Audi's quartet of brand new R18s dominated – as expected – the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, delivering a debut win for the endurance racing giant's latest generation of race car.
The result, in that it would an Audi win, was seldom in doubt as few of the potential problems with debuting a new car showed their heads during a largely untroubled run to the checkered flag. The only question through the race was which one of Audi's new cars would deliver victory – the lightweight R18 Ultra, or the diesel-electric hybrid R18 e-tron quattro. That decision, it appears would be left to the infamously wild Ardennes weather.
After morning rain the race started on a wet track, the conditions immediately handing the advantage to the four-wheel-drive equipped (though the front wheels only drive under acceleration thanks to the power of electric motors) hybrids. Andre Lotterer took the lead in the no.1 car from Tom Kristensen in the pole sitting car as the two hybrids started to build a lead – In his opening stint Lotterer's lead built to more than a minute. However, with no more rain falling and the track ever drying as the forty car field circulated conditions were starting to ebb away from the hybrids and back towards the two Ultras.
This change in the balance of the Audi battle was made more dramatic as the teams started to play out different tyre strategies. At the first round of pitstops – clustered around lap 24, shortly before the close of the first hour – Marc Gene was the only man to switch to slick tyres, the remaining three cars remaining on intermediate tyres.
On the alternative rubber Gene – Audi's new reserve driver standing in for Timo Bernhard – was the class of the field, and whittled down Lotterer's lead with ease. The Spaniard got a brief stint in the lead when Lotterer pitted from the lead, before he too pitted, ceding his spot in the cockpit to Loic Duval. Though in the second stops the three other Audis had fallen into line with Gene and Duval's charge – Romain Dumas the final man charged with the no.3 car – Duval continued to cut into the lead of the no.1 car – taken over by Benoit Treluyer at the latest stop – and finally took the lead at La Source at the start of lap 62.
Over the remaining three hours – and despite a pair of safety cars (the second for a high speed LMP2 spin into the tyre barriers on the outside of Eau Rouge) – Duval and Dumas extended the lead in their own double stints, taking the victory by 40 second over the e-tron Quattro of Lotterer, Treluyer and Marcel Fassler.
As the Ultra and e-tron quattro swapped places for first a second the same happened for third and fourth. After making the most of the early wet conditions Kristensen and no.2 hybrid were delayed when a failing headlight necessitated a longer stop to change the front bodywork that dropped them to third. Like in the race for the lead the hybrid was ill-suited to the dry conditions of the mid-late afternoon and Marco Bonanomi – another debutant for Audi at Spa – was able to pass Dindo Capello for third.
As it had been throughout the practice and qualifying sessions the first place behind the Audis was taken by the new look Lola coupes of Rebellion Racing. The two cars – in the black and gold corporate colours of Lotus dominated the fight among the top petrol runners, only briefly sacrificing fifth overall to Strakka Racing and to the Dome S102.5 of Pescarolo Team. The Dome of Peugeot Sport refugees Sebastien Bourdais and Nicolas Minassian had the pace to match the Rebellion cars but an assortment of problems and attendant stops in the garage kept them down to just 15th overall nine laps behind the best of the Rebellion entries – that of Nico Prost, Neel Jani and Nick Heidfeld – the ex-F1 especially putting in a strong drive ahead of Le Mans next month.
While the destination of the overall victory was decided inside the first half of the race the battle for LMP2 went down to the final few laps of racing.
After OAK Racing and Pecom Racing had taken turns in the lead in the early running the race settled down to a battled between the Murphy Prototypes team (Jody Firth, Warren Hughes and Brendon Hartley), the pole-sitting ADR-Delta squad of John Martin, Robbie Kerr and Tor Graves and the two-handed JOTA team.
JOTA's Zytek-Nissan and ADR's ORECA-Nissan swapped the lead, the Irish Murphy squad taking the lead as the three cycled obediently through pitstops.
Taking the race ending stint Robbie Kerr looked set to deliver victory for ADR-Delta until a final splash-and-dash pit call with just two minutes to go gifted Simon Dolan and Sam Hancock for JOTA. However, with the winning team only making a guest appearance from the European Le Mans Series ADR-Delta took maximum points to lead the LMP2 class of the WEC.
At the other end of the scale Signatech Nissan's defence of the class title they won in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup last year continued to falter. After crashing out at Sebring in March Jordan Tresson spun the ORECA 03 at the Bus Stop, backing into the wall and damaging the rear suspension. After a significant delay – which included the car briefly blocking Spa's narrow pitlane entry – the car returned to the pits and was repaired but scored only six points for the WEC standings.
After qualifying slipped away from the lone Porsche squad in both GTEPro Team Felbermayr-Proton rebounded by bringing home victory for the German marque.
In both categories the route to victory was relatively simple. GTEPro poleman Fred Makowiecki spun the Luxury Racing Ferrari before the green flag allowing Darren Turner to leap into the lead for Aston Martin Racing. Unfortunately Turner's lead and the Vantage's race were to be short lived due to gearbox problems leaving the race lead to Felbermayr-Proton duo Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz.
IMSA Performance Matmut, meanwhile had taken GTEAm pole for Porsche and after losing the lead to the AF Corse Ferrari on the opening retook the lead to dominate the rest of the race, leading 135 of the 139 laps completed by Nicolas Armindo, Raymond Narac and Anthony Pons on their way to the class victory by a lap over the AF Corse squad.