Even after the performance reductions that were given to the LMP2 field for the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship, the privateer class have ended the first day of the WEC Prologue faster than the new Hypercars.
Filipe Alburquerque kept the United Autosport #22 on top, claiming the fastest lap in both the morning and afternoon sessions. His quickest time 2:04.822 was just over a tenth fastest than the lap time he had set in the morning. However, the morning session was plagued with incident, seeing it come to a premature end and the afternoon session extended by half an hour.
The first red flag of the day came out for fastest man on track Albuquerque, who beached his ORECA machine over a sausage kerb. It was a brief period of pause before the track went back to green. However, it was the two TF Sport Aston Martin Am entries that caused the majority of the stoppage time, with both Ben Keating and Satoshi Hoshino, in the D’station Racing-badged TF Sport entry, having major crashes through the Eau Rouge/Raidillon complex. Keating was taken for medical checks after his crash, but it has been reported he has not suffered major injury. It has not been confirmed yet if Keating will be back in the car tomorrow.
The afternoon session was a lot cleaner, allowing drivers to get a decent feel for their new vehicles around the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Job van Uitert kept session leader Alburquerque on his toes in the Racing Team Nederland machine, finishing the session second fastest, but only one thousandth of a second off the pace. The top three were locked out by LMP2 cars, with Robin Frijns taking third in the Team WRT.
After a bit of a slow start in the morning, the LMP1-running Alpine race team showed more pace in the afternoon, placing the first LMH-class car fourth on the overall timesheet. Brendon Hartley had been fastest of the LMHs in the morning session, but his time then only placed him eighth overall. At the end of the day, Kazuki Nakajima had improved on Hartley’s morning time in the Toyota Gazoo Racing by one and a half seconds. This showed some great improvement from the sole Hypercar, but there is still a lot of work to do for the Japanese team to get them back fighting at the front. The 2:05.143 set by Nakajima was just over five seconds slower than the fastest LMP1 lap time set at Spa-Francorchamps last year.
Porsche GT Team stayed on top of the GTE timing board thanks to another quick lap from Kevin Estre. The Frenchman retained the #92’s position from the morning session, setting a 2:14.304. This was slightly slower than his fastest lap time in the morning session (2:14.198). The top four in the Pro class finished Porsche–Ferrari-Porsche-Ferrari with Miguel Molina getting closest to Estre’s time with a 2:14.633 in the #52. The sole Corvette Racing entry was eight tenths off the pace of the full season Pro cars.
Matteo Cairoli kept Porsche on top in GTE Am, not only taking the fastest Am time but also setting a time fast enough to finish third on the overall GTE lap board. This is something that was also seen in the morning session – Am cars gong faster than Pros – and with the evolution of some of the Am cars this season it is possible that the Ams may be racing toe-to-toe with the Pro cars throughout the season.
The afternoon session was cleaner than the morning, but was still affected by three red flags. Sean Gelal was the first to bring out the red flag in the afternoon when he backed his JOTA LMP2 car into the barriers at the top of Eau Rouge. Shortly after the action had resumed, Anders Buchardt took the second red flag, going off at Bruxelles hairpin in the #46 Project 1 Am Porsche. The session was finally ended early again (though only by six minutes) when Charles Milesi stopped on track in the WRT Oreca at No-Name or Speaker’s Corner after Bruxelles.
The second and final day of the Prologue comes tomorrow, then there is one day break before the teams are back on track for the opening round of the 2021 championship: the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.