Category Archives: Motorsport News

Le Mans Classic

Le Mans Classic Returns

Former winners return to Le Mans

The Le Mans Classic returns from the 8th – 10th July giving spectators a unique opportunity to see the cars that took part in the Le Mans 24 Hours between 1923 and 1993 back racing at La Sarthe. It is not only the cars that are returning, as many famous drivers also use the Le Mans Classic to get back behind the wheel.

Le Mans Classic

Of the nine former winners down to drive, the man with the highest number of victories is Emanuele Pirro, five-time winner of the race with Audi (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006 and 2007). The popular Italian has been a regular member of the Peter Auto grids and in the Le Mans Classic he will be driving an Alfa Romeo T33/3 (1969), a Lola T290 (1972) and a Lancia Beta Gr.V (1979). Out on the track he may come across his former team-mate, Marco Werner, three-time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours, who is also entered to drive three different cars: a Lotus IX (1955), a Maserati T63 Birdcage (1961) and a Maserati A6 GCS Barchetta (1954). The most recent winner is current works Porsche driver Romain Dumas who won at Le Mans just a few weeks ago in the Porsche 919. This time he will compete in the Group C grid with a Porsche 962C.

Romain Dumas
Romain Dumas

In homage to his father Jean-Pierre who died last year, Julien Beltoise will race in grid 6 with Henri Pescarolo (who still holds the record for the highest number of races; 33) in the same Inaltera that he drove with Jean-Pierre in 1976. Another driver who spearheaded the Matra attack in the early 70s, Gérard Larrousse, the current president of the Drivers’ Club, is back at the wheel of a Porsche 550 Spyder (1958). Eric Hélary, a hero of Peugeot’s historic triple in 1993 will share his time between a Chevrolet Corvette C3 (1970), a Lancia Beta Gr.V (1979) and an Alfa Romeo T 33 TT (1971).

Emanuele Pirro
Emanuele Pirro

British driver Andy Wallace, who won the race in 1988 in a Jaguar, remains faithful to the make as he will be at the wheel of a D-Type (1955). The Englishman is among the drivers who have raced in the event on multiple occasions with 19 starts. But his former team-mate in 1988 Jan Lammers from Holland, entered in an Austin Healey 3000, has racked up more starts than Wallace as he has 22 to his name. Emmanuel Collard has also reached this number after just competing the Le Mans 24 Hours for the 22nd time this year. At Le Mans Classic he will be tackling the long circuit in a Porsche 908/3 (1971) and a 911 Turbo RSR (1974).

Emmanuel Collard
Emmanuel Collard

Other outright winners Jochen Mass (1989) and Gijs van Lennep (1971 and 1976) are back in a De Tomaso Pantera Gr. IV (1971), a Porsche 911 RSR 3L (1974) and a Porsche 908 LH (1968) respectively. A number of class winners will also be on the grid including Casper Elgaard, first in the LMP2 category in 2009, in a 1964 Porsche 904 as well as John Fitzpatrick, Ralf Kelleners and Uwe Alzen, all victorious at the wheel of Porsche 911s (1975, 1996 and 1999 respectively), who remain faithful to the Stuttgart make. Double Grand Touring winner, Raymond Narac, is at the wheel of a prototype, a Group C Porsche 962 (1987).

Gerard Larrouse
Gerard Larrouse

Many other well-know figures who have raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours are also expected such as David Halliday (BMW 3.0 CSL), Jean Ragnotti (Alpine M 65, Renault Alpine A443), Paul Belmondo (Ford GT 40), Chris Mac Allister, Eric De Doncker, Gareth Evans, Roald Goethe, Lucien Guitteny, Stuart Hall, Sam Hancock, David Hart, Hans Hugenholtz, Wolfgang Kaufmann, Patrice Lafargue, Franck Lagorce, Michel Lecourt, Erik Maris, Jean-Marc Merlin, Jacques Nicolet, Martin O’Connell, François Perrodo, Christian Pescatori, Frédéric Da Rocha, Lucien Rossiaud, Alain Serpaggi, John Sheldon, Pierre de Thoisy and more. It promises to be quite a reunion.

Marco Werner
Marco Werner

The Le Mans Classic takes place on the full Le Mans circuit from the 8th – 10th July. Travel Destinations are official agents for the Le Mans Classic and are proud to have been looking after spectators at the circuit since its inception, offering private trackside camping, pre-erected glamping tents, and our Flexotel Village cabins all on the circuit. For late bookings for the 2016 Le Mans Classic please call 0844 873 0203.

FIA WEC Silverstone

Countdown to Le Mans; Part 1

Countdown to Le Mans: Five Post-Silverstone Storylines

The FIA World Endurance Championship – which includes the Le Mans 24 Hours – had its opening race last weekend at Silverstone, and provided a few hints as to what we can expect from this year’s twice-round-the-clock classic at La Sarthe.

Dailysportscar.com’s lead WEC reporter Stephen Kilbey looks back five of the key topics as the dust (& snow) settles on the 6 Hours of Silverstone:

1. Audi is back to winning ways… Well, sort of.

Audi R18

With so many question marks surrounding both Audi and Toyota, who enter the 2016 season with brand new cars, Silverstone was always going to be fascinating from an LMP1 point of view.

While Toyota were once again lacking pace, throughout the weekend, Audi and its brand new R18 looked like it may have the pace to challenge Porsche’s formidable 919 which won both Le Mans and the WEC title last season. Qualifying was held on a drying track after snowfall early Saturday morning, and Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler managed to stick their #7 Audi on pole for the first time since the 2013 6 Hours of Fuji.

In the race, the reigning WEC champion #1 Porsche of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard managed to snatch the lead off the Audi and race off into the distance. Hartley though, crashed out in dramatic fashion just before the halfway mark, almost rolling the prototype after tagging a GTE Porsche running through Farm curve.

The incident handed Audi its lead back, and triple Le Mans champions managed to hold off the other Porsche until the finish. However, a post-race technical check of the winning R18 revealed that the front plank was too worn, and therefore prompted the organisers to disqualify the car from the race. The #2 Porsche of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani therefore claimed the victory.

While it’s way too early to tell if Porsche will win Le Mans again or not this year, all signs point to the 24 Hours being another close-fought affair.

2. The pace of the Hybrid prototypes is still astonishing

Porsche 919 Hybrid

The current era of P1 cars really do need to be seen to be believed. Last year, the factory prototypes took an enormous step in regard to raw performance, especially towards the end of the WEC season when Porsche turned up at the Nürburgring fresh from its 17th Le Mans win with a new aero package.

Going into 2016 the ACO has tried to peg back the top cars, forcing them to use 30% less fuel per lap. But intelligent engineers at Toyota, Porsche and Audi seem to have managed to gain the previous level of performance back that and a little bit more by improving other areas.

At Silverstone the P1 cars were going faster than 2016, producing lap-times comparable to that of a mid-pack Formula One car, but with a weightier chassis and more traffic to deal with. If the form continues on a low-drag circuit like Le Mans, then expect the lap-record to be broken once again in Qualifying if the weather holds out.

3. Ford could well have a good run at Le Mans

Ford GT

There’s a lot of pressure on GM’s finest going into this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, it being the 50th anniversary since Ford’s historic first win. Nevertheless, the new GTE programme continues to impress. The new Ford GT’s first outing at Daytona back in January was problematic, but fast forward a few months and it looks far more capable of a head-turning debut at the big one in eight weeks time.

Both of Ford Performance’s new cars ran faultlessly during the race at Silverstone, finishing up fourth and fifth in the GTE Pro class. On pace they weren’t able to challenge the might of AF Corse’s Ferraris, but the raw speed should come with its new found reliability.

With four factory-entered Fords due to compete at Le Mans, don’t be surprised if the GTE newcomers leave with an impressive result.

4. Aston Martin Racing looks far more competitive this year

Aston Martin Racing

2015 was tough for the British factory team run by Prodrive. Its Vantages were often far off front-running pace throughout the year and failed once again to win the GTE Pro class at Le Mans.

If the first round of 2016 is anything to go by though, Aston Martin looks in a lot better shape than was predicted. With brand new Dunlop tyres that will only get better with further development, a return to a green paint scheme and an aggressive aerodynamic overhaual to its Vantages, it should be able to build on the solid podium finish on home soil and win its class for the first time at Le Mans in eight years.

5. The WEC continues to build on its extremely positive foundation

Gulf Racing UK

While the Le Mans 24 Hours will always be the jewel in the WEC’s crown, the exceptional racing, interest from more blue-chip manufacturers and a very stable calendar is paying off big time for the FIA’s youngest World Championship.

Crowds at European rounds like Silverstone and Spa have been growing year on year, and that’s only a good thing for the future of sportscar racing as well as the Le Mans 24 Hours. Last year, a record crowd of 263,000 people turned up to La Sarthe in June to witness history, and with momentum continuing to build don’t be surprised if that record is shattered once again.

If you would like to attend the Le Mans 24 Hours 2016 then Travel Destinations have a selection of travel, ticket and camping packages available.

If you would like to attend the FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Nurburgring in July, then Travel Destinations also have an exclusive travel, ticket and trackside camping option available.

If you would like more information on either of these offers please click on the links above or call our reservations team on 0844 873 0203.

Sportscar-news-round-up2

Sports Car News Round Up

Sports Car News Round Up

In the first of a new series of articles exclusively for Travel Destinations, our man in the media centre, Graham Goodwin, keeps you up to date with all the news on and off track in the sports car world. With the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship and the European Le Mans Series taking place next weekend at Silverstone, Graham looks at what has been happening in the build up over the last month.

 

March was one heck of a busy month in the world of Sportscar racing.

We’ve had the pre-season tests for both the European Le Mans Series and the FIA World Endurance Championship; New cars, new drivers, new teams and a pair of very healthy grids.

That was followed up with a London launch for the opening round of the FIA WEC with cars and drivers on parade, and some unexpected news from Championship Boss Gerard Neveu.

European Le Mans Series

The European Le Mans Series will get under way next weekend with the first of five, four hour races for LMP2, the new LMP3, GTE and GTC cars.

More than 30 cars are billed to take the start with an excellent LMP2 grid – Jota Sport will be looking to take a win at the start of their campaign with the team featuring a pair of factory LMP1 drivers from different teams on their line-up, Simon Dolan joined by Audi’s Filipe Albuquerque and Nissan’s Harry Tincknell.

Look out too for the Orecas from Murphy Prototypes and AF Corse, the latter a renamed SMP Racing who have decided to delay the debut of their new in-house designed Coupe until round two – Both teams have very quick drivers on the roster and the older Oreca car still has fire in its belly.

Thiriet by TDS Racing do have the new Oreca 05 Coupe, and a good driver line up too. The car is fast, and a stunning good looker. If it is reliable too then it will be one to watch.

There will be huge interest too in the ‘junior’ LMP3 class, a world first for Silverstone as the new class makes its racing debut. Several manufacturers have made their intentions to build cars clear but they have all been beaten to the punch by Yorkshire-based Ginetta who plan to bring up to five of their new LMP3 coupes to the opening round.

It is early days yet for the pretty little coupe but with clever aero and a powerful, and under stressed Nissan V8, these cars might be nipping at the heels of the LMP2s before very long!

Team GB Olympic legend Sir Chris Hoy makes his LMP racing debut alongside fellow Scot Charlie Robertson in one of a pair of cars entered by Ginetta factory based Team LNT.

 

FIA World Endurance Championship

Neither the brand new Nissan GTR LM LMP1 nor the newly re-engined Rebellions will make the opening round (Though a Nissan will be on display in the paddock with all of the team’s drivers planned to be present too).

That won’t be too much of an issue for great racing though with all three of the other factory LMP1 teams bringing heavily updated versions of their stunning hybrid racers to the grid.

Porsche ended 2014 with a race win in Brazil and arrive in the UK with their 2015 919 Hybrid now punching out more than 1000bhp between it’s turbo four pot engine and its pair of hybrid systems. The car is the very first to enter the maximum 8 megajoules bracket, a bold step forward that the Porsche boys hope will give them an edge.

Defending World Drivers, and Manufacturers, Champions Toyota bring an updated version of their TS040 Hybrid to the fight – the team have confirmed a three year commitment to the FIA WEC and whilst they stick with last years 6 megajoule package alongside their howling V8, their acknowledged aero expertise might well play a part.

Audi found themselves breathless in the wake of the opposition at times last year and have responded. They stick with diesel power but have produced a massively enhanced evolution on last year’s car with a doubling of their hybrid boost (up to 4MJ) and huge attention to detail on the weight management and aerodynamic front. A confident looking Audi is a worrying prospect for the opposition and whilst Porsche grabbed the pre-season headlines with astonishing pace at the Prologue test last month the Audis were faster over a full stint (and Toyota are reputed to have lapped quicker at Paul Ricard in their pre-season tests!)

In LMP2 the rather disappointing grid of last season is history – replaced by a full season entry that has more than doubled to 10 cars. There is plenty of variety too:

G-Drive double their effort to a pair of Ligier Nissans in an eye catching new Orange and black livery – Brit start Sam Bird replaces Olivier Pla in the lead #26 car but look out for the all South American crewed #28 too.
Tequila Patron ESM arrive as full season entrants from the USA but not with the new HPD Coupes they planned to field, issues with the new cars have seen the team dust off their older Hondas ahead of a pair of Ligiers arriving in time for Round 2. Watch for Scot Ryan Dalziel to star here.

Team Sard Morand bring a pair of revised Morgan Evos with SARD badged Judd V8s – Another quick young Brit, Oliver Webb is one to watch in #43

The only all British effort on the grid comes from the locally based Strakka Racing, the team making a belated comeback after almost a year’s delay to their new car – The Strakka Dome S103 Coupe looks like Darth Vader to the Ligier’s Princess leia – It will be quick, especially in the hands of the team’s two top pros Jonny Kane and Danny Watts.

The ELMS Champions from 2014 arrive in the WEC with their French Blue weapon from last season – Signatech Alpine looking to climb the ladder in the WEC.

If anything even more ‘blue’ though is the stunning new Oreca 05 Coupe of Hong Kong based KCMG, the team investing in the future after race winning success last season – The car’s astonishing electric blue livery is going to be a crowd pleaser for sure and with an all- British driver line up for Silverstone it will be one to watch!

The GT ranks will see the factory backed Ferraris defending their crown from a pair of factory Porsches and a trio of Aston Martins in the Pro class whilst the Am class too sees all three marques going head to head with the additional V8 powered spice of a new Corvette C7.R into the mix.

There will be a different look to the race start this year too – No grid girls, a specific decision from the WEC and the cars will leave the grid from an ‘ear of corn’ formation after a pre grid that will see all the teams line-up with their cars, it should make for quite a sight from the pit straight grandstands!

 

Nurburgring 24 Hours

Sadly we end this month’s round up with some bad news.

A tragic accident at the Nurburgring last weekend with a spectator killed in a freak incident has left questions to be answered before plans for the 2015 Nurburgring 24 Hours can be confirmed.

At present the fastest GT cars are under a temporary ban but moves are underway to confirm plans for the race proper in May – We’ll bring an update to these pages as soon as we can confirm what those plans entail.

 

Porsche win the race, Toyota win the Championship

Porsche win the race, Toyota win the Championship

The last FIA World Endurance Championship race of the 2014 season had a dramatic end, following some very close racing throughout the six hours race in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Porsche secured their maiden win in the FIA WEC with the No. 14 car taking the chequered flag first. They were hotly pursued by the No. 8 Toyota, who had already secured the drivers’ championship in the previous race, and now secured the team title too. Taking the third step on the podium was the No. 1 Audi, securing an emotional farewell to racing for the retiring legend Tom Kristensen.

brazil-start

The race finished in dramatic circumstances, behind the safety car, after a high speed accident involving Mark Webber in the No. 20 Porsche 919, and Matteo Cressoni in the No. 90 8Star Ferrari. The accident occurred as the race entered the last half hour & race control eventually conceded that they could not start the race again. Cressoni was able to walk away from his stricken Ferrari, whilst Webber was stretchered from the scene of his mangled Porsche. Fortunately both drivers were reported OK, following stringent medical assessments.

Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas brought home the No. 14 Porsche 919 Hybrid to score Porsche their first overall win of the season, and crucially, their first since Porsche’s return to the prototype ranks this year. “In the final race of the season we got our first win,” said a triumphant Jani after the race. “We’ve come so close before, and now to get the win is such a relief. It made our mission for the year. A success.”

brazil-porsche

It was an up and down race across every class. Many on-track battles lasted the entire The No. 20 Porsche dominated the first quarter of the race with Lieb and Webber behind the wheel, but the performance of the car deteriorated towards the end of the race. The 16 second lead they had vanished.

The No. 14 Porsche and the No. 8 Toyota battled for second place overall for hours during the middle portion of the race, with the No. 1 Audi getting involved during the middle portion after double-stinting tyres to save time. This eventually turned into the battle for overall honours, with the No. 14 holding the advantage of pit-stop strategy going into the final hour.

brazil-toyota

Too many mistakes by the Sebastian Buemi and Anthony Davidson cost them a chance to control the race for Toyota. The newly crowned drivers’ champions followed the lead Porsche home under the safety car, wondering what could have been as the medical team and marshals on site dealt with the cleanup of the race-ending accident.. Their finishing position did give them the manufacturers’ title for Toyota, sparking celebrations in the Toyota garage that may have not yet finished. “It has been difficult, we have tough opposition. Our car wasn’t really up there today, so we are having to over-drive it to keep up,” admitted Buemi.

Tom Kristensen ended his career on another high, finishing third overall after a great race by himself, Loic Duval and Lucas Di Grassi in the No. 1 Audi. The Dane, who announced his retirement prior to the race, was greeted by an emotional Dr Wolfgang Ullrich after getting out of the car at the end of the race – his former teammates Dindo Capello and Allan McNish were also on the scene for his big send off. The man who played a major part in Audi’s dominance of sportscars since the turn of the century has officially hung up his helmet to end an illustrious era for Danish sport and the German marque, he stayed a class act from start to finish.

Rebellion Racing’s No.13 R-One won LMP1 L in a race which saw all three entries spend a lot of time in and out of the garages. It has been a tough season of development for both them and the Lotus crew.

brazil-smp

KCMG won the LMP2 class in what turned out to be a rare race of attrition for all four entries. Richard Bradley, Alexander Imperatori and Matt Howson took charge in the class early after a bad start for the G-Drive Ligier. But Howson would have an impact with a barrier from the lead which cost him a lap as the race settled down, which at the time looked like it would hand the win to SMP.

It was no easy ride for the other LMP2 runners though. Olivier Pla had a sizeable accident in the Ligier which cost the G-Drive the team the title after just 90 minutes of running. The Frenchman went flying in to the barriers at turn 1 after a suspected brake issue. “I think there was a problem with a front right brake. It was quite bad. To lose the race like that, it is difficult.” said his teammate Romian Rusinov after the incident.
Both SMP Orecas suffered issues throughout, and handed the lead back to the KCMG crew towards the end. The No.27 would take the LMP2 title though, as all it needed to do was finish. The team held it in the garage to conserve the car in the final stages, and brought it out to cross the line and win the LMP2 championship.

brazil-amr

Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke took their second win of the season for Aston Martin after a tough start to the race. The team lost a lot of time early when the full-course yellow was called for by the race director to clean up the debris left by Pla’s Ligier. They spent the remainder of the race playing catch up, but in the end held the lead when the safety car came out at the end, knowing they would need to make one last stop unless the race was interrupted.

Porsche had a much better outing, especially with the No. 92 car of Fred Makoweicki and Patrick Pilet which came home second and led the Pro class for a considerable amount of the race. The No. 99 Vantage of Darryl O’Young, Fernando Rees and Andy McDowell slowly faded away after providing the British team with hope of winning at the start. The trio lost time due to an incident with the other Porsche GT entry of Jorg Bergmiester who tapped the car into a spin at turn one late in the race.

AF Corse had a tough race in both GTE classes, the champion No. 51 458 Italia of Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander never featured and the No.71 of James Colado and Davide Rigon had to settle for third in class after struggling to match the pace of the frontrunners. AF Corse did manage to win the manufacturers title for Ferrari though, as Porsche didn’t quite score enough points.

Aston Martin Racing would do the double, as their domination of the GTE Am class continued at Sao Paulo. The No. 98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Christopher Nygaard and Pedro Lamy ran a perfect race, coming home ahead of the Dane train No. 95 entry which spent much of the race recovering from a spin, puncture and a penalty.

brazil-podium

So the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship concluded in Brazil. There were smiles all round. Porsche secured their win (& their star driver survived a big impact), Toyota secured the Championship & will inherit the No. 1 car next year. Audi were also happy to bid farewell to their legendary driver with a place on the podium in Tom Kristensen’s last race.

brazil-tk

 

A special note should also be made for Howden Haynes, the Audi Sport lead race engineer, who also retires after this race. Never one to seek the spotlight, his career has mirrored the success of Audi over the last decade. He moves on to new projects and will be missed on the pit wall next year.

So we move on to the 2015 season where the FIA WEC starts again at Silverstone in April. Those interested in attending the other European rounds at Spa-Francorchamps, Le Mans & the Nurburgring should visit the Travel Destinations website for the best offers available.
Written by Richard Webb
Photos by Dailysportscar

Toyota Drivers Are World Endurance Champions

Toyota Drivers Are World Endurance Champions

Although the No. 7 Toyota of Alexander Wurz, Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin took their first win of the season in Bahrain, at the end of a thrilling FIA WEC Six Hours of Bahrain, it was their teammates in the No. 8 Toyota who claimed the overall FIA World Endurance Championship crown. Anthony Davidson and Sébastian Buemi can now call themselves “World Champions”.

toyota-champions-500
Although technical issues prevented a top step finish for the Toyota pair, the ongoing issues for Audi’s challenge helped seal the championship for the Davidson & Buemi. “We were really unlucky with alternator issues at this race. If we didn’t have the problem we would have also been fighting at the front,” said a relieved Buemi. “It is not the best way to win it, but we are really happy! We have to focus on the manufacturer title now in Brazil.”

It was Porsche who made the best start to the race in Bahrain. The No. 14 car led from pole position with Romain Dumas at the wheel. Brendon Hartley in the No. 20 sister Porsche joined Dumas at the front by climbing to second place at the first corner to make it a Porsche 1-2.

porsches-start-bahrain
The Porsche lead would be short-lived, as the pair of Toyotas soon battled to the front. Indeed the pace of the Toyotas was so good that Buemi not only took the lead, but stretched the gap considerably in a relatively short space of time. All changed again with an early full course caution for debris on the track & so the relative strategies of the leading LMP1 teams were altered. Toyota’s cars came in for early stops, whilst Porsche gambled by staying out. This decision was one the Porsche would later regret as they could never get back on terms with the Toyotas after they eventually pitted.

It seemed like the No. 8 Toyota would once again take a commanding victory in what has been a dominant season, but just under two hours into the race the car was brought in to the garage to fix a mechanical issue which cost the team more than half an hour. This enforced stop meant that they could finish only 11th overall, but lucky for them, the No. 2 Audi title challenger didn’t have the pace to profit from the Toyota’s issues, handing them the title anyway. Le Mans champions Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benôit Tréluyer could only manage fourth in Bahrain.

toyota-no-8-bahrain
With the championship contending Toyota out of the picture, the lead of the race was taken over by the No. 7 Toyota crew, who fought off both Porsches until the end of the race. Both the No. 14 and No.20 Porsches had a chance to catch Davidson during the final two hours, but Mark Webber and Neel Jani couldn’t find the pace required. Jani complained of a lack of hybrid power, and Webber was struggling for grip towards the end of his stint. In the end the winning margin was under a minute, but it seemed like an eternity for the Porsche squad, who in their best all-round performance of the season, still couldn’t claim that elusive first FIA WEC victory.

Rebellion Racing won the LMP1 L class once again, with the No. 13 car coming home ahead of the No. 12 after late race electrical issue curtailed another excellent run. Their only rivals from the Lotus team retired on lap 2 with a gearbox issue.

smp-lmp2-bahrain
The LMP2 class was won by KCMG for the second time this year. Matt Howson, Alex Imperatori and Richard Bradley fought hard against the two SMP Orecas throughout, after the G-Drive Ligier suffered a wishbone failure after contact with the No. 37 SMP entry of Kyril Ladygin on lap 1. The Ligier never recovered, hurting their chances of winning the championship going into the final round.

The FIA WEC GTE Pro and Am titles were also decided in Bahrain. Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander won the 2014 GT Drivers’ World Cup in the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari, while David Heinemeier Hansson, Nicki Thiim and Kristian Poulsen in the No. 95 Aston Martin won the GTE Am title with their class victory.

af-corse-ferrari

Bruni and Vilander won GTE Pro class in Bahrain, but only just! A great battle for almost the entire race with the No.97 Aston Martin of Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke went down to the wire with Turner catching Vilander at a rate of knots, reducing a gap of over 20 seconds down to just over 2 in his final stint. The pair ran bumper-to-bumper for a long time, but the No. 97 needed to make one more stop than the AF Corse, which created the gap at the end. It was frustrating for the British team, who given just another couple of laps would have had a chance to snatch the win in what was clearly the faster car.

AF Corse’s No. 71 Ferrari of James Calado and Davide Rigon came home third. Whilst the Porsche challenge continued struggle for pace, meaning they were unable to challenge for a podium as the race wore on.

amr-95-bahrain

There was some consolation for Aston Martin as they did win the Am class once again, clinching the title in the process. The No.95 was untouchable, coming home a lap ahead of the No. 81 AF Corse Ferrari and the No. 98 Aston Martin which recovered well from an early penalty. A well deserved title was handed to the Danish trio who have been the best of the Am competitors all-season long.

The final round of the season will see the teams head to Sao Paulo at the end of the month, where the remainder of the titles will be decided.

The dates for the FIA World Endurance Championship 2015 have already been confirmed. As well as the Le Mans 24 Hours in June you can also join us at two other European rounds. The Six Hours of Spa will take place on the 2nd May 2015 and the Six Hours of the Nurburgring will take place on the 30th August 2015. We have camping and hotel options available for both. Secure your place by calling us now on 0844 873 0203.

Report & photos by Dailysportscar

lmp1-toyota-500

Audi beat the rain to take victory at Austin, Texas

Ultimately it was the contrasting weather and the teams’ choice of tyres at crucial moments during this race that decided the outcome. After a long summer since the Le Mans 24 Hours, all FIA World Endurance Championship teams reconvened at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for round 4 of this ongoing battle.

lmp-start-500

LMP1
From the start the Toyotas took the lead. In particular Sebastien Buemi was flying in the No. 8 car before a spin undid his earlier good work. The sister Toyota car closed the gap closely followed by the Audis that seemed to have a power advantage over the chasing Porsches early in the race.
It was the interruption of the weather that changed everything. Austin had been suffering from storms all week and race day was no exception. The dark clouds threatened and then delivered a deluge of rain. Audi called in both cars to change to wet tyres. Porsche called in their cars as well but changed only to new slick tyres. Toyota chose to stay out on their existing slicks, gambling on a brief period of rain.

lmp1-toyota-500

The problem for Toyota and Porsche was that the rain continued for some time, leading to a few incidents where drivers were no longer in control of their vehicles. The No 7 Toyota was caught out at the Esses and slid through sideways, whilst the No 20 Porsche bounced through the gravel and into the barriers. Six other cars including the No. 8 Toyota were caught out by standing water at turn 11 that led to more cars becoming beached in the gravel.
With Audi the only prototypes seemingly able to stay on the track, & no safety car in sight, the race was red flagged. Even then wrong decisions were made as some cars erroneously returned to the pit lane, whilst others correctly stopped on the grid. The race was stopped for more than an hour as the rain continued to pour.

lmp1-porsche-500

The race ultimately restarted behind the safety car with all the cars on new tyres & those rejoining from the pit lane behind those that had stopped on track. The race now had the Audis ahead of the No. 14 Porsche on the lead lap. The spins in the wet had left the Toyotas a way behind.
The No. 14 Porsche did manage to take the lead from the Audis during this latter part of the race as the night descended but engine issues ultimately ruined their challenge. The second Porsche and both Toyotas put in some quick laps in an attempt to catch the Audis, but ultimately it was to no avail as Audi claimed another 1-2 to match their Le Mans result. Those 2 results combined enabled Audi to take the lead in the FIA WEC Manufacturers Championship.

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A brief mention here should also be made to the LMP1 L class, where Lotus joined Rebellion Racing for the first time this year. The No. 12 Rebellion Racing ultimately took the honours ahead of the Lotus with the sister Rebellion car unable to finish.

 

LMP2
With the addition of the Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD car there were 5 LMP2 cars that took to the starting grid in Austin. The G-Drive Ligier Nissan started on pole but couldn’t hold the position, whilst early leader KCMG Oreca were ultimately overtaken by Extreme Speed.

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All three cars lost out during the downpour as SMP Racing benefited and took the class lead. The No. 37 SMP Oreca succumbed to damage resulting from contact in traffic, whilst Extreme Speed’s challenge was dented quite literally from contact to the rear. The No. 30 car would ultimately recover to claim third position. The G-Drive Ligier mounted a challenge to the remaining No. 27 SMP Oreca, but suffered after mounting Austin’s kerbs too many times.
A similar fate befell the No. 47 KCMG Oreca Nissan, who was sent spinning into a tyre barrier. However, the car did recover & eventually chased down the leading No. 27 SMP Oreca. It was a close battle between the two as they approached the chequered flag, but it was the Chinese car that managed to take the win, thus reducing the gap to the No. 27 SMP Oreca in the Championship.

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GTE Pro
Aston Martin Racing will be very pleased to record a win at Austin, after a hard fought battle with the factory Porsches. The inevitable strong challenge from the Ferraris of AF Corse for once faded in the wet although they recovered in the dark to take a podium spot.

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During the middle hours of the race, the Porsches looked comfortable. Having taken the lead from the Ferraris, the 2 Porsches looked to be unchallenged. However, as the race progressed so the Aston Martins began their attack. Initially Sefan Mucke lead the challenge, but after an electrical issue curtailed their challenge it was Darren Turner who pushed the Aston Martin challenge home in the No. 97 car. The Leading Porsche was only able to defend the position for so long.

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Further back the Corvette and the Ferraris were left on the back foot after the rain stoppage and failed to register a challenge. The Corvette’s race on home soil was particularly disappointing for the local crowd.

 

GTE Am
Aston Martin Racing claimed a double GTE victory as the rain put an end to the Proton Porsche challenge. Both Prospeed Porsche set the initial pace but mechanical issues & dropping a lap behind the safety car left them out of contention.

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All three AF Corse Ferraris suffered issues as well as being on the wrong side of the safety car when the rain came, whilst the 8Star Ferrari spun in the wet and at turn 20 and was lucky not to collect the traffic behind. The No. 57 Krohn Racing Ferrari also suffered damage in a collision with the No. 99 Aston Martin.

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As everyone else faltered the two Aston Martins continued trouble free at the front with the No. 95 car taking the win and extending the crew’s lead in the GTE Am class.

The FIA World Endurance Championship now moves on to Fuji, Japan from the 10 – 13th October.

Written by Richard Webb
Photos by Dailysportscar

The return of the FIA WEC

The return of the FIA WEC

It seems a very long time since Le Mans, but the FIA World Endurance Championship gets back underway in just under a month’s time after a summer break extended by the shift of the Brazilian round to the very end of the season to avoid the Football World Cup. Round four then sees the teams head to the United States for the ‘Lone Star Le Mans’ meeting, the cars set to race into darkness at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

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The factory LMP1-H teams will be out in force once again, Audi on the crest of a Le Mans winning wave, Toyota looking to reinforce their status as the season’s pacemakers, their TS040s having won at both Silverstone and Spa. Mike Conway will be substituting for Kazuki Nakajima in Austin, the Japanese is otherwise engaged with racing commitments in Japan.

Porsche meanwhile have been testing the higher downforce aero package on their 919 Hybrid since Le Mans and will come into the second half of the season buoyed up by a performance over the 24 Hours that exceeded most peoples expectations on both pace and reliability.

In the LMP1-L category Rebellion Racing too will be in good spirits after an excellent fourth position overall at Le Mans for their #12 R-One. Better news still though is that they will have competition in the sub-class for the very first time as the AER twin turbo V6 powered Lotus T129 makes its season debut.

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Christophe Bouchut, James Rossiter and talented Austrian single seater racer Lucas Auer will pedal the Lotus, it rounds out a 9 car LMP1 field.
LMP2 also sees an additional runner as the first of three ‘local’ entries takes a bow.

Extreme Speed Motorsports are entering one of their HPD ARX03b cars in the WEC event, with their other car in the Tudor United Sportscar Championship race that takes place on the same morning.

The HPD have team owners Ed Brown and Scott Sharp joined by Scottish hotshoe Ryan Dalziel, the team keen to see how they match up to the WEC regulars as they assess their racing options for 2015.

They’ll be up against the G-Drive Racing team’s brand new Nissan engined Ligier coupe, the very pretty new car went very well indeed at Le Mans and will no replace the previous open topped Morgan LMP2 chassis for the remainder of the World Championship.

KCMG are back again with their Oreca Nissan whilst Russian outfit SMP Racing return to their pre-Le Mans driver line-ups for their pair of similar machines.

In an odd quirk of the WEC points system the LMP2 points advantage is now held by Sergei Zlobin, this despite the fact that the SMP drivers form has been less than impressive thus far in 2014. The lead has been gained though as the SMP Oreca that he was driving at Le Mans was the only full season LMP2 car to finish the race, albeit down in 12th place in the class – As first to finish in the Championship standings though he gained maximum points – indeed DOUBLE maximum points!

There’s no running yet for the delayed Strakka Dome Nissan, the car now set to debut at the season finale in Brazil.

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In GTE we’ve lost the popular Ram Racing team from both the Pro and Am entry, their Ferraris withdrawn, and the team having closed its doors.
The factory teams in LM GTE Pro from Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche are joined on home ground by an additional entry though, Corvette Racing fielding a singleton Corvette C7.R for an all American driver line-up of Tommy Milner and brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor.

LM GTE Am sees a local addition too as Krohn Racing enter their familiar green Ferrari 458 Italia for the team owner Tracy Krohn, his regular team-mate Nic Jonsson and ex Ram Racing man, ex Stig and current James Bond stunt driver Ben Collins.

Elsewhere in the list the Belgian Prospeed Competition squad have replaced their older Porsche with a 214 spec 911 RSR whilst American Jeff Segal replaces Enzo Potolicchio in the #90 8Star Ferrari.

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Whatever happens at the Circuit of the Americas, it is a welcome return to action for the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Written by Graham Goodwin
Photography by Dailysportscar.com

Where are we now in the FIA WEC?

Where are we now in the FIA WEC?

In the wake of a simply epic 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours fans and teams get a while now to take a breath. It is mid September before we see the FIA World Endurance Championship & it’s teams gather again for the newly redubbed ‘Lone Star Le Mans’ at the Circuit of the Americas.

For the LMP1 field there’s much to look forward to:

Audi’s 1-2 at Le Mans puts them right back into the Championship hunt after an uncharacteristically off colour start to the year. Toyota meanwhile faltered at Le Mans and will now be looking for a World Championship win to hang their hope on.

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In the points standings for the Manufacturers title Toyota lead Audi by just a single point though theres a 10 point margin in the drivers order between the trio in the No. 8 Toyota and the No. 2 Audi.

Porsche must have come home from France much encouraged with reliability from the 919 Hybrid that was far in excess of most observers expectations (and from many within their own camp too!). They are a good result way from the hunt but who would count them out now?

In the privateer LMP1 stakes Rebellion Racing had a great Le Mans, just off the podium with the newly lightened Toyota engined R-One. Better news still though was the unveiling in Le Mans week of the much delayed Lotus LMP1, the AER turbo engined machine has been out testing since then and a race debut in Texas looks ever more likely, though some of the parties involved in the initial project are now involved with the F1 team formerly owned by Caterham.

LMP2’s disjointed start to the season continues to cause concern – though the racing at the front of the pack has been good between the G-Drive Morgan Nissan and KCMG’s similarly powered Oreca the Russian entered SMP Orecas have been off colour from the beginning, though one of them was actually the only full season WEC entered LMP2 car to finish at Le Mans!

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Bizarrely that means that despite the No. 27 car finishing 12th in the class standings at Le Mans, and 53 laps down on the class winning Jota Zytek, the team scored maximum points – DOUBLED! They lead the Championship as a result.

We’re waiting to see whether the promised addition of the G-Drive Ligier Nissan coupe to the Championship comes to fruition, and we are waiting too to find out when the Strakka Dome coupe will make its racing debut after a torrid time for the team in the early part of the year. If and when the pair of new coupe LMP2s arrive they’ll be a very welcome addition.

Strakka’s debut has been delayed, but the team will race this season after a public apology from Dome for the design issues – someone got their sums wrong. Either way the aggressive looking S103 is on the way.

 

The GT classes put on their traditionally good show at Le Mans – Ferrari and AF Corse came out the victors this year in LMGTE Pro and now lead the standings in the Teams, Manufacturers and drivers Championships as they attempt to defend all three titles.

Porsche though are lurking, and it’s again a tale of a single good or bad race making a massive difference from here on in. Aston Martin meanwhile have ground to make up – But that’s not so very different to the situation last year!

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Three teams had a difficult Le Mans, the No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari had a monster shunt with James Calado at the wheel that left the Brit in hospital (now thankfully much recovered), and the car a wreck. A new chassis was built up for the race but the sparkle had gone for that weekend.

The No. 99 Aston Martin was similarly wrecked in a practice accident for Fernando Rees, the Brazilian was basically OK, the Aston rather less so, the car missed the race.

Ram Racing’s campaign at Le Mans was a disjointed one too, the Pro car suffered a fire earlier in the week and a shunt thereafter left them out of contention, out of the points, and in the days that followed, out of business – They’ll be missed, a valuable privateer effort on the world stage with cars in bot LMGTE classes.

The LMGTE Am battle had a fairytale result as the No. 95 ‘Dane Train’ Aston Martin won the big one with some quiet commemoration of their fallen colleague undertaken during Le Mans week. That is a result that will do everyone involve a power of good. The result also puts the No.95 squad atop the FIA WEC class points table.

The double points score from Le Mans gives the Aston Martin a comfortable margin ahead of the No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari, the No. 88 Proton Porsche and the sister No. 98 Aston Martin with the No. 90 8Star Ferrari next up, though the future of that campaign looks set not to involve the owner of the nominal entrant, Enzo Potolicchio.

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There’s the prospect of guest appearances too from a couple of additional cars for some of the remaining rounds in the Championship, perhaps as early as Austin. So watch this space.

So three races down, five flyaway races to go – and almost everything still to play for in a season that has already dealt out controversy, new stars, new cars and some world class racing – Sportscar racing 2014 style is about to go global.

Written by Graham Goodwin

Toyota take a second win at Spa

Round 2 of the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship saw the series visit the historic Spa Francorchamps circuit deep in the Ardenne forests of Belgium. This was the last competitive race before the Le Mans 24 Hours in June.

There was a different look to the field with Audi fielding a third R18 etron quattro. This car was in full Le Mans ‘long tail’ aero trim. Both Porsche and Toyota chose to race both of their factory cars in low drag trim too, to better to prepare for next month’s Le Mans 24 Hours.

View at Eau Rouge during the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa

There was a new car on the grid in LMP1 too, as a pair of Rebellion Racing’s new Oreca designed and built R-One Toyota engined cars were here in extended test mode!

It was a tale throughout of the very different strengths of the main contenders; The Porsches blindingly fast in a straight line, over 20 km/h the difference through the speed traps between the polesetting Porsche and the slowest of the three Audis.

Through the more tight and technical second sector though the Audi dominated, grabbing back all the time lost in the first phase of the lap, and often more! Once again we were reminded that the rulebook has allowed some very different solutions, but ultimately remarkably comparable lap times.

In the race it was a contest of speed versus reliability and consistency.

Porsche were caught by Audi in the curves at Spa

Porsche lost a car from overall contention early on as the #20 car suffered a succession of suspension problems that left Mark Webber and co little to fight for.

The sister car looked set for a podium finish at worst until Romain Dumas slowed dramatically; the #14 car suffered electrical woes. The Frenchman though stayed calm, stayed out of the pits and, after several attempts to reboot the car’s systems had failed, finally found the solution, the delays on track though had cost the car over a lap and the car would finish just off the podium as a result.

Audi’s Le Mans trimmed car was curiously off the pace. But was the game here one of pace, or efficiency? Whilst the opposition were lapping very, very quickly, the #3 car was busily saving fuel, and that, when we get to France next month, might be a major plus!

As the Porsches stumbled it seemed that it might end up as a Toyota walkover, the new TS040 looking fast and reliable. As the temperature cooled though the Audis kept their race long pace, whilst the Toyotas, and the Porsches, struggled to maintain their previous dominance.

Toyota managed to hold off the Audi challenge

The #8 Toyota though, in the hands of Sebastien Buemi, who had led convincingly in the early running, Nicholas Lapierre and Anthony Davidson, by then had enough in hand to stave off the defending World Champions, the #1 Audi managed to keep the #7 car at bay, Alex Wurz complaining of oversteer in the car that eventually came home third.

Rebellion meanwhile were learning fast about their new cars, and whilst the #13 car suffered race long problems before the car was finally retired, the #12 car ran beautifully throughout, it lacked pace, with the team having had no chance to get even the most basic set-up work done before travelling to Spa, but it had a her faultless 6 hours – A huge boost to the privateers.

LMP2 saw Jota Sport join in the fun with a race to prepare for the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Jota Sport prepared for the Le Mans 2014 at Spa

The team though would not repeat their previous triumph in this fixture and had to settle for second place despite the pace of Marc Gene. Harry Tincknell meanwhile had a frustrating race debut in the car, bottled up behind Nick Heidfeld in the Rebellion he wasn’t able to pass the faster LMP1 on the straights but would have been far faster in the twisty stuff if the #12 had let him by.

SMP rebuilt their #37 car overnight after a practice shunt but both Russian entered Orecas faded. KCMG meanwhile were well in the hunt for the overall win until the car was hit by debris thrown up by a passing Toyota, the Oreca losing a front dive-plane and hampering the handling thereafter, a later puncture put the car behind the Jota car in the running.

SMP & G-Drive Racing battled in the LMP2 Class

Up front though, and eventually relatively unchallenged, was the sole Morgan chassised entry, the #26 G-Drive Racing car had enough in hand to see off the competition, Olivier Pla as fast as always, new boy Julien Canal proving a tough nut to crack too.

In the GT classes it seemed again to focus on balance of performance, little to choose on pace between the sextet of factory backed cars but the Aston Martins having to pit earlier because of their recently reduced fuel load.

AF Corse Ferrari finished ahead of Porsche at Spa

With an hour to go the whole class field was separated by less than 90 seconds, the only major delay hitting the #92 Porsche which suffered a power steering issue.

Whilst Bruno Senna and later Darren Turner pushed hard to get back on terms in the faster of the Astons the #51 Ferrari was pretty well untouchable, Gimmi Bruni and Toni Vilander as good a two man crew as you’ll find, whilst the #91 Porsche was able to deal with its AF Corse team mate in the battle for second.

Aston Martin’s performance was restricted at Spa

The GTE Am fight went the way of an AF Corse Ferrari too, the #61 car hitting the front midway through the race and staying there, the Marco Cioci/ Mirko Venturi and Luis Perez Companc crew able to fend off a pair of chasing Aston Martins.

The Vantages though were having their own battle as Christoffer Nygaard in the #98 looked to fend off the ever closer attentions of the #95 car. The pace of the Kiwi applied just the right level of pressure and as the two started the last lap of the race Nygaard had to pit for a splash of fuel, the #95 storming through for second, the sister car third.

The LMGTE Am battle was always close at Spa

Everyone now moves on to the big one. The Le Mans 24 Hours 2014.

Written by Graham Goodwin
Photos by Dailysportscar

For Le Mans tickets please call 0844 873 0203 or visit our Le Mans 24 Hours pages here.

Audi Dominates at Spa in the latest round of the FIA World Endurance Championship

Stephen Errity of lendurance.co.uk rounds up the all action from the second round of the World Endurance Championship at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and looks at the trends that have emerged from the race as we get ever-closer to Le Mans in June.

Audi debutante Marc Gene, along with 2012 newcomer Loic Duval and team stalwart Romain Dumas, drove their #3 Audi R18 Ultra TDI to victory in the second round of the World Endurance Championship at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend.

Much of the attention at the event was focused on the debut of Audi’s new hybrid ‘e-tron quattro’ car, but the R18 Ultra diesel was also running its first race, as it represents a significant revision of the 2011-model R18 that won in Sebring back in March.

Start of the FIA WEC Race at Spa

Heavy rainfall on race morning ensured the early stages of the six-hour race would be run on a wet track, but the expected race-long downpour did not materialise and the rapidly drying track proved crucial to the final outcome. Polesitter Tom Kristensen in the #2 hybrid Audi lost the lead to a fast-starting Andre Lotterer in the #1 sister car, which rose from third to lead a hybrid 1-2 by the end of the first hour.

But Lotterer and his fellow 2011 Le Mans winners Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler could only bring the hybrid R18 home in second on its debut, after the advantage of part-time four-wheel-drive in the wet gave way to the diesel R18’s superior pace on a dry track in the third hour. It was Gene, initially bringing up the rear of the Audi train in fourth place at the wheel of the #3 car, who had the foresight to maximise that advantage by changing to dry tyres before any of his team-mates.

Audi vs Audi at Spa

Sebring winners and Spa polesitters Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello had a poor race. They were at a disadvantage from the first pitstops, when the car’s front bodywork had to be changed to fix a faulty headlight, but also looked to struggle even more than the #1 car’s drivers with the understeer that seems characteristic to the hybrid R18. This allowed Audi young guns Marco Bonanomi and Oliver Jarvis to overhaul them for the final podium position in the #4 diesel.

The result sets up a fascinating battle at Le Mans, as it seems the hybrid Audis do not enjoy the clear advantage over the diesel cars they were expected to have. Whether it’s a fundamental issue with the design of the car, or simply a matter of the hybrid crews needing to refine their set-up, remains to be seen – but La Sarthe should provide the answer.

Fans were robbed of the chance to get an idea of Toyota’s form ahead of the big race, as the Cologne-based team were forced to miss the Spa WEC round due to a testing crash that destroyed their one available chassis. But the rebuilt car has been testing this week at Magny Cours in France and Motorland Aragon in Spain. Word got around the paddock in Spa that Toyota are bullish about the sheer pace of their TS030 petrol hybrid car, but less confident in their ability to beat Audi over a full 24-hour race. Could we see a blisteringly fast pole position, a couple of hours in the lead, then an early retirement? Or will it be a steadier development run? Perhaps the magic of La Sarthe will be too much to opt for the sensible strategy and Toyota will really let its drivers off the leash…

Rebellion Racing at Spa FIA WEC

Elsewhere, Rebellion Racing’s fifth and sixth place overall – a clean sweep of the unofficial ‘petrol class’ – does not tell the full story of what was a very eventful Spa race for the Anglo-Swiss team, who were running the 2012 version of the Lola LMP1 coupe for the first time. The #13 entry, driven by Andrea Belicchi and Harold Primat, was the quicker of the two cars in the early stages, but a mix-up that saw them drive straight through the pitlane, when they had in fact been given a stop-go penalty for jumping the start, wiped out their advantage.

In the #12 car, Neel Jani initially fell back due to staying on wet tyres for too long after the track began to dry, before handing over to ex-F1 driver Nick Heidfeld. The German had an entertaining battle with his fellow former Grand Prix pilot Sebastien Bourdais in the Pescarolo-Dome, before third driver Nicolas Prost had a trouble-free run to the flag in his stint.

The aformentioned Pescarolo had looked like a challenger for fastest petrol when the track was drying out, but suffered electrical trouble in the closing stages that required a 30-minute stay in the garage to repair. Although this car was an undoubted fan favourite at Spa, and will be cheered at every corner by Henri Pescarolo’s army of green-clad fans at Le Mans, it seems that the Pescarolo team’s limited resources will once again stymie any efforts to challenge for best petrol, or indeed an overall podium. As manufacturer spending on advanced hybrid systems goes through the roof, could Henri have lost what slim chance he had of clinching his sought-after first Le Mans win as a team owner, to go with all his successes as a driver?

JRM Racing at Spa FIA WEC

The expected challenge from the HPD teams failed to materialise, with the exception of a very strong early stint from Danny Watts in the Strakka Racing car, which eventually finished seventh in the LMP1 class. The second HPD in the race had a more chequered afternoon, as Karun Chandhok spun the JRM Racing car while driving to the grid, putting them on the back foot all race. Solid recovery drives from veterans David Brabham and Peter Dumbreck got the car back into the class top 10 at the end of the race. Both Strakka and JRM will be hoping to be nearer the sharp end, mixing it with the Rebellions and maybe even a struggling Audi or two come Le Mans.

In LMP2, guest teams from the European Le Mans Series (ELMS), racing in the WEC at Spa after their championships’ second round at Zolder was cancelled, were right in the mix. The eventual class winners were Britons Sam Hancock and Simon Dolan in their Jota Sport Zytek Nissan. A 30-second stop/go penalty in the closing stages made their win less certain than it would otherwise have been, but a late splash-and-dash fuel stop demoted polesitters and long-time class leaders ADR-Delta to second.

Third in class went to Jota’s fellow ELMS team Murphy Prototypes, who also suffered a penalty during the race, but the pace and consistency of Kiwi hotshoe Brendon Hartley and experienced Brit Warren Hughes in particular kept them in the hunt right the way through. Fourth-place LMP2 finishers Bas Leinders and David Heinemeir Hanssen had run as high as second during the race in their Morgan-badged OAK car – testament to just how competitive the most closely-fought class of the day was. Company boss Charles Morgan was there to see the car fighting at the front, and he seems determined to make a big splash for the iconic British manufacturer at Le Mans.

Felbermayr Porshe at Spa FIA WEC

Even with a modest five-car field, the GT Pro class provided its customary entertainment at Spa. First, polesitter Fred Makowiecki spun the #59 Luxury Racing Ferrari 458 on the formation lap, setting himself up for an aggressive recovery drive that saw him fighting hard with the AF Corse 458 of Italian duo Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella by the third hour.

But in the meantime, fourth-place qualifier Marc Lieb had used the Team Felbermayr Porsche 911’s superior traction in the wet to pull out an impressive lead before handing over to co-driver Richard Lietz for the second half of race. Yet the result would not be settled until the final corner, as the AF Corse Ferrari’s strategy meant it needed one fewer pit stop than the Porsche. There has now been a nail-biting, down-to-the-wire finish in this class at both the 12 Hours of Sebring and Six Hours of Spa – so fans should expect more of the same at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

British interest in this class at Le Mans will centre around the works Aston Martin team, back in GTs after a troubled foray into the prototype ranks last year. The team were on a roll after a very promising debut for the new V8 Vantage was cut short by a loose wheel in Sebring, and star driver Darren Turner fought his way into the class lead at Spa. But reliability problems struck again, and the car had to retire early with a gearbox problem. Can the niggles be fixed in time for La Sarthe so the Aston’s potential can be realised at the most important race of the season?

Ferrari battle at Spa FIA WEC

Like LMP2, the GT Amateur class at Spa was dominated by guest teams from the ELMS. The French IMSA Performance Matmut squad’s Porsche 911 led from start to finish as they got all-important mileage under their belt in preparation for Le Mans. Nicolas Armindo was particularly impressive in the wet first stint, but consistent mistake-free running from gentlemen drivers Raymond Narac and Anthony Pons was just as important to the overall victory.

Gianluca Roda, Christian Ried and Paolo Ruberti underlined the supremacy of the Porsche in damp conditons with second place in the #88 Felbermayr car, ahead of Matt Griffin, Marco Cioci and Piergiuseppe Perazzini, driving the first Ferrari home in this class in third place. Their AF Corse car is also an ELMS entry, and the full-season WEC teams in the class, such as Larbre Competition (Chevrolet Corvette) and the American Waltrip and Krohn Ferrari outfits, will be looking to get back on terms at Le Mans.

Despite the changeable conditions and challenging track, the Spa WEC race was free of major incidents – with one exception: Phillipe Haezebrouck crashed the #43 Extreme Limite Norma-Judd heavily at Eau Rouge, bringing the safety car out for several laps. The car was badly damaged and must now be considered doubtful for Le Mans 24, opening up the possibility that the #32 Lotus LMP2 car that raced at Spa will be moved up from its place on the reserve list.

IMSA Performance Matmut at Spa FIA WEC

Overall, Spa gives us lots to look forward to at Le Mans: a fascinating intra-team battle at Audi as established and new driver lineups and diesel and hybrid cars jostle for supremacy, the unknown quantity of Toyota, a high-quality petrol LMP1 field that will fight hard right behind the Audis, an extremely competitive LMP2 category with at least six cars in contention for the class win – not to mention the fan-pleasing, too-close-to-call racing of the GT classes that we’ve all come to love over the past few years. Yes, the overall winner come Sunday will in all likelihood be an Audi, but most of the other positions down the field are anything but a foregone conclusion.

Interested in coming to Le Mans this June? We have a last few places available in our private campsite at the Porsche Curves. Call us now on 0844 873 0203 for more information.

All photos courtesy of Jake Yorath at l’Endurance.