Audi wins strange, crazy, chaotic FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa

Photo: Audi
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Audi has – for the moment anyway – secured its first win of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season following one of the crazier, chaotic and more bizarre races in the championship’s history in Saturday’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

The No. 8 Audi R18 driven by Oliver Jarvis, Loic Duval and Lucas di Grassi scored their first win as a trio, even despite a last-hour trip to the garage and a rear tail change, and still won by two laps. Audi ran its low downforce setup this weekend, as did Porsche, while Toyota opted for a high downforce setup in the annual dress rehearsal to Le Mans.

Photo: Audi
Photo: Audi

The “new look” group of Duval, di Grassi and Jarvis were the successive replacements for Audi’s veteran group of Dindo Capello, Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen, who all retired in successive years.

“Today, the drivers, the team and the technology had to show real endurance qualities,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.

“I am very happy about the first joint victory clinched by Lucas, Loïc and Oliver. Sincere congratulations on their impeccable performance.”

Even so, the No. 8 Audi didn’t have it easy and was lucky to survive the war of attrition within the LMP1 ranks.

The No. 2 Porsche – which inherited the Silverstone win after the No. 7 Audi had a skid issue found in post-race technical inspection – finished second in Spa with the trio of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb.

Even more impressive? That No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid ran the majority of the race without a fully functioning hybrid system.

Woes for the sister Audi and Porsche, plus both Toyotas, promoted Rebellion Racing to its second straight overall podium with the No. 13 Rebellion R-One AER of Alexandre Imperatori, Dominik Kraihamer and Matheo Tuscher. This one was Rebellion’s first where they could stand on the podium; the same trio inherited third overall at Silverstone following the Audi’s disqualification.

As for the rest of the LMP1 field?

  • The No. 7 Audi (Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler) crashed into another LMP2 car, among other issues, and ended five laps back in fifth, behind the second Rebellion.
  • The No. 5 Toyota TS050 Hybrid led a good portion of the race with its trio of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, seemed poise to retire with engine issues, but then limped home for one final lap the opposite of the No. 2 Porsche – solely on electrical power – to finish seventh in class, and more importantly, be classified.
  • The No. 6 Toyota (Stephane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi) wasn’t so fortunate, retiring because of an electronics issue that damaged the engine. Conway also made a big hit of one of the SMP Racing LMP2 entries.
  • The No. 1 Porsche (Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley) ended classified in eighth despite multiple punctures and gearbox issues. In two races, it’s been a brutal start for the defending World Champions.
  • Team ByKolles’ No. 4 CLM P1/01 AER ended sixth in class.

LMP2

Given his prowess at both Daytona and Sebring it was weird to see Tequila Patron ESM’s Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani on the losing end of a late-race battle for the win, but on Saturday in Spa he was.

Despite a brilliant effort in the No. 31 Ligier JS P2 Nissan he shared with Ryan Dalziel and Chris Cumming, Derani got “Derani’d” by the more experienced Nicolas Lapierre, who took the No. 36 Signatech Alpine A460 Nissan to a late-race pass for the win in a car he shared with ex-open-wheelers Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi.

It was still a good second for the ESM crew, who didn’t expect Spa to be one of their strong points and a year on from the debut of the team’s Ligier JS P2 chassis last year.

Manor WEC made the rostrum in third with Roberto Merhi dispatching of Filipe Albuquerque on the final lap. It capped a come-back from a drive-through penalty assessed late in the race.

Merhi shared his No. 45 Oreca 05 Nissan with Matthew Rao and Richard Bradley in that trio’s last race until the Nürburgring after Le Mans; the second Manor chassis is not on the Le Mans entry list. Albuquerque, who along with RGR Sport by Morand teammates Bruno Senna and Ricardo Gonzalez were seeking their second straight win to open the year, ended a respectable if hard luck fourth.

Elsewhere in class, the wild card G-Drive Racing Gibson 015S Nissan (Jake Dennis, Giedo van der Garde, Simon Dolan) made an unfortunate impact on the race when contact between it and Nicki Thiim’s Aston Martin Vantage V8 sent the Dane into a barrel roll of an accident. Thiim was unharmed; the car, not so much.

GTE-PRO

The aforementioned Thiim crash was one of two big ones in the GTE-Pro class. The other, significantly heavier accident involved Stefan Muecke in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT. Muecke lost control through Eau Rouge and suffered a significant hit into the tire barriers. The car broke apart as intended and Muecke, mercifully, was bruised but no further following the shunt.

The accidents overshadowed an otherwise peerless drive from the pairing of Sam Bird and Davide Rigon, who captured their second straight GTE-Pro win in the No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE to open the season.

The second Ford, driven by Marino Franchitti, Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell, finished second despite Franchitti being nerfed off course earlier in the race by Rui Aguas’ AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia. Aston Martin’s remaining GTE-Pro entry completed the podium. Franchitti’s tweet sums up the day for Ford rather nicely…

GTE-AM

The usual suspects – the No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8, No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari and No. 50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R – locked out the GTE-Am podium.

Heartbreak in this class belonged to the No. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR of David Heinemeier Hansson, Khalid Al Quibaisi and Patrick Long, the latter of whom sustained a hit from Nelson Panciatici in the Baxi DC Racing Alpine A460 Nissan, which was several laps down and out of contention. The trio had been poised for a second-place finish and instead fell to sixth.

DHH and Pat sum it up rather nicely on Twitter:

Full results are here, and you’ll need to study every bit of them.

Here are the full race highlights:

Next up is the break before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the Test Day on June 5 and the race itself June 18-19.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.