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.
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.
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.
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…
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:
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.