WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps ready to thrill fans across the world
After a thrilling and dramatic 2017 season opener in Britain, attention now turns towards the iconic Belgian circuit of Spa-Francorchamps for the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Historically an event which never fails to deliver its own drama, and often its share of unpredictable weather to potentially shake things up, it will definitely be a race not to miss as Porsche looks to balance the victory score sheet, and Toyota aims to top the points classification.
A firm favourite of every team and driver, the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday 6th May will welcome the many thousands of passionate, multi-national, endurance racing fans who flock to the Ardennes for the traditional final rehearsal for the third round of the WEC, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The grid of 30 cars includes an additional third Toyota TS050 HYBRID in preparation for Le Mans, plus two more LMP2 cars than at Silverstone.
Practice and qualifying sessions are run on the two days prior to the big event, and there is a full programme of entertainment lined up for spectators both on and off the track. This includes support races from World Series Formula V8 3.5, the TCR International Series and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Benelux which, for this round, also welcomes competitors from Porsche Carrera Cup France.
LMP1: Speed, Downforce and Strategy
The race at Silverstone proved to sceptics that only two cars are needed to keep a race alive, and in Spa there will be no fewer than five of the all-new LMP1 hybrid challengers – two from Porsche LMP Team and three from Toyota Gazoo Racing. The differing aerodynamic configurations, tyre management and consistency will once again be areas to watch during the 6-hour race, and World Champions Porsche will be looking to secure victory to keep them on the top of the leader board. All Belgian eyes will, of course, be on André Lotterer in the No.1 Porsche 919 Hybrid alongside World Endurance Champion Neel Jani and fellow Le Mans winner Nick Tandy. The German was raised in Belgium and it is every bit as much as home race for him as the Nürburgring.
Despite Buemi-Davidson-Nakajima’s win in the UK for Toyota’s No.8 TS050 HYBRID, the accident which befell José Maria Lopez in the sister car meant that an hour was lost to repairs and the No.7 was only classified 23rd overall, scoring just a half point. This puts Porsche, who finished 2nd and 3rd in the top spot in the Manufacturers’ points classifications.
The experience of Stéphane Sarrazin and Nicolas Lapierre will undoubtedly be vital to help WEC newcomer Yuji Kunimoto find his rhythm in a race weekend, although the Japanese driver has completed many miles of testing for Toyota in preparation for the No.9 car’s debut.
ByKolles Racing Team returns to Spa with an unchanged driver line up and the trio of Webb-Kraihamer-Rossiter in the No.4 ENSO CLM P1/01 Nismo will be anxious to put the maximum kilometres on the car after a troubled build up to the season.
LMP2: Close competition guaranteed
The 11 entries in the class includes an additional car from ELMS entrant Tockwith Motorsports, Britons Nigel Moore and Philip Hanson combining with experienced Indian driver Karun Chandhok in the sole Ligier JSP 217 Gibson on the grid. They are joined by a full-strength, two car entry from 2016 LMP2 champions Signatech Alpine, 2016 World Endurance Champion Romain Dumas lining up alongside Gustavo Menezes and Matt Rao in the No.36 Alpine A470 in place of Lapierre who is on LMP1 duty. The No.35 Signatech Alpine Matmut will be crewed by French duo Pierre Ragues and Nelson Panciatici plus Brazilian André Negrão who were at The Prologue but who missed the 6 Hours of Silverstone.
The lessons learnt at Silverstone about the faster, mechanically reliable, new generation cars will be put into practice again in Belgium before the ORECAs go up against the other LMP2 chassis at Le Mans. All entries in this class for the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps are Nissan-powered and on Dunlop rubber.
The teams represent countries as diverse as Switzerland, China, Russia, France and Great Britain and some of the well-known and successful names looking to claim class victory include Piquet, Prost, Senna, Vergne, Lynn and Jarvis plus, of course, Dumas. Competition will be tight, the battles will be fierce, and the key to success will be good team work, good tyre management and error-free runs from flag to flag.
LMGTE: First blood to Ford and Ferrari
Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK recorded a well-deserved victory at Silverstone, but head to Spa against some formidable opposition. Porsche (2012), Ferrari (2013/14/16) and Aston Martin Racing (2015) have all enjoyed success at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit and all manufacturer teams will be keen to make their mark on the FIA World GT Championship table.
All line ups are unchanged from the opening round of the season, with both Ford GTs and the two LMGTE Pro Aston Martin Vantages entering 3-driver line ups as part of their Le Mans preparations. Central to success for any of the eight entries in the Pro class, and five cars in Am, will be how the teams strategically use their tyre allocation which, for 2017, has been reduced from six sets to four to cover both qualifying and the race.
In the LMGTE Am category, there was drama at Silverstone right to the chequered flag with the No.61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE claiming victory on its debut in the WEC after a last-lap clash between Aston Martin Racing and Spirit of Race. Any one of the entrants in this category could challenge for victory and, with one race under their belts, the new drivers to the WEC will now be able to settle into the top level of competition and have some experience of their own to draw upon.
No race preparations for Spa would be complete without a careful look at the weather forecast and teams and seasoned fans arrive prepared for all eventualities. Set deep in the Ardennes forest region of southern Belgium, there are often rain showers but that adds to the excitement and anticipation. Several WEC races have been held in warm, dry conditions but only time will tell if 2017 will be the same!
The second round of the 2017 WEC season, the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps takes place from 14h30 on Saturday 6th May, finishing in the early hours of darkness at 20h30. Fans will be able to follow the action from Thursday 4th May in person, via the FIA WEC App or here on www.fiawec.com