Five Talking Points post FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps
The second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship took place last weekend at Spa-Francorchamps. With the next round being the Le Mans 24 Hours, Stephen Kilbey continues our Le Mans 2016 previews by taking a look at 5 important things that we learned from Spa.
What a race. Seldom do you see a race of attrition like the one at Spa last weekend in the modern era of sportscar racing. The only LMP1 factory car that had a clean run was the winning No.8 Audi – which ironically suffered a terminal mechanical failure at Silverstone. The tales of woe up front have shaken up the championship and left Audi, Porsche and Toyota with a selection of huge question marks concerning reliability ahead of Le Mans next month. Were Toyota’s engine issues a fluke? Can Porsche prevent further gearbox issues? And can Audi’s new R18 handle a 24-hour battering? Honestly, nobody knows at this point.
What does it mean? Well, the third cars – absent at this year’s race for Audi and Porsche as part of the VW emission scandal backlash – may be missed more than ever. Importantly, Rebellion Racing could quite feasibly sneak a podium or even a win if the race turns into a real meltdown for the front runners. With Porsche pushing the envelope on a proven car, and Audi and Toyota still developing brand new ones, brace yourselves for a drama-filled Le Mans.
Toyota is back!
After a really difficult 2015, finishing behind Audi and Porsche at every race, it was extremely encouraging to see them back up the front and challenging for a win in the Ardennes. Being closer on pace, and able to double stint their tyres on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit put the No.5 TS050 in the lead for three hours before its engine expired. The incredible story from that though, was that the team got the car back out again for one final lap at the very end running on just hybrid power. It meant the No.5 crew finished classified, proved to themselves that it was possible to run the car without a working engine and score points; a real feat of engineering.
Toyota are by no means the favourites for Le Mans, (but who is now?) but the Japanese marque once again can consider itself a real contender again, which will hopefully translate into a three-way battle at Le Mans between the three hybrid-powered factory teams.
AF Corse set to dominate Pro?
The Ferrari 488 may be the newest of the new GTE cars, but it’s already filling in the WEC’s win-column, with the No.71 of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird standing atop the podium in both races so far in 2016. The sister car has had terrible luck though it must be noted, with engine failures costing it two wins and at Spa, a finish too.
That aside though, the car is clearly fast enough to win at Le Mans right away, as at Spa it was untouchable over a lap. Its long-distance reliability and a BoP hit by the ACO before the race are the only things that stand in AF Corse’s way of sweeping the first leg of the season.
The new GTE safety regulations are working
Both Stefan Mücke and Nicki Thiim’s incidents at Spa really showcased the new GTE safety rules in a very positive light. We’ve seen some sizable accidents in recent years at Le Mans, including Jan Magnussen’s event-ending crash at the Porsche Curves last time out, so to see both Thiim and Mücke’s escape without serious injury should be applauded. There have been enhancements made to the driver extraction system, (which can now be done through the roof) the cockpit includes a more regulated driving position and seat, and the drivers are surrounded by NASCAR-style netting and further protection around the helmet and shoulder area too. Fingers crossed then for the Le Mans 24hrs next month.
Manor has learnt the art of endurance racing very quickly
Manor’s WEC squad looked (as to be expected) like rookies at Silverstone, with multiple niggles and mistakes costing them a good result. At Spa though, they looked like any of the other experienced teams, and were on course for a win in the extremely competitive LMP2 field at one stage.
It has been fascinating seeing the ex-F1 crew make the switch, not only because they clearly all seem happier where they are now, but because they’re realizing publicly, just how tough it is to win a sportscar race. Nevertheless, Le Mans may not be as much of a mountain to climb for them as many had predicted before the start of the season.
Want to be at Le Mans 2016? Tickets and travel options are still available but selling out fast. Call the Travel Destinations team now on 0844 873 0203 to book your place now!
Written by Stephen Kilbey exclusively for Travel Destinations
Photography by Dailysportscar