Audi Sport Team Joest avenged its Silverstone exclusion with victory in the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at Spa-Francorchamps.
Oliver Jarvis, Loic Duval and Lucas di Grassi won by two laps after a series of problems hit the other manufacturer-backed LMP1 entries.
Jarvis finished comfortably ahead of the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Romain Dumas (plus Marc Lieb and Neel Jani) which ran for five and a half hours without its hybrid system.
The pole-sitting Porsche of defending world champions Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Mark Webber led early on but two punctures and a gearbox failure pushed it down to 26th overall.
The #8 Audi R18 was the only car not to experience any major setbacks. During the opening stint, Di Grassi had battled with the two Toyotas but was not quick enough to challenge the Porsches out front.
Toyota benefited the most when the Porsches stuttered, particularly the #5 car of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. Buemi cycled to the lead of the race with a quicker first pit stop, and despite coming under intense pressure from Bernhard was able to create a clear gap when the Porsche encountered its first puncture.
Buemi handed over to Davidson, who managed the gap, and then on to Nakajima. The Japanese driver had a one lap advantage over the #8 Audi but a catastrophic engine failure signaled an end to his team’s afternoon. Both Toyotas suffered the same fate, with the #6 car falling by the wayside shortly before Nakajima’s race went up in smoke.
With both Toyotas out of the way, Jarvis moved into the lead and kept his place until the chequered flag. Second position went to the #2 Porsche which had no answer to the Audi’s pace without a hybrid system.
In third was the #13 Rebellion Racing R-One AER on another brilliant afternoon for the privateer squad. Alexandre Imperatori, Dominik Kraihamer and Matheo Tuscher held off the more experienced sister pairing of Nelson Piquet Jr, Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost to record their second consecutive podium. Heidfeld came under pressure in the closing minutes from the troubled #7 Audi, but he was able to hold on by a margin of six seconds.
In LMP2, Signatech Alpine won after a close battle with ESM in the final minutes. Nicolas Lapierre made a bold overtake on the outside of Luis Felipe Derani in the esses, inheriting a lead that he would refuse to give up. Derani was also under pressure from the Manor-Oreca of Roberto Merhi and the RGR Sport/Morand Ligier of Filipe Albuquerque but held on to finish second.
Merhi passed Albuquerque heading into the bus stop chicane, but could not get close enough to Derani who ended up four seconds behind Lapierre.
The G-Drive Racing Oreca 05-Nissan driven by Rene Rast, Nathanael Berthon and Roman Rusinov completed the top five, after Berthon lost time when he incurred a puncture while battling with one of the Manors.
GTE-Pro was also decided in the final laps, as AF Corse’s Sam Bird and Davide Rigon backed up their Silverstone win with another set of class honours. Rigon moved into the lead when James Calado – driving the other Ferrari 488 GTE – was forced into the garage with an engine issue. Calado and Gianmaria Bruni had led most of the race, but would not make it to the finish.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing finished second with its all-British car driven by Marino Franchitti, Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell. Franchitti was able to hold off the Aston Martin of Jonny Adam, which had inherited third place from the retired Ferrari and the second Ford GT which crashed out at the turn of the final hour.
GTE-Am honours went to Aston Martin Racing’s Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda, who won by over a lap. In second was the Silverstone-winning #83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Emmanuel Collard, Francois Perrodo and Rui Aguas, while Larbre Competition finished third with its Corvette C7.R.
In terms of the championship, the #2 Porsche continues to lead with 43 points with the #13 Rebellion close behind on 30. Victory for the #8 Audi means its drivers climb to third in the standings with 25 points.
Porsche continues to lead the manufacturers’ championship with 56 points, although the margins have tightened up heading into the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Toyota is 13 points behind on 43, while Audi is on the Japanese marque’s tail with 41 points. RGR Sport by Morand and Signatech Alpine are tied at the top of the LMP2 championship, with ESM a further point behind. Two wins from two for Ferrari puts the Scuderia clearly ahead in the GT manufacturers’ race, 32 points ahead of Aston Martin.
The next round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship is the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 18-19.