After the opening salvoes of Silverstone the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) steps firmly into ‘Le Mans preparation mode’ this weekend with the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the second round of the 2013 season.
Audi dominated their way to an easy 1-2 last month to start off the 2013 season, but will face a renewed (literally) challenge from Toyota with the first appearance of the 2013-spec TS030 Hybrid. Both the #7 and #8 Toyotas at Silverstone remained the 2012 version, but this weekend the driving combination of Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima will be given the responsibility to giving the new car its race debut before the team bring two 2013 cars for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
For Toyota the new car is a significant step forward, with many of the compromises forced upon the team by their earlier than expected debut last year designed out of the car. Chief amongst the changes has been the removal of the area intended to accommodate hybrid drive to the front wheels that became redundant when the Cologne based team opted for rear drive only (in constrast with Audi’s e-tron quattro). That single change has allowed the optimisation of the aerodynamics at the front of the car, with an all-new tub at the centre of the car.
Audi themselves have a new car for Spa, in the shape of a third e-tron quattro for Lucas di Grassi, Marc Gene and Oliver Jarvis with the Audi Sport – as has become a custom using the Ardennes track to stage the dress rehearsal for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Adherence to that custom explains several other changes to the normal WEC entry.
Jota, victors in the European Le Mans Series race at Silverstone, join the WEC grid with their LMP2 Zytek-Nissan with Oliver Turvey and Simon Dolan due to share driving duties.
Further down the multiple classes the Aston Martin Racing camp grows ever larger with the works squad adding a fifth V8 Vantage to their stable with Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Richie Stanaway sharing a third LMGTE-Pro car to bring AMR to their Le Mans strength when BMW factory Bill Auberlen driver will – on loan – replace Stanaway in the line-up to join regular Grand-Am co-driver Dalla Lana.
Of course, as well as being a dress rehearsal for Le Mans this weekend’s race remains a performance in itself with valuable WEC up for grabs.
Perhaps no team will be trying harder than Strakka Racing who lost ground to Rebellion Racing in the LMP1 teams’ standings after a crash at Silverstone after Nick Leventis was pushed off the track by one of the LMGTE Am Ferraris. Also looking to make up after Silverstone disappointment will be John Martin and the #26 G-Drive Racing team completed by Mike Conway and Roman Rusinov. Martin fought from fourth to the LMP2 lead at Silverstone only to be caught out by the short, sharp shower and spin into the pit wall, damaging the front of the Nissan engine ORECA 03.
The story in both the GTE classes will be whether anyone can catch Aston Martin Racing after the team dominated both the Pro and Am sub-categories at their home race by locking out both front rows and leading every lap of the race in both classes.
As well as the extra car AMR welcome Peter Dumbreck and Rob Bell for their first WEC starts of 2013 after missing Silverstone in favour of Blancpain Endurance Series action at Monza. The pair slot into the #97 and #98 Pro entries respectively.
The trio of 2013 Vantages will remain the target for the Porsche and Ferrari works teams in LMGTE Pro, the two AF Corse 458 Italia remaining double-handed efforts amidst all the endurance posturing.
The LMGTE Am side of the Italian operation expands to two cars for the race with a #54 – for drivers Yannick Mallegol, Jean–Marc Bachelier and Howard Blank – joining the #61 that played a role in Leventis’ Silverstone accident.
The Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps is due to begin at 2:30pm local time (1:30pm UK) on Saturday May 4.