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
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