Audi survives to win the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps
The No.8 Audi Sport R18 Hybrid claimed the team’s first victory of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season, this weekend at Spa, after a race which saw all 3 LMP1 manufacturers lead the race and then suffer multiple issues with their cars. It marks the 1st FIA WEC win for both Lucas Di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis, who along with Loic Duval, took the lead from the No. 5 Toyota which had led for half of the race before an engine problem forced it out of contention, for it only to return to the circuit at the very end and limp to the flag under hybrid power just to score points. It was an exciting race to follow with close racing action in every class.
“What a strange race,” said Jarvis after the race. “We didn’t have the pace to win it, it was just luck and other people’s misfortune. I’m so happy for the team.”
Second place was taken by the No.2 Porsche 919 of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani, which ran over five of the six hours without a functioning hybrid system and fought back from 6th in class; a brilliant 3rd overall was taken by the No.13 Rebellion Racing car of Matheo Tuscher, Dominik Kraihamer and Alexandre Imperatori. The Rebellions picked up the pieces from the tales of woe in the LMP1 factory teams, scoring the No.13’s second podium in a row and Rebelllion got both of its cars to the finish. The No.12 came home an equally impressive fourth. The No.13 Rebellion Racing R-one is now second in the Driver’s Championship, whilst the No.12 is fourth.
Rounding out the top five was the No.7 Audi, which had charged through the field after overheating issues, a floor issue and bodywork replacements following a collision that caused the car to slip down the order. It was a tough day for Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer.
The story of the other LMP1 Hybrid runners, was a remarkable series of events that ended with the No.5 Toyota completing the final lap on just hybrid power to finish classified (the first all-hybrid lap in the WEC) securing them 12 points and second in the Manufacturer’s Championship. The sister No.6 car had to retire after it suffered electronics issues after four hours.
For Porsche’s No.1 car it wasn’t much better. After Brendon Hartley had led the first part of the race, he suffered multiple punctures before the car had to have a gearbox change, costing it an hour and forty minutes in the garage before rejoining. In the end it only just completed enough laps to score points.
In LMP2 Nicolas Lapierre, Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi controlled the majority of the race, while the other front-runners squabbled over the remaining podium spots. But a late fuel stop for the Alpine caused a shootout with the No.31 ESM Ligier of Pipo Derani, which saw Lapierre have to fight his way back for the win.
In the end it boiled down to the Frenchman going round the outside of the ESM car and the No. 67 Ford GT, at Fagnes to hand his team the victory with five minutes remaining. The final spot on the podium in the class was taken by the No.45 Manor Oreca after Roberto Merhi got past the RGR Morand Ligier at the very end.
At the start the No.26 G-Drive Racing Oreca took an early lead, but a puncture while Nathanael Berthon was driving cost it dearly and put it out of contention early. It then became a race between Manor, ESM, Alpine and Morand to the end.
There was late heartbreak in the GTE Pro class. The No.71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird stole the win in the final 10 minutes after the sister Ferrari (No.51) that had led almost the entire race until it was pushed into the garage, retired; James Calado (searching for his first FIA WEC win) sat in the garage holding his head in his hands.
The two remaining spots on the podium were filled by the No.67 Ford GT (the team’s first podium) and the delayed No.97 Aston Martin that had got caught out in an full-course yellow that interrupted their pit cycle.
The biggest incidents of the race were in the Pro class. The No.95 Aston Martin rolled with Nicki Thiim at the wheel, after colliding with Simon Dolan in the No.38 G-Drive Gibson and hitting the tyre wall on the outside of Courbe Paul Frère. The Dane thankfully walked away.
Then, later on in the race, another scary incident occurred at Raidillon, when the rear-end of the No.66 Ford GT stepped out and the engine cover blew off on Stefan Mucke, sending him into the tyres. The car was destroyed, but aside bruises Mucke was reported as ‘OK’ after medical checks. The incident caused a now rare safety car period.
In GTE Am, The No.98 Aston scored victory in what was a topsy turvey race that, like LMP2, became chaotic towards the very end. A fight broke out for the lead in the final stint, that saw Pedro Lamy blast past Francois Perrodo’s No.83 Ferrari 458 after the safety car for Mucke’s accident had bunched up the field.
Pat Long in the Abu Dhabi Proton car then took second, but had to stop late after being hit but the No.35 BAXI DC Alpine, handing second back to the AF Corse car and third to the troubled Larbre Corvette which had served multiple penalties.
The 6 Hours of Spa 2016 had everything: great battles, incidents, reliability issues and extraordinary feats of endurance and intelligence all the way to the end, on a day which saw 56 thousand spectators spend the day in the sun in the Ardennes. We like to see new winners and the class podiums served up a total of four.
Next up on the FIA WEC calendar is the 84th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours, which has the potential to be a real classic. It is still possible to purchase tickets if you want to join us there. Visit our website here for more details or call 0844 873 0203.
Report written by Stephen Kilbey
Photos by Dailysportscar