather brought some interesting and quite uncommon provisional results. For example, during the first half hour, we had the traditionally slow Enso CLM, in a regular lead. It was soon passed by Toyotas. During the early stages the even GTE cars managed to feature. When one of BMW was provisionally 9th, it was not so surprising as when one of factory Aston Martin featured second overall - we hope it was not just an error on the timing sheets. Later remaining BR no.11 took the provisional lead but in the end it was Toyota 1-2. Overall results however did not change, obviously no car could improve then earlier times. Even the fastest Toyota in the wet was one second slower that the last GTE car from session 1, an MR Racing Ferrari in GTE Am category.

Tomorrow it should be a rain-less day but for the race the current weather forecast if very bad. Rainstorms, even snow and very cold.

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Friday - Practice session 3 and Qualifying

Dry morning practice session featured Toyotas back in top form. Kobayashi in the car number 7 set 1:54.1, which was one of the best times ever set here in Spa by a sports prototype. The other Toyota as well as SMP BRs were 2.5 seconds and more back. Rebellions got back they high downforce bodywork, after running Le Mans kit yesterday, but still could not match Dallara-built BRs. Fastest LMP2 was again the ELMS regular, G-Force no.26 Aurus 01, ahead an Oreca armada. Kolles-entered Enso CLM was finally running more regularly then yesterday but still could not even match pace of LMP2 cars. Even the slow Ligier beaten by a marginally better time at the end of the session. GTE was now dominated by Porsches and Fords. But it changes every session. The Ballance of Performance, which is possible to be seen in the top class starting next year, is working well in this class.

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The Qualifying started with a 25-minute GTE session. It was even sunny, when the GT cars were completing their early laps. Unfortunately, Motoaki Ishikawa hit the barriers in his first flying lap. His GTE Am Ferrari no.70 managed to get to the pits, as the damage was not that big. But the team was done for the session. The session ended with BMW-Aston Martin-Ford at the top with Antonio Felix Da Costa setting the pace at 2:12.671. But since the grid is based on average of times of two selected drivers, the GTE Pole Position went to Ford no.67, ahead of Aston Martin and Da Costa's BMW. No other make made it to the top 6, with best Porsche 7th and best Ferrari only 9th, despite those manufacturers have larger number of entries, especially thanks to their GTE Am entrants. Among them it was however private Aston Martin that was fastest of them all, on average, completing the session 11th.

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LMP session started with some rain drops but it was still dry, even later in the session. But nobody was sure about the weather, so it was obvious that most team let their first qualifying driver just one fast flying lap in the car and switched to the second qualifying drivers to ensure that both had set dry times. Toyota no.7 drivers were fastest of all, with Mike Conway's 1:53.683 being second fastest prototype time of all time (0.025 behind best Toyota in 2017 when they still had to fight a factory LMP1, then Porsche). Sébastien Buemi in Toyota no.8 was third while surprisingly quick Egor Orudzhev in BR SMP no.17 (1:54.303 - best ever private prototype here) even beat Nakajima in the second Toyota. Rebellions ran in high 1:55s while Kolles Enso CLM once again struggled to beat the LMP2 field. When its second driver looked to set pace enough to overtake the LMP2 cars, something broke at the end of his second flying lap (either right rear suspension or that tyre), and it only slowly continued through the finish line stopping at the end of the main straight. Since it was only 5 minutes before the chequered flag, the session was red-flagged and never restarted again. Probably nothing would have changed as most of the cars were back in the pits by that time.

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Leading LMP2 car, once again ELMS-guest entry by G-Drive, nearly broke the 2-minute barrier, as Jean-Eric Vergne set 2:00.003, by far best LMP2 time in history (the second-best time belong to the same team & cars from the last year, when it set the pace with 2:00.735. By the way, only one Group C car in history was quicker than this LMP2 front-runner. It was Mercedes-Benz C11 in 1990. Note to says that during the faster 3500 cc Group C era, the Spa was not part of the championship. In any case, current LMP2 are very quick, and it is a shame that they are going to be artificially slowed down, only to allow the new top class (Hyperclass) running for overall wins.

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Saturday - The Race

When waking up, the snow was all around, some 3-5 centimetres of new snow where not melted. During the morning the track tried and even some sunshine was present. A support Porsche Carrera France race started behind the safety car but then continued at race speed. Some thoughts by some media of planned shortening the 6 hour race did not happen and when the cars gridded and were ready for the formation lap, it was rather sunny and fully dry. The race started at 13:30 but during the second lap the sky became dark and it started snowing again. Toyotas led during the early laps but it was soon needed to change tyres to wet conditions. This changed the positions a lot. Not only some teams were notably quicker in the pits than other but also those that opted to complete another lap lost valuable seconds. Both SMP/BR stayed on the track longer and thus led the race 1-2 for a short moment. When the positions settled a bit, it was Toyota no.7, Rebellion no.3 and the other Toyota. Notably well ran also Dallara which not only lead the LMP2 field by far but was ahead of one Rebellion and one SMP/BR. In lap 5 it was even 4th overall.

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By the end of 19th lap the Toyota no.8 overtook the second Rebellion and also the leading Toyota. While the other quick LMP1 cars (all but Enso CLM) overtook the Dallara.

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Next phase of the race, complicated by two safety car periods, brought even more interesting happenings. The first SC period was caused by the worsening weather, the other was brought by a collision caused by the Netherland Dallara which crossed the line of Aston Martin and sent it to the barriers. Both cars continued but some remains of the cars stayed in the middle of the La Source and had to be picked up. Not long before, another crash, also at the entrance to La Source happened when Bykolles Enso CLM was a bit too quick, which was not expected by a LMP2 car driver running ahead, who was too wide and sent the CLM into the barriers. Enso CLM continued slowly to the pits and when got back to the track, repaired, it was desperately last. And it did not change until the end of the race. In any case, it was nowhere near the pace of other LMP1 cars and was running in the middle of LMP2 field.

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As a result of the SC periods and various pit stops, caused by changing track conditions rather than team tactics, the race witnessed an LMP2 car (Alpine) running in the lead in lap 29 and then second behind leading BR/SMP no.11. Later for a long time and deeply into the second hour we still had two LMP2 cars in position three and four behind leading Toyota no.7 and no.8. Only in lap 42 the BR/SMP no.11 moved the Alpine and DC Chan Oreca no.38 to the positions 4th and 5th. Rebellion moved ahead of the Alpine in lap 49 (Rebellion no.3) and lap 61 (Rebellion no.1). We then had some longer dry period when Toyota build one lap lead over the privateer LMP1s.

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The third hour was a disaster for the leading Toyota no.7. It slowed down and was pushed into the garage. When it got back, it was only 22nd overall, 4 laps back. In the meantime, the LMP2 lead was taken over by DC Chan no.38. In the lead we now had Toyota no.8 and nothing changed on its victory despite several more safety car periods due to darkness and snowing which was ended by a red-flag some 10 minutes before the finish. It was probably a good decision and there was nothing much to be changed on the positions, but there was a danger of an accident. We need to say that this year there was no retirement in Spa. All 34 cars that took part in the first practice session were running on the track at the time of the red flag.

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The second position belonged alternately to BR/SMP no.11 and Rebellion no.3, which was in the end more successful of the two. Both completed the race one lap behind the winning Toyota. BR/SMP no.17 was 4th another lap down ahead of remaining Rebellion and recovering Toyota no.7. In the LMP2 class the Alpine got back to the lead, only to be beaten by DragonSpeed Oreca no.31 at the end of the race. There was little racing and more SC running at the final stages of the race, mainly pit stops caused position changes and this did not play well for the Alpine which was classified only third behind the fast ELMS guest G-Drive Oreca entry, which is not eligible for points.

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Thus Formula 1 double World Champion Fernando Alonso won his penultimate WEC race with his team-mates Buemi and Nakajima and is close to his World Endurance Championship title. After winning Le Mans last year, he would achieve another notable motorsport result before leaving for another challenge. He already announced not to return in the next 2019/2020 season. They now lead the drivers’ championship by 31 points with 39 available for the winner at Le Mans. Finishing the 24 Hour not too back should be enough for the trio to celebrate the title next month. Toyota is already a champion. In LMP2 it is very close between leading Alpine and both Chan DC entries, with DragonSpeed still in theoretical championship contention.

6 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season (event report) - picture number 1136 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season (event report) - picture number 1146 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season (event report) - picture number 1156 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season (event report) - picture number 1166 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season (event report) - picture number 1176 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season (event report) - picture number 1186 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season (event report) - picture number 1196 Hour Spa 2019 - Penultimate round of FIA WEC Super Season (event report) - picture number 120

GTE race was a race on it own. Very close, especially thanks to numerous SC periods and the fact, that GTE cars were always allowed to overtake Safety Car in order to unlap themselves from LMP cars, as long as they were not lapped by their respective Pro or Am leader. Altogether eighteen changes in the lead of GTE Pro class speak themselves. All five makes led the GTE class at some point of the race, which featured eight different leaders out of ten starters in the class. And the Porsche features as high as 2nd and 3rd overall during the second hour thank to later pit stops and the confusion caused by the bad weather and SC interventions.

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In the end it was Aston Martin that could celebrate the victory. Amateur class was no much less interesting. All three represented makes (Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin) led the class during the race and were in contention until the end, and sever different leaders out of nine entries. Dempsey-Proton car no..77 was the lucky one at the moment the red flags were waved around the track.

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