WEC: Toyota and Porsche win Spa-Francorchamps thriller
The weather played a significant part in the 6 Hours of Spa
As in May 2019 for the last FIA World Endurance Championship race in Belgium, the Ardennes weather played a significant part in the 2020 Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
With heavy rain, meaning the race started behind the safety car, followed by dry weather followed by rain once again, the teams had to adapt their strategy one more than one occasion and it was the no7 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050-Hybrid of championship leaders Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez that took the chequered in the first WEC race since February.
The crew of the no7 car took the chequered flag 34.1 seconds ahead of the no8 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima. The no8 car slowed early in the race when the pitstop limiter seemed to be stuck on for part of the out lap after a regular pitstop, costing Brendon Hartley a lot of time. The problem was solved but a ‘splash and dash’ pitstop late in the race dropped them back from their teammates.
The no1 Rebellion Racing R13 was the quickest car in practice and qualifying but in the race the bad weather blunted the performance advantage the team had over their rivals at Toyota. Starting from pole position, Norman Nato struggled in the open laps when the tyres were inflated to the wrong pressure and the French driver had to keep the car on the track until the first pitstop. After dropping a lap down after one of the safety car period the team fought valiantly until the end of the race, finishing third at the chequered flag.
In race long battle between the GTE brands, the no92 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR-19 of reigning world champions Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre proved to be victories after being restored to pole position in the morning after the stewards rescinded their track limits penalty incurred during qualifying.
The Franco-Danish pairing had to fight hard with the two Aston Martin Racing Vantage, with the pressure only relieved in the final few minutes when the no97 Vantage of Maxime Martin had to pit for a splash of fuel.
The no95 Vantage of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen finished second, with the no97 car regaining the track just ahead of the no51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and the no91 Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni to secure the third spot on the podium.
The fight for the top step of the LMP2 podium saw the no22 United Autosports Oreca 07-Gibson of Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta take their third WEC victory in a row but it was far from the easy ride the one lap advantage they enjoyed at the end of the six hour race.
Starting from pole Albuquerque had to contend with challenges from the no38 JOTA Oreca, the no42 Cool Racing Oreca, the no36 Signatech Alpine ELF A470, with the no29 Racing Team Nederland Oreca, which had started from the back of the grid, joining the battle for the lead in the hands of Giedo Van Der Garde.
Later in the race the no36 Signatech Alpine A470 in the hands of Thomas Laurent was catching the no29 Racing Team Nederland Oreca of Frits Van Eerd when the French driver got squeezed onto the grass at Blanchimont, lost grip and spun across the track into the barriers. Laurent was OK and walked away from the heavily damaged car but a Safety Car period was declared for nearly 30 minutes to remove the stricken car and repair the tyre wall.
The race to the flag was intense for the minor podium positions, with Di Resta bringing the no22 Oreca home to take the chequered flag one lap ahead of the no42 Cool Racing Oreca of Nicolas Lapierre, with Giedo Van Der Garde finishing off a great result for the no29 Racing Team Nederlands Oreca ten seconds behind the no42 Oreca.
The championship leading no83 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE EVO of Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Nicklas Nielsen returned to the top step of the LMGTE Am podium for the first time since Round 1 at Silverstone, beating off the strong challenge from the no77 Dempsey-Proton Racing and no56 Team Project 1 Porsches and the no90 TF Sport Aston Martin.
The two Porsches, driven by Christian Ried and Egidio Perfetti set the early pace, with the no57 Team Project 1 and no86 Gulf Racing Porsches also challenging for the top spot in the class.
On a drying track the no83 Ferrari with Emmanuel Collard at the wheel started to move up the field and into the lead, with Nicklas Nielsen taking over to bring the car home. Nielsen was chased to the finish line by the no77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Matteo Cairoli, and the gap at the chequered flag was just 2.8 seconds after 6 hours of racing. The final podium position was claimed by the no90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage, with Charlie Eastwood finishing 56 seconds behind lead car.
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