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Spa Post-Race Notebook

Sportscar365’s post-race notebook from the TotalEnergies 6 Hours of Spa…

Photo: James Moy/Toyota

***Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Matthieu Vaxiviere maintained their FIA World Endurance Drivers Championship lead with a second-place finish at the TotalEnergies 6 Hours of Spa. The Alpine Elf Team trio are on 57 points, with an 18-point lead over Glickenhaus Racing’s Romain Dumas and Olivier Pla.

***One retirement in two races for each Toyota Gazoo Racing crew has left the Japanese manufacturer’s drivers third and fourth in the standings heading to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa and Sebastien Buemi have 27 points, while Spa winners Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway have 25.

***Gazoo Racing president Koji Sato joined Toyota’s race winners on the podium. According to Kobayashi, it was the first time Sato attended a WEC race, having not been able to do so previously due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. “We’ve begun to open the travel from Japan and when we come back we have no quarantine, which means that our president visited our races for the first time,” said Toyota’s WEC team principal. “His first race, [so] we brought him to the podium”.

***Lopez, who brought the No. 7 Toyota to the checkered flag, described watching his co-drivers Conway and Kobayashi race as ‘like a horror movie’ due to the difficult conditions. “At least from our side of the garage, it was horrible sometimes,” he said. “Mike and Kamui did a fantastic job, just to keep the car on track was not easy at all. It was important for me to get back strong after Sebring and I can’t really ask for more.”

***Lopez, Kobayashi and Conway claimed their 10th WEC victory together, equalling the record for a three-driver lineup first set by Audi’s Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer.

***Similarly, in the GTE-Pro ranks, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado notched up their 10th win together. Some of those have been shared with third drivers. Furthermore, it marked the eighth race in a row that either the No. 51 Ferrari pairing or the No. 92 Porsche entry prevailed in the top GT class.

***Pier Guidi and Calado are second in the GTE world championship standings, 57 points behind Porsche’s Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen who won at Sebring and finished second at Spa.

***In the manufacturer tables, Alpine leads Toyota by five points in Hypercar with Glickenhaus a further 13 points behind. GTE sees Porsche lead on 91 points, from Ferrari on 73 and Chevrolet on 39. The No. 31 WRT lineup and NorthWest AMR lead the LMP2 and GTE-Am drivers’ tables, respectively.

***The combination of three red flags, six safety cars and five Full Course Yellows resulted in less than three hours of green flag running. It was the second race in WEC history, and the second in succession, to have three red flag stoppages. As was the case at Sebring, one was caused by an accident and two by adverse weather.

***Negrao was happy with Alpine’s second place, particularly considering the team had little experience with the car in wet race conditions. The Brazilian told Sportscar365 that he had only previously driven the A480 Gibson once before in the wet, and noted that it tends to struggle with its traction control and handling when rain is falling.

***Negrao added that Alpine didn’t want to gamble on switching to slick tires earlier than it did. The French team changed from ‘cut slick’ intermediates to full slicks one lap before the No. 7 Toyota. “We could have put on slicks earlier,” said Negrao. “But then we saw all these guys crashing on slicks, so maybe something bad could happen for the championship. So we waited a bit more.”

***After showing early pace, Corvette Racing dropped away from the GTE-Pro battle. It first lost three laps when a red flag occurred as Nick Tandy made his first stop, limiting the No. 64 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R to an emergency service. The Brit was then left stuck in the pits when the first red flag occurred because he needed to wait for the whole field to come around when running resumed.

***Corvette recovered its lost laps through wave-bys, but it then struggled for pace in the wet as Tommy Milner battled tires that were becoming too hot and losing grip. “The pace of the car, as we saw in qualifying and practice, was pretty good,” said Milner. “We basically got punished for stretching our fuel on the first stint… just unlucky in reality. I don’t think we really ever got back from that situation.”

***Glickenhaus Racing used its new Bosch-developed brake-by-wire system for the first time after electing not to implement the technology during the 1000 Miles of Sebring.

***Porsche GT Team driver Christensen felt that the No. 52 Ferrari crew were “bloody lucky” to gain a lap on the GTE-Pro field during the second red flag. The advantage came because the Ferrari parked up on the grid for the red flag with the overall leading Toyota between it and the rest of the Pro field, giving it a free wave-by.

***The No. 92 Porsche was strong pace-wise and returned to contention during the second half. “We were 15 seconds behind them,” Christensen said. “It was just that there was a leader in between us, so they gained a lap. But we came back no problem.”

***Antonio Fuoco suggested that it was a bittersweet day for his No. 52 Ferrari crew after he and Molina gained so much ground initially. “I think we need to be happy about the result we scored with both cars, but on the other hand I’m not happy because we had the chance to win with our car,” Fuoco told Sportscar365.

 ***Dempsey-Proton Racing took its first WEC class victory in two years, having last reached the top step of the podium at Spa in 2019. Harry Tincknell is now a winner in three WEC classes. The Brit’s GTE-Am success on Saturday added to successes in LMP2 with JOTA and GTE-Pro with Ford and Aston Martin Racing.

***The fastest lap of the race was a 2:05.298 set by Sebastien Buemi in the No. 8 Toyota.

***Robin Frijns said Team WRT had to complete the latter half the race without a fully functioning windscreen wiper on its No. 31 Oreca 07 Gibson. “The wiper broke at the end, which was quite lucky because if it was broken before the heavy rain, we would’ve been in trouble. It only worked half the way so I only got a little view. But at the end of the day, it was fine.”

***Frijns’ co-driver Rene Rast struggled during the start of his stint in the class-winning LMP2 car, having to go out on slicks on a track that was not yet fully dry. Unlike Hypercar, which has an intermediate option, Goodyear no longer provides such a tire for LMP2.

***Rast told Sportscar365: “Half the track was dry, the other half was wet. In these conditions it is so tricky and easy to lose the car. The car has a limited steering wheel, it’s not like a rally car where you can drift. It’s like once you lose the car, it’s almost gone. You have to be very, very careful in these conditions, which without an inter is not easy.”

***Prema “need to investigate” an issue that sent Robert Kubica off the pace during his stint in the No. 9 Oreca, according to team principal Rene Rosin who said that the Polish driver noticed “some strange sensation in the car that was not allowing him to go faster”.

***Five cars were officially retired from the race: the No. 44 ARC Bratislava Oreca (accident), the No. 8 Toyota (hybrid issue), the No. 34 Inter Europol Competition Oreca (accident), the No. 28 JOTA Oreca (accident damage) and the No. 56 Team Project 1 Porsche (accident).

***The Goodyear Blimp took to the skies above Spa-Francorchamps and will return for the 24 Hours of Le Mans next month.

***There was a large crowd at Spa, although an official attendance figure is yet to be released. The new 4,600-seater Raidillon grandstand and the start-finish grandstand, which holds around 3,000 spectators, were both full at the start of the race.

***With round two at Spa in the books, attention turns to the highest-scoring round of the year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The next official WEC track session takes place during the Le Mans test day on Sunday, June 5.

Davey Euwema 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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