Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre felt the dry-weather pace of their Porsche 911 RSR-19 was crucial to them clinching their first GTE-Pro victory of the season at Spa.
Estre crossed the line 5.6 seconds ahead of the Aston Martin Vantage GTE of FIA World Endurance Championship points leaders Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen after taking over from Christensen midway through the fifth hour.
The Porsche started from pole after having a qualifying lap time deletion rescinded and was in the thick of the battle for the lead throughout the six-hour race.
Ferrari appeared stronger in the wet opening stint as Alessandro Pier Guidi charged to the front with a gutsy move on Estre approaching Eau Rouge, but the Porsche came back as the race evolved.
Estre reclaimed the lead from Pier Guidi shortly after switching to slicks for a single stint early in the second hour, before the rain returned and the Ferrari got back ahead.
But as the wet weather receded in the second half, the Porsche made its mark. Christensen reckoned that a combination of correct strategy calls and superior pace in dry conditions ultimately favored the No. 92 car in round six of the 2019-20 season.
“It was hard to choose a strategy, really, because we saw rain at the start, but we also saw holes in the weather where the track dried up,” said the Dane.
“It was hard to predict anything, so we just went with the wet tires and stayed on them as long as possible. We changed to slicks at a really good point. I think we made a really good call on that.
“I jumped back in the car when it started raining again. It was tough jumping into a field of drivers that were already experienced with the weather. But we managed to pull through and, in the end, we had really good pace in the dry so we could take the victory.”
Estre agreed that the drier periods were key for the No. 92 Porsche, which had finished second in four of the previous five races but was lacking a victory to its name.
Remarkably, the reigning GTE world champions hadn’t won a WEC race since the 6 Hours of Fuji in 2018, almost two years ago.
“The second half of the race was on a dry track,” he said. “It was precisely in this critical phase that we were back in full force and able to call on the full potential of our Porsche 911 RSR.”
Estre, who with Christensen is now a reigning winner of both the 6 Hours of Spa and the Total 24 Hours of Spa, added that the race became a fuel mileage contest at the end.
After Estre dispatched Maxime Martin’s No. 97 Aston Martin for the lead with around 20 minutes to go, the Vantage came into the pits for a fuel splash which dropped it to third behind its sister car.
“I think we knew we had to take fuel under the [final] safety car to try to take it to the end,” said the Frenchman.
“It was big fuel-saving [race] from the beginning, with the engineers calculating if it would be OK or not.
“I felt quite confident in the car, but it was really hard to manage the pace and the Astons were very fast at the end, and they were in the same position as us.
“It was very tough mentally to be fast but not to use too much fuel, and finally get this victory which we have been aiming for a while and deserved.”
Porsche’s other GTE-Pro car driven by Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz had a tougher afternoon, finishing 36 seconds behind its colleague in fifth out of a six-car field.
“It was a difficult race for us,” conceded Bruni. “We lost a lot of time because we drove too long on wet tires at the wrong moment. We took a gamble and tried to make up for it later.
“When the sun finally came out, we were the first ones back on the track with slicks. In the first laps, I slid wildly and lost a lot of time. Once the grip improved, our train had already left the station.”