It was an incredible 6 hours FIA World Endurance Championship race at Spa Francorchamps.
The seventh round of the season offered an extremely changeable weather. When the teams showed up Saturday morning, there was snow around the track. Luckily it melted away and the asphalt was dry at the start of the race.
Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 and #8 started the race 1-2 in LMP1, followed by SMP Racing #17.
In the LMP2 class, it was G-Drive Racing #26 on Pole ahead of Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 and #37 with David Heinemeier Hansson in #37.
Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK #67 started fom first position in GTE Pro, in front of Aston Martin Racing #97 and BMW Team MTEK #82. Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen started the race from P5, and Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre started P7 in Porsche #92.
The GTE Am class saw TF Sport Aston Martin #90 on Pole, ahead of Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #88 and Team Project 1 Porsche #56.
The race started in dry weather, but SMP Racing #17 got their wheels locked anyway in Turn 1 and was close to drive into the rear of their teammate in #11. It meant that #17 got a bad exit in Turn 1, so Rebellion Racing #3 with Thomas Laurent could overtake Stoffel Vandoorne from the outside throughout the Eau Rouge/Radillon combination.
Racing Team Nederland #29 was in good progress right away, when Giedo van der Garde would like to swap his sixth start position to something higher. It succeeded when he at the end of Kemmel Straight – on the first lap – took the lead of the class from Jean-Eric Vergne.
Just two laps into the race it began to snow heavily over the whole track. It caused the teams to slide around and pit for rain tires.
Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK #67 got a Drive-Through penalty for an unsafe release during their first pitstop.
The conditions were so bad that the race director chose to send the Safety Car out. It stayed on the track for about half an hour, before the race got restarted.
After a bit over an hour of racing ByKolles Racing Team #4 got pushed into the tire wall, when Jordan King in Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 hit Tom Dillmann and sent the latter hard into the wall, exactly where the tire wall starts. It damaged the front of #4, as well as an ad banner got stuck on the car. The stewards “rewarded” King with a two-minute Stop & Go for the incident.
It started as a local yellow flag zone, which then turned to be a Safety Car period when the tire barrier needed to be repaired. Plus there were debris on the track. It took another half an hour before the track was ready again.
Nicki Thiim in Aston Martin Racing #95 got pushed into the tire wall at the exact same place as Dillmann previously. It damaged the AMR’s screens quite a bit, so the mechanics had to use a lot of tank tapes to stick the pieces together. But it wasn’t the thing that disrupt the race yet again. The culprit was Frits van Eerd in Racing Team Nederland #29, and he got a 2-minute Stop & Go.
We then got half an hour racing under green flag, before a Full Course Yellow due to Dempsey-Proton Racing #88 being pushed to the gravel by Clearwater Racing Ferrari #61. Luckily it only took a few minutes before the race got a restart.
This time there were ten minutes of racing before another FCY, because of some debris in Turn 16. It created a bit of drama when Fernando Alonso spun as he had to slow down to 80 km/h. But he could quickly continue.
Not everyone managed to slow down to 80 km/h in time, so Jackie Chan DC Racing #37, SMP Racing #11, Racing Team Nederland #29 and Clearwater Racing Ferrari #61 all got a penalty. #37 only got a five-second time penalty in their next pitstop, while all the others got a Drive-Through.
Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 ran into some electrical problems, so they had to push the car into the garage, where the team lost 11 minutes for repair. It caused them to fall back to P6 in LMP1, before they went back to the track.
When we reached the halfway point of the race, Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 was leading, ahead of SMP Racing #11 and Rebellion Racing #3.
Signatech Alpine Matmut #36 led the LMP2 class, in front of Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 and G-Drive Racing #26, while Aston Martin Racing #97 had the GTE Pro lead, ahead of Porsche #91 and AF Corse Ferrari #51.
But we were far from done with the changing weather, when rain/sleet/hail began to fall again, shortly after the halfway point, which caused a lot of traffic in the pits, since all the teams came in to change tires again.
It changed the orders again, with the pit strategies and refuelling turned upside down yet again.
With two hours left of the race, we still had Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 and SMP Racing #11 in LMP1, while Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 had taken the lead in LMP2 in front of Signatech Alpine Matmut #36 and G-Drive Racing #26.
In GTE Pro, Porsche #92 with Michael Christensen had come in front of the class, ahead of AMR #97 and AF Corse Ferrari #51. GTE Am had Clearwater Racing Ferrari #61 leading, with Team Project 1 Porsche #56 and TF Sport Aston Martin #90 in P2 and P3.
With under two hours left, there was another Safety Car due to a big round of rain/hail/sleet over the track and once again changed the asphalt’s dimension.
The race got restarted with 75 minutes left, but there was still plenty of spray behind the cars, which made it extremely hard for the drivers to see which part of the track they were on.
Nicki Thiim had a little blunder in AMR #95, and did a tour over the grass before he could continue in P9 in GTE Pro.
Egidio Perfetti in Team Project 1 Porsche #56 lost the car, when he had Clearwater Racing Ferrari #61 on the outside in a corner and did all that he could not to hit him. It cost him a tour on the grass and a light touch with the tire barrier, but he could continue without any problems.
Spirit of Race Ferrari #54 with Luis Perez-Companc behind the wheel had a spin on the start/finish straight, with a little help from Porsche #91. #91 got a Drive-through penalty for the incident.
There was an intense battle for the last podium place in GTE Pro, where Michael Christensen in Porsche #92 and James Calado in AF Corse Ferrari #51 fought door-to-door, through Blanchimont corner and Eau Rouge. But #92 was still ahead.
The two AMR cars also started to fight for positions, where it even ended up a little bit corporal between #95 and #97 – with #97 still ahead.
45 minutes before the end, the sky opened up again. Some of the teams used it to take their last regulated pitstop for some new, fresh rain tires.
But it didn’t take long before the race director deployed the Safety Car on the track when the conditions became too dangerous, and it wouldn’t be wise to let the drivers decide how fast they would drive.
The race got restarted with 15 minutes left, and there were still a lot of fights in the different classes.
Eleven minutes before the finish, the race got red-flagged when the snow became heavier. So the race director took no chance, for safety reasons.
Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 with Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima won the race, ahead of Rebellion Racing #3 with Thomas Laurent, Gustavo Menezes and Nathaniel Berthon as well as SMP Racing #11 with Stoffel Vandoorne, Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov.
The LMP2 category was won by DragonSpeed 31 with Pastor Maldonado, Anthony Davidson and Roberto Gonzalez, in front of G-Drive Racing #26 with Jean-Eric Vergne, Job van Uitert and Roman Rusinov, and Signatech Alpine Matmut #36 with Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet.
Aston Martin Racing #97 with Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn won the GTE Pro, ahead of AF Corse #51 with James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, with Porsche #92 of Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre in P3.
GTE Am was won by Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 with Riccardo Pera, Christian Ried and Matt Campbell, ahead of TF Sport Aston Martin #90 with Charlie Eastwood, Euan Hankey and Salih Yoluc, with Matteo Cressoni, Luis Perez-Companc and Matt Griffin in Clearwater Racing Ferrari #61 in third.
Toyota Gazoo Racing has now secured the world championship, and only has to decide which one of the two cars who will win the title.
Signatech Alpine Matmut #36 extended a couple of points lead from Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 in P2, while DragonSpeed #31 is closing up on both of them.
Porsche has secured the GTE constructors’ championship, while Porsche #92 only needs one single point to be able to call themselves a world champion.
Even though Team Project 1 Porsche #56 lost some points to TF Sport Aston Martin #90, Clearwater Racing Ferrari #61 and Spirit of Race Ferrari #54, they still have a nice gap to them – but they’re in no way secure yet.
Now we’ll wait for the grand finale on Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans on 15-16 June, before all the world champions will be crowned. It will surely be a week full of drama and surprises, as it always is.