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Spa Thursday Notebook

Daniel Lloyd’s notebook from the first day of on-track running at Spa-Francorchamps…

Photo: MPS Agency

***SMP Racing’s No. 17 BR Engineering BR1 AER will be ready to take part in the rest of the weekend after Stephane Sarrazin crashed out of Free Practice 2 in wet conditions, a team spokesperson confirmed to Sportscar365.

***The car sustained left-side damage after aquaplaning on the run down to the fast Blanchimont left-hander before looping around and hitting the barriers on the right-hand side. Sarrazin walked away from the accident.

***The No. 82 BMW M8 GTE stopped on-track to bring out the first red flag of Free Practice 2 when it went out on the wrong spec of tires.

***Matmut has joined Rebellion Racing as an official partner for the remainder of the 2018-19 season and “until 2020”. The French car insurance brand also supports Signatech Alpine’s LMP2 entry.

***As part of its new deal, Matmut will open a competition to give one lucky fan the chance to join the Rebellion team for a behind-the-scenes experience at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Details will be announced on Matmut’s social media channels soon.

***Stoffel Vandoorne said that his 24 Hours of Le Mans hero is six-time winner Jacky Ickx, who will be in attendance this weekend. “When he did Le Mans, he made a change in motorsport,” said Vandoorne ahead of his LMP1 debut with SMP. “It’s nice to follow in his tracks. I need to ask his advice!”

***SMP was fined €1000 ($1,117) for its “late announcement” of Vandoorne in the No. 11 BR1 AER next to Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin.

***BMW’s driver lineups for the 24 Hours of Le Mans are still undecided, while the manufacturer’s head of Motorsport Jens Marquardt is at Hockenheim for the DTM season-opener this weekend rather than Spa.

***Porsche GTE-Pro driver Kevin Estre felt the manufacturer’s slow start in FP1 was the result of searching for grip: “For us the track felt quite green to start with, so it didn’t really help on the tyre wear and the feeling we had with the car,” he said. “We found less grip than what we were expecting.”

***Aston Martin is perhaps the busiest GT manufacturer this weekend, with factory and customer commitments in five high-profile championships across three continents.

***Alongside its WEC GTE-Pro entry, Aston has involvement in the Michelin Pilot Challenge at Mid-Ohio, DTM at Hockenheim, Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe at Brands Hatch and Super GT at Fuji. BMW, meanwhile, is invested in three races at Spa, Mid-Ohio and Hockenheim.

***Norman Nato says it’s his “target” to be on the WEC grid next season, either in LMP2 or LMP1. The Frenchman is making his first six-hour race appearance at Spa with TDS Racing as a stand-in for Loic Duval. “I’ve just signed until Le Mans so I’m free to do the full-season in WEC [next season],” Nato told Sportscar365. “We are having some discussions with teams in LMP1, LMP2, for sure. So, we will see.”

***TDS Racing team principal Xavier Combet told Sportscar365 that tight timings combined with poor weather prevented Duval from pulling double-duty between Spa and the Hockenheim DTM round for a second time.

***Last year, Duval took a helicopter between the circuits but that option was deemed unsuitable this time around.

***Sergey Sirotkin’s flying lap that topped the LMP1 leaderboard in Free Practice 1 was 5.325 seconds quicker than the best SMP Racing time from the same session at Spa last year.

***The Russian’s 1:56.264 marker was also two seconds faster than Fernando Alonso’s table-topper from last year’s FP1 which was held in similar dry and cool conditions.

***LMP1 non-hybrid cars have out-paced Toyota on only two other occasions this season, when Rebellion Racing took a 1-2 in Free Practice 3 for the Six Hours of Shanghai and at the Spa season-opener when a Rebellion car led a session.

***Rebellion isn’t expecting its new low-downforce aero package to be the quickest LMP1 non-hybrid at Spa, primarily because of the twisty second sector which doesn’t suit its Le Mans configuration. The updated Rebellion R13 Gibson did, however, post the quickest speed trap figure on Friday with Thomas Laurent clocking in at 202.8 mph (326.5 km/h) down the Kemmel Straight.

***Over half of the driver crews for this weekend’s race are different to what the teams ran in the Spa season-opener 12 months ago. 19 crews, including four in LMP1 and all but two in LMP2, have been adjusted throughout the course of the ‘Super Season’ while 15 remain the same.

***Friday’s track action begins with a 60-minute practice session at 11:00 a.m. local time (05:00 a.m. eastern) ahead of qualifying which is due to take place at 3:00 p.m. local time (9:00 a.m. eastern).

***No rain is forecast for Friday, with clouds and high temperatures of around 8 degrees C (46.4 F) expected.

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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