Five things we learned from the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps
1. Alonso already looks impressive
While there wasn’t an enormous amount of wheel-to-wheel racing in LMP1, or a true battle for the overall lead, it was still nevertheless pleasing to see two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso get up to speed so quickly in his debut race in the FIA WEC. The Spaniard, along with teammates Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend, and went on to win. Alonso, during his stints was nothing short of impressive, multiple times he was shown clearly pushing hard through traffic, and at the end of the race when the car suffered a gearbox temperature issue he managed his pace well, ensuring it made the finish.
Despite the fact that team orders were clearly at play, preventing the No.7 Toyota, which came from a lap down at the start to within striking distance of the No.8 towards the end, this was still a significant moment. Alonso is up to speed, already, and will head to Le Mans confident. If he wins that, not only is it a global story, but a very strong start to what could be a World Championship-winning season.
2. BMW & Aston’s cars look reliable
The two new GTE cars for this year also had an impressive showing at Spa, not in speed, but far more importantly, in reliability. The M8 GTEs and Vantage GTEs spent the entire weekend far off the pace of the front-running Fords and Porsches. But at this stage, that means little, partly because Balance of Performance can turn the fortunes of a manufacturer quickly, and even if BoP wasn’t to blame, it’s more than likely that political game-playing was.
The key here is that all four cars finished their debut FIA WEC races, and without any notable niggles; a far cry from the debuts of some GT cars of old. The extensive pre-season testing programmes have paid off, because both MTEK and Aston Martin Racing will head to Le Mans full of confidence. Both can be in the mix, and like Ford in 2016, have a chance to win at La Sarthe in the first year of the car’s life. We just need to hope now, that the race organisers don’t mess up the Balance of Performance for Le Mans, because if it’s anything like Le Mans 2016, it will leave a sour taste in the mouths of everyone track-side and at home watching.
3. GTE Am didn’t disappoint
Going into round 1, looking at the entry list it was easy to come to the conclusion that the expanded nine-car GTE Am category could produce the best racing in the FIA WEC. At Spa, despite a few silly driver errors, it produced the goods, especially at the end after the last safety car. New teams Project 1 Racing and TF Sport impressed mightily. The former had its hopes dashed by an off from Egidio Perfetti, but when the team’s 911 RSR was kept between the white lines, it was competitive, and was odds on for a podium.
TF Sport, which many UK fans may know from its championship-winning form in the British GT Championship, also produced the goods. Euan Hankey, on his WEC debut was the star here, battling reigning champion Pedro Lamy all the way to the flag for the class lead in the final hour. He didn’t score the team a historic win in its first race, but he did, along with Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluc showed off that Tom Ferrier’s team mean business this year, and that its ambition to win the world title in the ‘Super Season’ is not unrealistic. The only issue may turn out to be the Porsche 911 RSRs in the class, as so far, on pace they’ve been head and shoulders above the Ferrari and Aston teams. Porsche’s customers could have dominated at Spa, but due to a cocktail of poor luck and driver error none of the four found the podium. Le Mans is therefore going to be very interesting indeed!
4. LMP2 looks open
This year’s LMP2 field in the FIA WEC has a fresh look about it, with new teams, new drivers, new chassis and a tyre war. The racing, while far from thrilling for most of the race at Spa, did show some really positive signs. The main signal for positivity, was just how open this year’s title race is. DragonSpeed, Jackie Chan DC Racing, G-Drive Racing and Alpine all look capable of winning races this year and challenging for the title. Even Racing Team Nederland’s Dallara, with its 2018 Joker package, looked pacey too, and could make waves later in the year when hot-shoe Nyck DeVries steps into the car’s third seat.
Michelin’s tyres also appear to be capable of going toe-to-toe with Dunlop, so it could be interesting to see if anyone else makes a switch mid-season to gain an edge, as in raw pace, the French rubber does look to have an advantage at this stage.
5. Shaky start for the non-hybrids
Spa provided fans with their first chance to see the new LMP1 non-hybird challengers, though it was a somewhat fractured showing from the eight-car group, only five of which started the race. CEFC TRSM Racing’s weekend unfortunately never got going, financial issues preventing Ginetta from releasing its G60-LT-P1s for the race. DragonSpeed’s BR1 meanwhile, had a monster shunt at Eau Rouge, Pietro Fittipaldi going straight on into the tyres at full-speed, fracturing both his legs, and ending his chances of an Indy 500 birth just a month out from the race.
The cars that did take the start however, did put on a bit of a show, ByKolles CLM, SMP Racing’s BR1s and Rebellions pair of R-13s did all enjoy some thrilling on-track battles, giving us a glimpse into what could be a very competitive race for third place each weekend during the season.
There were two issues though, one being that SMP Racing’s No.17 BR1 failed to finish after a big shunt at Raidillon, and that other that none of the Privateers came even remotely close to challenging the Toyotas in pace or efficiency, the whole field getting lapped, not just by the eventual winners in the #8, but by the No.7 crew, which started a lap down. That’s not very encouraging, especially given the promises made to the privateers that they would have a chance should they run a perfect race. Rebellion’s No.3 R-13, which finished third, did indeed enjoy a perfect race debut, and wasn’t even in with a slim chance of securing second or first.
Equivalence of Technology, is crushingly difficult to understand and indeed work out if you’re a rule-maker. But so far, it’s not hard to spot that it appears to be skewed very much in the favour of Toyota, which could mean it goes one of two days at Le Mans: either the EoT swings back the other way – or Toyota run away with the French classic. The only saving grace here, is that there are rumblings in the paddock that due to the what’s capable for the non-hybrids in terms of top speed, could mean that they are far closer to the Toyotas in June. A number of the cars, are perfectly capable of blowing by the Toyotas on top speed, once the Hybrid cars’ superiority under acceleration peters out. The wide open spaces at Mulsanne and the run down to Indianapolis could prove to be happy hunting grounds for a well sorted and well driven non-hybrid LMP1.
We’ll have to wait and see…
Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar