The inaugural event of the 2018/2019 WEC Superseason in the Belgian Ardennes didn’t go unnoticed on many levels… Huge shunts, huge names and great fights characterized the race, although the fight for the win never really put you on the edge of your seat.
The LMP1 category was at least as exciting besides the track than on it. It all started with the first laps of F1 superstar Fernando Alonso in the Toyota LMP1. Next, the first shocker of the weekend was that the CEFC TRSM Ginetta team (the former Manor Racing squad) pulled his two brand new Ginetta G60s from the race after sponsor TRSs funds didn’t arrive on time.
In Friday’s qualifying there was the terrible crash of Pietro Fittipaldi in Raidillon, from which he suffered two broken legs and other injuries. Luckily, specialists expect he will fully recover. The no. 7 Toyota with Mike Conway behind the wheel, took pole before the no. 8 sistercar. However, after the session the no. 7 was penalised due to an incorrect declaration of the fuel flow meter (rumours where that Toyota listed all their fuel flow meters on the same serial number). So, the no. 8 Alonso, Buémi and Nakajima at the wheel could start the race from pole, the no. 7 had to start from pit lane.
Although it could be more or less predicted, the race was slightly disappointing. The Toyota no. 8 took off right after the start, as the no. 7 had to start a lap down only followed by the privateer entries from Rebellion, SMP and ByKolles (in that order). There was no way however they could keep up with the Hybrids. Mid-race an interesting fight between the two Rebellions and the no. 17 SMP racing car developed that lasted several laps. The skirmish was then brutally ended by an incredible crash of the SMP car with by then Isaakyan at the wheel (check the movie here). At the end of the race the no. 7 Toyota had caught up with Alonso in the no. 8 car, but he controlled the race until the end to take the victory.
Post-race, the 3rd placed Rebellion no. 1 car of André Lotterer, Bruno Senna and Neel Jani got disqualified because of the skid-block under the car being to worn down (18.8mm instead of the allowed 20mm). The no. 3 Rebellion inherited the 3rd place.
In the first stages of the race, Giedo van der Garde in the no. 29 Racing Team Nederland quickly ploughed through the field from his 7th starting position to take the lead in LMP2. Unfortunately, electrical issues led to an early and lengthy pitstop that costed the car too much time to score a good result. The race was then controlled by the no. 26 G-Drive racing Oreca 07, driven by Roman Rusinov, Andrea Pizzitola and Jean Eric Vergne. Their victory never really was in danger, in the end they had a 20 second gap to the no. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca. The 3rd placed no. 36 Alpine entry was over 55 seconds behind the winner.
Most interesting fight of the race was between the Porsches and by then lone Ford GT after a huge crash of Harry Tincknell at Raidillon. The no. 66 with Pla at the wheel managed to undo the advantage taken by Lietz in the no. 92 Porsche at the last round of pit stops. He was able to get a better run out of La Source heading for Eau Rouge and use the acceleration of the Ford to pass Lietz. He was then also passed by the sister car driven by Christensen at that moment, and in the second-to-last lap even fell of the podium, being past by the no. 71 Ferrari of Sam Bird and Davide Rigon.
New cars Aston Martin and BMW couldn’t fight for the podium spots yet, BMW having the upper hand over the Brits finishing 5th, the Astons coming in on place 6 and 7.
In GT Am the year-old Aston Martin Vantage showed great race-pace. Both the factory entry and the TF Sport car battled for victory until the last lap, with an advantage of more than a lap on the 3rd placed Clearwater Ferrari 488 which ran clear of technical issues all race long. It was AMR’s Pedro Lamy who managed to stay in front of TF Sport’s Euan Hankey in the last lap, only 0.221s between them at race-end.
Where during the Prologue at Le Castellet it was feared that the Porsches had somewhat of an advantage, being able to even do battle with the GT Pro cars, this was not the case in Spa. Running into several problems, none of the entries from Stuttgart could challenge the win after the first stages of the race.