The FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps saw the led of the race passed between cars, but only the LMH cars as, despite early indicators that suggested the LMP2s would be fighting for the overall win, the LMHs dominated the field.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing duo were in a strong position for the first half of the race, with pole-sitter #7 retaining the lead over the sister car. With the Alpine Elf Matmut spending the first hour climbing through the field of LMP2 cars to get to third, all the Japanese squad needed to do was continue the clean race they had been executing to take the first Hypercar victory and secure the top two steps of the podium.
However, the plan came falling apart just after the halfway mark. The first blow came to the #8, which was handed a 30-second stop/go penalty for a pit stop infringement, where Toyota refueled the car six seconds faster than the mandatory minimum fuel time (35 seconds). This dropped the #8 behind the charging #36 Alpine, but it was a mistake by the #7 than handed the LMP1 car the overall lead. Kamui Kobayashi when straight on at Bruxelles, beaching the #7 in the gravel. Luckily there was no major damage to the car, so the Japanese driver was able to get it back to the pits. The incident, however, lost the #7 car a lap on the other LMH runners, dropping it out of contention for the overall and class win.
Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Matthieu Vaxiviere put up a great fight in the Alpine, managing to keep the #8 Toyota under pressure until the chequered flag. A clever strategy from Toyota made the #8 more conservative, however, meaning the car had to take one less pit stop than the French-backed entry. This did rob the race of an on track battle for the win to the flag as Toyota took victory by 1m07s.
Despite the lengthy stop for the #7 and a momentary loss of power towards the end of the race, the #7 Toyota still managed to round off the top three overall, a minute clear of the LMP2 class winner. The suggested LMP2 fight was off the cards from the end of the first hour as all three LMH cars had already put a lap on the rest of the grid.
As had been suggested by Filipe Albuquerque’s‘s immense pace throughout the week, the first LMP2 win of the season went to Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Fabio Scherer the #22 United Autosports. The team was unbeatable throughout the race, not giving up the lead once in the 6-hour event. The only thing to put a dent in their lead was a drive-through penalty handed to then in the final hour for a Full Course Yellow violation, but even after serving that they still remained in the lead of the race.
After a fairly messy race from both cars, it was the #26 G-Drive Racing that were set to claim second in class. The duo of cars both seemed to be magnets for incidents throughout the six hours of racing. Nyck de Vries had done a great job to get the #26 back into podium contention in the fifth hour, but unfortunately and oil leak forced the team to retired the car.
Due to the misfortunes of the #26 car, the two JOTA entries claimed the final two steps of the LMP2 podium. #28 in the hands of Stoffel Vandoorne, Sean Gelael and Tom Blomqvist was second on track, but a drive-through penalty for dangerous driving saw them swapped with the sister car, giving the second place finished to Antonio Felix da Costa, Anthony Davison and Roberto Gonzalez.
It was an unfortunate race for the Racing Team Nederland entry of Fritz van Eerd, Giedo van der Garde and Job van Uitert as the trio had looked like they would be fighting for the overall class win at the start of the race. They fell down the order, coming across the line fourth after a strong fight back through the field, and beat Inter Europol to the chequered flag, meaning they took the first LMP2 Pro/Am victory of the season.
The series’ new LMP2 entrant Team WRT were sadly unable to finish the race as a clutch failure forced them into the garage, but the pace of the car had been strong before this mechanical retirement.
Remaining dominant, Kevin Estre and Neel Jani brought the #92 Porsche GT Team car home to take first blood in the Porsche vs Ferrari GTE Pro battle. The rapid pace Estre had displayed yesterday translated to the team’s race pace, giving them enough of an advantage to competitively take victory. It wasn’t a clean race for the team, however, as punctures suffered on both the Pro cars had the team worried the issue was something more than a pick up of debris on track.
The middle portion of the race fell into the hands of AF Corse, but Jani and Estre fought well to get the #92 back to the front of the class. They finished a competitive 25 seconds ahead of the chasing Pro field, taking home maximum points from the season opener. Ferrari filled out the rest of the podium, with James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi driving their #51 Ferrari well to take a secure second place. The #52 Ferrari was also given a drive-through for Full Course Yellow infringements, but was able to retain third with enough of an advantage over the fourth-placed Corvette Racing.
The puncture woes continued for the #91, which ended up suffering two rear-right blow outs in the middle of the race. Adding insult to injury, the #7 Toyota was also caught in an incident with the #91 Porsche, taking it off the track as it tried to make a pass through La Source. The #91 finished at the back of the GTE Pro class, a lap down on the sister car and only just beating the winning Am across the line.
As Porsche took glory in Pro, Ferrari was the team to beat in Am as the #83 AF Corse took class victory thanks to Francois Perrodo, Alessio Rovera and Nicklas Nielsen. The trio worked in perfect harmony, with Perrodo doing what he needed at the start of the race before handing over to Rovera for the middle stint. A bit of luck fell their way, but the trio had a clean race, leaving it as a straight run to the finish for Nielsen to bring the car home for the win.
The #83 finished 1m08s up on second-placed, and class pole-sitter, #33 TF Sport. The Aston Martin team had been strong off the start, but sadly Ben Keating was victim of some messy driving at the start of the race and was taken off track. He was able to bring the car back, though, and the trio of Keating, Felipe Fraga and Dylan Pereira recovered to take the second step of the podium.
The #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing was due to make it three different manufacturers on the class podium, but was another car to be hit with a late drive-through penalty for Full Course Yellows violations and was demoted down to fifth. The #47 Cetilar Ferrari entry instead took the final step of the podium.
The FIA World Endurance Championship now moves into a month and a half break, where the teams will be preparing for a new circuit in the championship and a longer race: the 8 Hours of Portimao. As the track has been a staple on the European Le Mans Series calendar for the last few years, the ex-ELMS teams are sure to have an advantage of knowledge around the Portuguese circuit. Will the LMP2s bring the fight back to the LMHs, or will it remain advantage Hypercars? All will be revealed June 13th.