FIA WEC

FIAWEC: Reliable Audi Claims Second Straight Win

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Mechanical and off course adversity ripped right through the LMP-1 field in Saturday’s Six Hours of Spa, the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship for 2015. However, there was one exception as despite not having the fastest car in the field over a single lap, the Audi Sport Team Joest driving team of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, and Marcel Fassler were able to avoid the problems that hit their rivals to claim their second consecutive overall triumph of the season.

With the Super Bowl of sports car racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans less than a month away it is clear that the Porsche Factory Team’s 919 Hybrid has a speed edge in terms of acceleration, a pace that kind of evens out at the end of the straight against the Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro. This was evidenced in direct comparison Saturday on the long Kemmel Straight and from the run out of the Stavelot corner, through Blanchimont, and to the final Bus Stop chicane prior to the start/finish line at Spa-Francochamps. The thing right now that is holding back what will be a three car squad at Le Mans for Porsche is reliability and pit mistakes. Problems at the rear of the car delayed the team’s No. 17 and No. 19 entries in the first half of the race, although the former who claimed pole position on Friday did bounce back to claim third place on Saturday. The remaining No. 18 entry was slowed twice by longer than normal pit stops, creating space between themselves and the winning Audi that they could never make up completely. Several times on Saturday, the No. 18 Porsche of Mark Lieb, Neel Jani, and Romain Dumas was on the rear wing of the Quattro, but could never make it past outside of regular pit service and settled for a runner-up finish on the day.

The sister No. 9 Audi E-Tron Quattro, despite losing two laps to replace a side window that broke free from the car itself would recover to finish fourth, while Toyota Motorsports who dealt with both a lack of pace and reliability rounded out the first five Saturday in Belgium.

Although no single manufacturer among the LMP-1 runners had a squeaky clean six-hour journey with its entries on Saturday, it looks more likely that the battle at Circuit de la Sarthe next month, which will also feature the debut of the new Nissan LMP-1 hybrid, will be determined by the team that can stay out of trouble the most, not necessarily the team that offers the fastest ride over a single lap.

In the lower LMP-2 division, European Le Mans Series regulars Jota Sport proved that the lesser known endurance sports car series on the European continent is by no means a little brother to the FIA WEC, as the reigning Le Mans LMP-2 champions took command during the second hour Saturday and simply went on to outclass the supposedly stronger coupe-styled rivals to claim the top step of the baby prototype class podium with their open top Gibson 015S with Nissan power. Although Gibson (formerly Zytek) is planning on debuting a coupe prototype of its own in 2016, the chassis builder’s performance Saturday had to give hope to the remaining members of the spyder-type club, several of whom will be present at Le Mans next month. Simon Dolan, Mitch Evans, and Nissan factory bound LMP-1 driver Harry Tincknell never put a wheel wrong all day, even outrunning a G-Drive Racing team that crushed the competition last month in the FIA WEC season opener at Silverstone, England.

On this day, G-Drive Racing was best of the rest and looked likely to claim the final two spots on the podium. However, terminal mechanical problems struck the team’s No. 26 Ligier JS P2 coupe forcing a retirement. The team’s second entry held on finish second on the day, but again never was able to consistently match the Jota team’s pace during the final four hours of the event Saturday.

After questions surrounded their future just a couple weeks ago, Team SARD Morand’s 2015 debut was a solid one as the team placed another open topped car, a Morgan Evo in third at the checkered flag, while KCMG’s new Oreca 05 coupe and the Signatech Alpine chassis filled out the top five in the smaller prototype class. Unfortunately for the American-based fans, Extreme Speed Motorsports’ first run with the Ligier coupe was a struggle on Saturday as both of its new challengers were in and out of the garage often and finished well behind the class leaders.

In the grand touring divisions, Aston Martin Racing controlled things in Belgium this weekend, claiming wins in both GTE-Pro and GTE-Amateur on Saturday. There are other teams to consider though next month at Le Mans that flashed potential briefly at Spa-Francochamps. One in the Pro category was Porsche Team Manthey who despite posting the two slowest efforts in Friday qualifying, persevered from early pit lane delays to finish second and third on Saturday, with driving lineups lesser than they will have access to next month in France. In the Amateur class, Larbre Competition’s Chevrolet Corvette C7.R finally showed its potential by claiming the top spot briefly prior to the three-hour mark Saturday, only to have their dreams of a class win dashed when an incident with a G-Drive Ligier coupe sent Kristian Poulsen into the barriers at turn 16 ending their race early. Poulsen suffered no injuries in the shunt.

The over four-mile circuit was also a testing ground for the new yellow zone policy that will be present next month in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Yellow flag zones were implemented three times during the Six Hours of Spa, but the FIA/ACO never put the track under full course caution, a move that seemed to work without issue on Saturday. It will be interesting however, to see how this could affect certain teams such as those in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship who are headed to Le Mans, yet may not be prepared for the rule protocol.

Stay tuned to Rubbings Racing for further news and updates from the world of sports car racing.

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About Matt Embury

Matt Embury is the Senior SportsCar Writer at Rubbings Racing and can be followed on Twitter (@MattEmbury) for the latest sports car news and opinions. A native of Mishawaka, Indiana, he has been following sports car racing for nearly 20 years.

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