It was Audi’s day at Spa

Porsche led the first 94 of the record-breaking 176 laps completed today in the Six Hours of Spa Francorchamps, however Audi #7 (Ben Treluyer, Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer) would ultimately be victorious in a race that played out in an interesting, if very different way to the events of Silverstone, back in April.

Todays race boiled down to reliability factors, in addition to an emphasis on strategy, and we did see a number of prolonged on-track duels. Just as at Silverstone, however, it was less frequent and in my opinion more of a traditional endurance race.

Porsche dominated in qualifying, with a 1-2-3, so going into the race,  I personally thought Porsche would be the one to win at the end of the six hours. Unfortunately for Porsche, a number of factors contributed to Audi taking what should have realistically been a Porsche win given the high speed nature of the circuit.

It also reminded the world why you should never count Audi out of victory in a World Endurance race even when the endurance racing royalty of Porsche is present.

Porsche led early with the #17 car from the #18 with the #7 Audi moving through into third. A couple of bizarre moments caused Porsche’s domination to slip.

The first of these mistakes was a collision between Nick Tandy in the #19 919 Hybrid (LMP1) and Porsche AG Team Manthey’s Kevin Estre (GTE PRO). The result of this collision, in which both cars continued, was new front bodywork for the P1 car and Estre being held accountable.

Personally in this case, I’m not entirely sure where the GTE PRO car was meant to go, others see it as a racing accident and the stewards felt the GTE entrant was to blame so it is an interesting talking point.

The second of the bizarre moments which caused issues for Porsche came when the lead #17 car, driven at the time by Brendon Hartley, was unable to stop the car within the track limits at the chicane area of the former “bus-stop section”.

To rejoin the circuit, Hartley took an escape route used as a marshall’s post. This didn’t go over well with race control and the stewards handed a stop/go penalty to the car later in the race for endangering marshalls and leaving the track boundaries.

Porsche’s #18 car therefore took the mantle to fight against the strength of the #7 and #8 Audi’s with the Porsche’s supreme straight line speed once again apparent here. The Audi’s low downforce Le Mans Aero package made for much-improved lap times for Audi Sport. Ultimately though, even with the greatest aero package, the 8MJ hybrid package the Porsche uses, compared to the 4MJ package in the Audi, allowed for Porsche to use the Kemmel Straight to its ultimate speed advantage.

Audi’s strength came in strategy, directed by Leena Gade and the rest of the Audi Sport strategists for the #7 car, allowed them to claim victory today. In addition to consistency from the drivers, stronger reliability than many of the competitors and the ability to effectively double stint the tyres proved to be Audi’s real advantage.

The cornering abilty of the Audi Sport entries, as was apparent at Silverstone, the #7 car was able to make a decisive move at the Piff-Paff section of the circuit against Porsche’s lead #18 car. It was an ambitious move around the outside that placed Audi in a dominant lead and allowed them to dictate the race pace for the remainder.

Toyota had a very tough race at Spa-Francorchamps, as with Silverstone, however the addition of more entrants from Audi and Porsche just served to compound issues for Toyota. Add in the issues with the engine switching off on the #1 car many times, and prolonged times in the pits, and ultimately it was a nightmare race for Toyota. It was antithetic to the events of twelve months ago, when Toyota dominated here.

Toyota wasn’t the only LMP1 manufacturer with attrition to deal with however, despite only two official retirements in the race, several cars suffered issues. Audi’s #8 and #9 cars having several issues throughout the race. The #8 dropping out of contention after electrical issues, whilst the higher-downforce packaged #9 had major issues with the car porpoising and a lack of general pace in addition to a trip to a gravel trap late in the race. Finally the ByKolles, LMP1 entrant was an official retirement with mechanical issues.

In the LMP2 class, ELMS guests JOTA sport dominated proceedings with team owner Simon Dolan, Nissan LMP1 factory driver Harry Tincknell and GP2 star Mitch Evans on his debut weekend in WEC winning the class. they finished ahead of the #28 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS-P2 entry of Gustavo Yacaman, Pipo Derani and Ricardo Gonzalez, although due to the rules in FIA WEC, the second place G-Drive Ligier scores the points, with non full-season entrants unable to score championship points.

In GTE PRO, the controversy came with the class leading #51 AF Corse entrant driven by Gimmi Bruni and Toni Vilander. The car led the class until the last thirty minutes, when a pit-stop resulted in the tyres being dropped leaving a rolling tyre into the active pitlane, and therefore the team got penalised for safety reasons. The penalty resulted in a late drive-through penalty dropping the car to forth in class.

The incident elevated the #99 Aston Martin Racing entry to a well deserved class victory, after a strong race from Fernando Rees, Alex Mcdowell and Richie Stanaway. Porsche AG Team Manthey managed to take the second and third step of the GTE PRO Podium. In GTE AM, it was a victory for the #98 Aston Martin driven by Paul Dalla Lana, Mattias Lauda and Pedro Lamy, whilst a controversial accident between G-Drive Racing and Larbre competition, ended the Corvette’s race early.

Going into Le Mans, a lot of questions are still to be answered. On paper it should be a Porsche VS Audi race with Toyota’s not showing enough pace, however if you remember back twelve months after the 2014 Six Hours of Spa Francorchamps, Audi was in a position that looked entirely like the team would play no major part in Le Mans, and that Toyota would be the favourite to win. We all know how that ended …

Anyway Le Mans 24 is the next round the FIA World Endurance Championship, whilst tomorrow is the Tudor United Sportscar championship race at Laguna Seca, finally the FIA WEC and Spa secured the future of the Six Hours of Spa as a round of the FIA WEC through to 2018 today.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

2 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

MIE

A very enjoyable race to watch, partly because the outright fastest car didn’t win. That is because the Porsche couldn’t save its tyres for a full double stint. While races are run at a much higher pace than in previous decades thanks to improving reliability, tyre and fuel conservation are as important as they are in F1.

Coji

This is my first year watching endurance racing, really. The pace is incredible considering they have so many hours to race. They mix it up so often and the closing rates on some of the GTE cars is mind blowing and thrilling. Silverstone is one of my favorite tracks and last week’s race got me hooked. They race in good locations and the fastest car doesn’t always win in endurance. They even lap faster than some of the back markers from F1, which is sad for F1 but generates great respect for the technology in these cars. I really enjoyed… Read more »