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Spa Post-Race Notebook

Sportscar365’s post-race notebook from round six of the 2019-20 FIA WEC season at Spa…

Photo: John Rourke/Adrenal Media

***Toyota Gazoo Racing’s dominant Total 6 Hours of Spa victory on Saturday marked the LMP1 team’s fourth consecutive triumph in the race, as well as the fourth in a row for the Toyota TS050 Hybrid car.

***First-time 6H Spa winners Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez extended their points lead after overcoming the largest success handicap of the LMP1 field to beat their teammates Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley.

***Conway said that he and his co-drivers weren’t anticipating a win considering their hefty 3.52s per lap success handicap. “To be honest it’s a bit unexpected,” he said. “Coming into the weekend we thought P3 should be the best we could do with the penalties.”

***The No. 7 crew’s third win of the season puts it on 137 points, compared to the 125 now held by the No. 8 trio. Rebellion Racing’s Gustavo Menezes, Norman Nato and Bruno Senna lost ground in the title fight by finishing third to leave Belgium on 109 points, although the next two rounds at Le Mans and Bahrain carry double and 1.5x points scoring, leaving plenty of options.

***United Autosports is now unbeaten in all WEC/ELMS LMP2 races its has contested since last December. The team won the WEC races in Bahrain and Austin before clinching the first two ELMS rounds of 2020 at Paul Ricard and Spa, before Paul di Resta, Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson prevailed on Saturday.

***Albuquerque and Hanson are now 22 points clear of Jackie Chan DC Racing’s Ho-Pin Tung and Will Stevens in the standings, while di Resta is second in the leaderboard and 15 points off his teammates because he missed the 6 Hours of Fuji.

***Cool Racing’s Antonin Borga said the team’s podium result has given it “motivation” heading into the 24 Hours of Le Mans: “The race went in our favor with strategy, we chose the right time to change tires and everything was smooth,” said the Frenchman, who teamed with Alexandre Coigny and Nico Lapierre. “I think we can be very satisfied with second with a Bronze driver.”

***Saturday’s race marked the first time in WEC history that two cars featuring Bronze-rated drivers finished in the podium positions, as Coigny and Racing Team Nederland’s Frits van Eerd finished in second and third respectively.

***As part of the WEC’s COVID-19 protocol, podium ceremonies took place in the pit lane rather than the stand above the pits. Only the class winners received their trophies on the podium platform, while the second and third-place cups were presented individually.

***Signatech Alpine recorded its first WEC non-points score in 36 races after Thomas Laurent’s high-speed accident in the fifth hour. Laurent was unhurt in the crash, in which his No. 36 Oreca-based Alpine A470 Gibson rolled after contact with the right-side tire barriers on the run down to Blanchimont. Alpine’s last DNF came during the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015.

***Eurasia Motorsport endured a trying WEC debut as gearbox problems contributed to the team’s Ligier JS P217 Gibson finishing 10 laps down on the LMP2 winner. 

***Porsche claimed its first 6H Spa GTE-Pro victory in eight years courtesy of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen. While Porsche has enjoyed recent success in the Total 24 Hours of Spa for GT3s, its last WEC victory at the track came in the series’ inaugural 2012 season with Richard Lietz and Marc Lieb driving for Team Felbermayr-Proton.

***While the points gaps extended at the top of the other three classes, the GTE-Pro title fight narrowed after Estre and Christensen’s win leapfrogged them above James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi into second place. Aston Martin Racing’s Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen now hold a 19-point lead, rather than the more comfortable 26-point margin they had before Spa.

***WEC has begun using the popular voice chat app Discord for communication between race control and team managers. The system was first utilized in the virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans and has now been introduced into real-life racing as part of the championship’s COVID-19 operations protocol.

***Championship CEO Gerard Neveu affirmed that it’s “still the plan” to end the 2019-20 season with a flyaway in Bahrain. A second eight-hour race at the Sakhir International Circuit is currently planned for November 21.

“We are in Spa and in two weeks you have Formula 1,” Neveu told Sportscar365. “Last week we had ELMS here. It’s a place where we can organize because we have a well-done organization we can share with the circuit. It’s very similar in Bahrain. The plan is to go there and have Formula 1 just behind us, so it’s on the map.”

***The WEC has yet to confirm its 2021 schedule, but it’s understood that the series is aiming for a reduced number of races compared to previous summer seasons, to factor in the travel and economic difficulties brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

***Toyota is currently evaluating whether it will conduct its traditional shakedown test between Spa and Le Mans, according to the LMP1 team’s director Rob Leupen who said that the hurdles are “extremely high”, particularly in terms of personnel restrictions.

“[There will be] a limited amount of people in the box, and our car needs a minimum amount of people, said Leupen. “If we are below that we could not even test. It’s difficult to do but we are in discussions with the Spa circuit organization, to see if it’s possible.”

***Next up for the WEC is the 24 Hours of Le Mans on September 19-20. Like the 6 Hours of Spa, Le Mans will be held without public access while other strict COVID-19 protocols will be in place. Unlike in previous years, there will be no pre-event test day.

John Dagys contributed to this report.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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