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FIA WEC: 6 Hours of Spa – Audi wins again, Rees for the first time

Porsche locked down the first three positions in the starting grid at Spa-Francorchamps. The #17 Porsche Team 919 Hybrid driven by Timo Bernhard and Brendan Hartley was fastest (average fastest laps of 1 min 54.767 sec), followed by the team’s third entry, the #19 piloted by Nico Hulkenburg and Nick Tandy (+0.258 sec). Neel Jani and Marc Lieb followed in the #18. The Audi Sport Team Joest #7 R18 e-tron quattro was the first non-Porsche, lining up fourth on the grid and driven by Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler.

The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan (Sam Bird and Julien Canal) took its second straight LMP2 pole. Second on the grid was the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan (Matt Howson, Nicolas Lapierre). Aston Martin took pole in both GTE Pro and GTE Am.

Porsche held the lead through the opening lap - Hartley on the point followed by Lieb – but Fassler briefly took third from Tandy.  The #38 Jota Sport Gibson-Nissan driven by Simon Dolan led LMP2 XX min into the race, with the Astons remaining out front in the GTE classes; Stefan Mucke in the #97 leading Pro and Pedro Lamy in the #98 Am.

Tandy crashed into a barrier from P3 just 10 min into the race following a collision under cornering with the #91 Porsche Team Manthey 911 driven by Kevin Estre, Fassler taking the position. Meanwhle, Sam Bird reassumed the LMP2 lead.

Fassler spun with just past 30 min elapsed and drizzle starting to fall, teammate Loic Duval taking over third position in the #8. Hartley left the course and entered the front straight through a safety outlet with 5:15 to go. The #8 Audi pitted more conventionally shortly thereafter. Hartley was replaced by Bernhard during his pit stop and was summoned by race officials.

Fernando Rees led GTE Pro in the #99 Aston. He and the other two class frontrunners pitted right before the 5:02 mark in the race. The #17 Porsche had yet to receive a penalty and remained in the lead. Bird remained on point in LMP2, Rees in GTE Pro, and Lamy in GTE Am.

Bernard, Bird, and Rees continued to lead their respective classes with 4:45 left, with Victor Shaytar (#72 SMP Racing Ferrari 458 Italia) in the front of GTE Am. Jani and Fassler ran P2-P3 overall. The #7 was faster on track than the #8, so Audi shuffled the two cars.

The #17 was given a 15-sec stop and go penalty with 4:37 left. Jani took the lead. Duval took second from Fassler 4-min later, the #17 having fallen to fourth. Bernard passed Fassler on track to retake P3 behind Jani and Duval. The two leaders pitted at 4:26, temporarily moving the #17 back to the point.

Bernard’s ride was pushed into the garage when it pitted, Mark Webber waiting to get behind the wheel. Dumas took the lead in the #18, followed by Lotterer in the #7 Audi, with the #8 running third. Dumas lead was 18.3 sec with 4:17 left. The #38 Jota Sport LMP2 entry, driven by Mitch Evans, took the lead in class on track, passing the #26 G-Drive.

Rees continued to lead GTE Pro in the #99 Aston, followed by Toni Vilander (#51 AF Corse Ferrari, +23.327 sec) and JXXX Calado in the #71 AF Corse ride.   

At the 4-hr mark the #18 Porsche led the #7 Audi (+17.057), the #8 Audi (+24.467), and the #2 Toyota Racing TS090 Hybrid (Alex Wurz, +1:40.674). LMP2 had the #38 Jota ahead of the #26 G-Drive. Aston Martin held down the Top 3 spots in GTE Pro (#99, #97, #95). The #72 SMP Ferrari led GTE Am, followed by the #98 Aston and the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R.

Halfway through the race Dumas held a 15-sec lead over the #7 Audi and Lotterer.  The #8 Audi ran third, with the #1 Toyota of Anthony Davidson in 4th place one lap behind. The #38 Jota Sport led LMP2 by one lap of the #28 G-Drive LIgier. The #99 Aston remained on top of GTE Pro, but the #51 AF Corse Ferrari had reinserted itself into the mix, one lap off the lead but 15.171 sec ahead of the #97 Aston. The #98 Vantage led GTE Am by 1:43.636 over the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari which held a 9.113-sec advantage over the #83 AF Corse machine.

The #7 Audi of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, and Marcel Fassler took its second victory in two starts in 2015. In his last stint Treluyer had to fight Jani in the #18 Porsche all the way to the finish, with the two cars going wheel to wheel. A late stop for fuel left the French driver just 13 sec ahead of the Porsche with 15 min on the clock. “When they told me that I was going to keep the tires for a third stint at the end, I thought, ‘oh no!’ But this was our chance to win and I was still able to take risks in traffic and push like hell. We did it and I am very happy for the team because we had a really strong weekend and it feels great to win in this fashion.”

Hartley and his teammates Bernhard and Webber fought back from their early miscues to earn third place on the podium, one lap down, with Hartley setting a new lap record for the WEC at Spa with a 1:57.972 lap, 3.2 seconds quicker than the previous best time.

The sole LMP1 privateer entry, the #4 Team Bykolles CLM P1/01-AER, completed 46 laps before hitting technical issues which sidelined the Austrian team for the second race in a row.

The #43 Team Sard Morand Morgan-Evo took the final LMP2 podium place on the team’s WEC debut with Pierre Ragues, Oliver Webb, and Zoel Amberg finishing two laps behind the winning Jota Sport Gibson. The Jota Sport win came in Evans' first-ever WEC drive.

The #26 G-Drive Ligier was on the same lap as the Jota Gibson but suddenly slowed with smoke coming from the engine bay. There was, however, some joy in the G-Drive pit, with the #28 Ligier of Pipo Derani, Ricardo Gonzalez, and Gustavo Yacaman scored another second place finish, 1 lap down, to add to the one they recorded in Silverstone.

The #99 Aston Martin Vantage V8 of Fernando Rees, Alex MacDowell, and Richie Stanaway took their first WEC GTE Pro win, beating the #92 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR driven by Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki by 24.491 sec. The final stint was stressful for the Brazilian, as he battled with reigning GT champion Gianmaria Bruni in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. That pressure subsided when the Ferrari was given a 1-min stop and go penalty for a pit stop infraction, dropped Bruni and Vilander back to fourth in class.

 “We played our strategy by ear,” said Richie Stanaway. “We had done some analysis of our race at Silverstone and had understood where we had lost time. Our pit stops were perfect. Ferrari did a mistake, that is also what we needed to win this race”

A second place for Porsche looked unlikely going into the final hour when Lietz was given a penalty for abusing track limits. He and Makowiecki fought back to finish ahead of teammates Kevin Estre and Sven Muller in the sister #91.

The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, and Mathias Lauda claimed a second consecutive GTE Am victory in what marked a perfect start to the season for the trio. They have now taken maximum points at each of the first two rounds and today marked a remarkable fifth win from the last seven WEC events. The #83 AF Corse Ferrari finished second, 1:45.258 back.

 

 

 

 

 

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