A fortnight ago the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship grid accumulated at Silverstone for the opening round of the 2017 season. Toyota Gazoo Racing came out on top of the field, taking the first overall victory of the season. It was the first win for the #8 Toyota crew for a long time. However, the victory did not come as easy as Toyota thought it would.
The Checkered Flag will look through the prospects for the grid at the second round of the championship, the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, in the build up to lights out on Saturday.
Anthony Davidson, Sebastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima drove the #8 Toyota LMP1-Hybrid car to victory ahead of Porsche at Silverstone. A heavy crash from Jose Maria Lopez in the #7 Toyota saw it dropped out of contention around the halfway point of the race, leaving nothing in the way of Porsche claiming a surprise double podium.
Due to this crash, Lopez has been ruled out of competing in the 6 Hours of Spa. The three-time World Touring Car champion was sent to hospital after the crash and although he was released that evening he has suffered minor damage to two vertebrae. The #7 Toyota will be raced by just Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi.
The result came as a surprise because Porsche has started the season running the low-downforce aero kit on their 919 Hybrids which was supposed to create a deficit for them in the opening round of the 2017 season. However, the #2 Porsche team were able to put in a competitive showing, with Brendon Hartley running for a while in strong contention for the victory. The second-placed #2 Porsche finished just over six seconds behind the winning Toyota.
It seemed that the low-downforce package on the Porsche did not have too much of an effect on the race pace of the German car. The team still seemed competitive and able to get into the battle with Toyota by optimising their pit stops and strategy. The downforce deficit is not supposed to be as prominent for Porsche this weekend at Spa. If the Porsche team could get a victory in before Le Mans it will help them on top of any advantage they will get for solely running the high-downforce package in the latter stage of the season. Toyota has come out and stated that the slim margin they had on Porsche at Silverstone is a cause for concern.
The LMP2 fight in Silverstone was a mixed field and it is expected to be the same again in Spa. Oliver Jarvis made a great impression in his LMP2 debut race by helping the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing team take the class victory. But it was a close fight between the three who ended up on the podium and a close fight is expected again this weekend.
With the pace of the LMP2 grid so close, it is difficult to make a different strategy work. This was proved by the performance of the other Jackie Chan Racing car #37. Alex Brundle had stated before the race started that the team had focused solely on race strategy and so that was why they had qualified so low in the field, but they struggled to make up places in the race. It will be interesting to see how many teams opt for this tactic of just focusing on the race this weekend or if more of them will put an emphasis on qualifying set-up.
Alex Lynn and the #26 G-Drive Racing team will be hoping for a better race this weekend. Their door damage at the start of the 6 Hours of Silverstone saw the effort that had been put into putting the car on pole become in vain as they struggled to regain any ground in the class. This is, once again, an issue with the fact the class pace is so similar.
LM GTE PRO
Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK seemed to be the team to beat from qualifying onwards. An exhilarating race for the #67 crew of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell saw them take an entertaining victory. There seemed to be no competition for the #67 Ford, even with the problems it suffered.
However, the other Ford GTE Pro car was very much in the mix of the rest of the racing. Ending second from last in the LM GTE Pro category, they had a completely different race to the sister car even though their race was trouble-free.
This weekend will reveal more of the competitive order of the LM GTE Pro field and if the #67 Ford team have a speed advantage on the rest of the field. The new computer-calculated BoP system does not come in until the fourth round of the championship, the 6 Hours of Nurburgring. Until this race, last year’s system of calculating BoP is still being used.
LM GTE AM
Aston Martin seemed to surge out of the class come qualifying and race day, but a controversial move from the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari snatched what seemed to be a win that was Aston Martin’s from their hands. When the track was dry, Aston Martin seemed to have the edge on the field and lead most of the race. This would suggest that they’re the team to watch this season.
After getting so close to the LM GTE Am title last year and showing consistent competitiveness in the class, it is clear that this is the desire of the team for this season. From the last race, however, it can not be said that Ferrari or Porsche are not also in contention for the title. All three constructors in the class ended on the podium last race, so the competitive field appears to be very close.