The Total 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps was a dramatic affair, when the 2019/20 season in the FIA World Endurance Championship finally got going again.
The cars had been parked since the end of February, due to the COVID-19 situation, but the 29 cars were finally back on track.
After dry weather on both Thursday and Friday, the heavens had opened ahead of the Saturday race. So all teams had no experience in the conditions.
Norman Nato, Gustavo Menezes and Bruno Senna in the Rebellion Racing #1 had grabbed Pole Position, ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 with Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, and championship leading Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 with Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway. ByKolles Racing Team #4 with Bruno Spengler, Tom Dillmann and Oliver James Webb started the race from P4.
LMP2 Championship leaders United Autosports #22 with Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta was on a superior Pole Position, followed by JOTA #38 with Roberto Gonzalez, Antonio Felix da Costa and Anthony Davidson second, and Cool Racing #42 with Nicolas Lapierre, Antonin Borga and Alexandre Cougnaud in third.
After a bit of forth and back with the stewards, the Porsche #92 driven by Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen was allowed to start from Pole Position in GTE Pro, ahead of Aston Martin Racing #97 with local boy Maxime Martin and Alexander Lynn. AMR #95 with championship leaders Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen were third fastest GTE Pro car, ahead of the other Porsche, while AF Corse Ferrari closed off the GTE Pro field.
Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 with Christian Ried, Matt Campbell and Riccardo Pera started the race from GTE Am Pole, ahead of Team Project 1 Porsche #56 with Egidio Perfetti, Laurents Hörr and Matteo Cairoli. Team Project 1 Porsche #57 with Ben Keating, Felipe Fraga and Jeroen Bleekemolen started P3.
Championship leaders Nicklas Nielsen, Francois Perrodo and Emmanuel Collard in AF Corse Ferrari #83 was fifth fastest in GTE Am.
The race control decided to start the race behind the Safety Car, since it was raining so heavily, that cars were spinning off, even their way to the grid. Thankfully neither Signatech Alpine Elf #36, Eurasia Motorsport #35 nor Team Project 1 Porsche #56 hit anything solid.
After 14 minutes of running behind the Safety Car, the race finally went green.
Toyota took the lead of the race, since their four-wheel drive was much better than the two-wheel drive of Rebellion Racing.
Cetilar Racing #47 were quite nervous on the wet asphalt, and was about to cause troubles for the GTE cars on the first lap of the race.
AMR #97 took the GTE Pro lead, with rain master Maxime Martin always impressive in the rain, helped a little by the #47.
ByKolles Racing Team #4 were more brave in the rain, and also made it past Rebellion Racing #1.
Cool Racing #42 had a bad first lap, but Alexandre Coigny naturally didn’t have as much pace as teammate Nicolas Lapierre.
Sebastien Buemi was doing amazing things in the Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 out front, and after just three flying laps, he had build up a 10 seconds gap to teammate Mike Conway in #7.
The rain came back again shortly after, with pretty much the whole GTE Pro field going wide at the Bruxelles corner. That send Porsche #92 back in front, ahead of AMR #97, AF Corse Ferrari #51, AMR #95, Porsche #91 and AF Corse #71.
AF Corse #51 had plenty of grip, with Alessandro Pier Guidi making it into second, ahead of AMR #97.
Paul Dalla Lana in AMR #98 was off the circuit at the Bruxelles corner, when he locked up the rear wheels. He did avoid both the armco and gravel trap, so he was able to continue without problems.
Team Project 1 Porsche #56 was ahead of GTE Am, followed by Dempsey-Proton Porsche #77 and Team Project 1 Porsche #57.
AF Corse Ferrari #51 took the GTE Pro after about how an hour of racing.
There was drama at Toyota Gazoo Racing #8, when the hybrid part switched off on the car, and Buemi lost loads of time, while he was screaming on the radio to the team. They did manage to get it powered up again, so he could remain in the lead.
ByKolles Racing Team #4 also got into troubles, with the car sounding very sick, while Tom Dillmann tried to limp the car back to the pits. It was appearing to be electrical issues with the car, since the team reported that the pit limiter was switching on and off. The problem did solve itself so he could stay on track.
The lead of GTE Am changed, when Team Project 1 Porsche #56 didn’t brake quite enough at the end of the Kemmel Straight, so he had to take the long way around, so Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 were able to take the lead.
Racing Team Nederland #29 with Guido van der Garde was flying at Spa, and especially in rain, so he was able to go from very last position in the race to P2 in LMP2 in 40 minutes of racing.
The two GTE Pro Porsche’s #92 and #91 switched positions 50 minutes into the race, so #91 got into second. AF Corse Ferrari #71 made its way past AMR #95 too.
Then some of the teams started going on slicks, which was the choice from teams like Porsche #92, Team Project 1 Porsche #56 and Toyota Gazoo Racing #7, while #8 stayed on their used rain tires.
Both United Autosports #22 and JOTA #38 had a trip over the grass, on their out lap, but nothing too serious.
There was a bit of an issue between Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #88 and Eurasia Motorsport #35, where #88 outbraked himself, and went the wrong way around the bollard at the pit entry, and forcing #35 to go the right way around the bollard. #35 however didn’t want to pit, so they went back on the regular track, while #88 pitted. The stewards was of course looking into that.
One hour into the race, we had the first car stuck in the gravel. AMR #98 with Paul Dalla Lana was completely stuck, so a Safety Car was needed, to pull him out.
Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 had to pit during the Safety Car period, since their brakes was on fir. The team pushed the car into the garage.
After about 20 minutes at reduced speed, the race went green again, and Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 pitted instantly to get new tires, just as ByKolles Racing Team #4.
Porsche #92 took the GTE Pro lead, right after the race was green again.
AMR #95 had to pit with a puncture on the left rear tire, and lost the tire right before the pit entry.
Gulf Racing #86 had taken the GTE Am lead, ahead of Team Project 1 Porsche #56, while Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #88 had crawled it’s way into P3.
United Autosports #22 had Racing Team Nederland #29 all over the back of the car for several laps, with the gap fluctuating through traffic.
Dempey-Proton Racing Porsche #88 got a 30 seconds Stop & Go penalty for the earlier incident, entering the pits the wrong way, in a dangerous manner.
The race hit the track again after 1 hour and 45 minutes of running.
The LMP2 teams pitted for more fuel, but they didn’t really switch tires, which could be an error, since there was more and more water coming down.
The rain was absolutely hammering down, on the far end of the track, just as the GTE Pro cars pitted.
ByKolles Racing Team #4 pitted from third position, and put rain tires on. Racing Team Nederland #29 took the LMP2 lead from United Autosports #22, with van der Garde once again driving fast. The chose to pit right after, for rain tires.
Eurasia Motorsport #35 got a 10 seconds Stop & Go for entering the pits, the wrong way around the bollard.
Team Project 1 Porsche #56 took the race lead after two hours of racing, when Gulf Racing Porsche #86 made a small driving error, and got too wide in one of the corners.
Both Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 and #7 were off track at the end of the Kemmel Straight, but nothing that affected them too much.
AMR #97 had more pace in the rain now, compared to the start of the race. Alexander Lynn got past Michael Christensen in Porsche #92
AMR #98 got a Drive-through penalty for speeding in the pitlane.
The rain was getting worse and worse, but only made Giancarlo Fisichella in the AF Corse Ferrari #54 flying, racing his way into third in GTE Am.
Eurasia Motorsport #35 had to pit with gearbox issues, where the mechanics had to start the repairs.
Rebellion Racing #1 stilled hadn’t found the pace in the race, and was fourth in the LMP1 category, behind ByKolles Racing Team #4, who almost had a minute lead over #1 – and was 10 seconds faster per lap!
Alessandro Pier Guidi had a hug slide in the middle of Pouhon, but caught the car, before AF Corse Ferrari #51 was all the way out to the wall, but was able to hold onto the lead in GTE Pro.
The conditions were so bad that Brendon Hartley in the Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 was aqua planing at 170 kph, and had to work really had to stay on the circuit.
So the race control decided to send out the Safety Car, before any accidents would happen.
When the pits finally opened after 5 laps behind the SC, most of the LMP2, GTE Pro and GTE Am field pitted.
There was drama at Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 again, when they were very slow getting out of the pits, and wasn’t able to release the pit limiter. That meant that ByKolles Racing Team #4 closed the gab, before finally going past, since #8 had a clear issue. Hartley was pushing all the button,s and finally got the car up to speed again.
The race went green shortly after, after almost 45 minutes behind the Safety Car.
The GTE Pro cars were right behind the Safety Car, so the LMP2 and not the least LMP1 had to fight their way through a whole bunch of cars.
Rebellion Racing #1 was grass cutting for a bit, but didn’t lose significant time.
There was a contact between AF Corse Ferrari #71 and Porsche #92 several times, where Michael Christensen and Miguel Molina were rubbing paint. #92 did got past, and then Molina got under pressure from Thiim in AMR #95. The contact between #71 and #92 was investigated by the stewards.
Job van Uitert in the Racing Team Nederland #29 was off the circuit at the Bus Stop chicane, when he was trying to overtake Gulf Racing Porsche #86 around the outside. The team was furthermore hit with a 5 seconds pitstop penalty, when they had overtaken JOTA #38 outside the track limits.
Nicklas Nielsen had been installed in the AF Corse Ferrari #83, and had to get the car towards the front of the GTE Am field once again. He swiftly made his way into third in GTE Am, when overtaking Team Project 1 Porsche #57.
The track was starting to dry out with two and a half hours remaining. That meant that some teams started pitting for slicks. For Gulf Racing Porsche #86 that gamble was almost ending baldly, when Andrew Watson almost beached it at the same spot as Paul Dalla Lana, but did avoid that, and he was able to resume.
Michael Christensen and Nicki Thiim had a close battle for the GTE Pro lead, where Thiim managed to trick Christensen into a mistake, so the latter braked a little too late, and had to take it to the run-off area, to Thiim could grab the lead.
With two hours left on the clock, it was Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 leading LMP1, Racing Team Nederland #29 in LMP2, Aston Martin Racing #95 in GTE Pro, and AF Corse Ferrari #83 in GTE Am.
Signatech Alpine Elf #36 made its way into second in LMP2, when Thomas Laurent overtook Phil Hanson in United Autosports #22.
AF Corse Ferrari #71 and Aston Martin Racing #97 went side by side up the Kemmel Straight, and was duelling on the brakes, resulting in a slight kiss between the cars. #71 went a bit too far, but Molina was still able to keep Lynn in #97 behind. #71 was baulked by Eurasia Motorsport #35 on the following lap, heading towards Eau Rouge, so Lynn got a good run, and was able to grab fourth away from him in GTE Pro.
With just over 90 minutes to go, the United Autosports #22 exited the pits, at the same time as Signatech Alpine Elf #36 was full throttle out of La Source. Laurent #36 was briefly on the grass, but kept his foot down, with the two cars racing side by side through Eau Rouge/Raidillon, with #36 making it out on front. Both drivers respected each other through the corners – thankfully – or it could have ended really bad for both of them.
Paul Di Resta in #22 got past one lap later, when he outbraked Laurent into the La Source hairpin.
The different strategies regarding the LMP2 cars became very apparent with 85 minutes to go. Frits van Eerd in Racing Team Nederland #29 was slower than both Paul Di Resta and Thomas Laurent, and was caught by several seconds per lap. UA #22 took the LMP2 lead with 82 minutes left.
The Safety Car was deployed once again with 80 minutes to go, when Thomas Laurent crashed at nearly 300 kph going into the Blanciment corner. He was fighting with Racing Team Nederland #29, and were going through traffic. He dived to the inside of the Dutchman were that gap was closing. Laurent didn’t lift, had half of the car on the grass, but still didn’t lift, and then he spun and hit the tire barrier sideways, which ripped off the left side of the car, rolled on it’s roof, and landed bottom down. Laurent was thankfully OK, and was able to step out of the car himself, when he was allowed to do so. This was the second car that the Signatech team has lost in one month – at Paul Ricard they lost the Richard Mille Racing Team car, when Katherine Legge went off the track.
A team that potentially could get into troubles was High Class Racing #33. The pit was closed due to Safety Car, just as Mark Patterson was getting ready to step into the car. Instead he had to wait 5 laps, so he only got in the car with 62 minutes left of the race. His regular minimum driving time would be 70 minutes. So the team would have to start communicate with the stewards, of why they couldn’t enter the pits when it was closed, and thereby not respect the minimum drive time. The team was third, when the Safety Car came out.
The race went green again with 57 minutes left.
That meant that Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 and #8 was back together, for the first time since the race start. There had been quite some gaps between them ever since.
Gulf Racing Porsche #86 unfortunately had to be pushed into the garage with technical issues, which was a great shame for the team, which had been running right up the front, earlier in the race. Thankfully it didn’t take long to repair, but it was still enough to drop to last in GTE Am.
ByKolles Racing Team #4 was pushed into the garage with 39 minutes to go, and the engine cover was taken off.
Red River Sport Ferrari #62 had a slight kiss with the tire barrier, but was able to rejoin by itself.
Cool Racing #42 with Nico Lapierre got past Mark Patterson i High Class Racing #33, in a very unfair fight regarding the speed of the drivers. There was 40 seconds to JOTA #38 in fifth.
Lapierre was lightning fast, and took second in LMP2, when he overtook Racing Team Nederland #29.
AMR #97 made a braking error for La Source, so Porsche #92 was able to grab the lead of the GTE Pro.
18 minutes before the chequered fast, we saw Mark Patterson in High Class Racing #33 spinning at the Bus Stop chicane, losing the rear end on entry. He did manage to get going soon after again, but lost vital seconds in the battle for fourth.
Team Project 1 Porsche #56 was fighting its way forward again, after dropping back earlier in the race. Matteo Cairoli overtook Ricardo Sanchez in Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #88.
AF Corse Ferrari #51 fought with Porsche #91 for 4th and 5th in GTE Pro – a battle that happened both inside and outside the white lines.
The mechanics were able to change the exhaust on the ByKolles Racing Team #4, so they could rejoin the race with 10 minutes to go.
Aston Martin Racing #97 pitted with 6 minutes left, to get the final bit of fuel in the tank. They managed to get out right in front of AF Corse Ferrari #51 and Porsche #91, that he could keep behind through Eau Rouge/Raidillon.
Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 with Jose Maria Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi won the race, ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 with Brendon Hartley, Kazuki Nakajima og Sebastien Buemi, while Rebellion Racing #1 with Norman Nato, Bruno Senna and Gustavo Menezes finished third.
United Autosports #22 with Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta won the LMP2 category, ahead of Cool Racing #42 with Nico Lapierre, Alexandre Coigny and Antonin Borga, and Racing Team Nederland #29 with Frits van Eerd, Guido van der Garde and Job van Uitert.
GTE Pro was won by Porsche #92 with Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, ahead of Aston Martin Racing #95 with Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen, and AMR #97 with local Maxime Martin and Alexander Lynn.
AF Corse Ferrari #83 secured another win, with Niklas Nielsen, Emmanuel Collard and Francois Perrodo, while Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 with Christian Ried, Riccardo Pera and Matt Campbell grabbed second, and TF Sport Aston Martin #90 with Charlie Eastwood, Jonny Adam and Salih Yoluc in P3.
Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 extends the lead of the championship, ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 and Rebellion Racing #1
LMP2 saw United Autosports #22 also extending their lead, while Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 are second, and Racing Team Nederland are new in third.
GTE Pro is still led by Aston Martin Racing #95, with Porsche #92 now second, and AF Corse Ferrari #51 in P3.
AF Corse Ferrari #83 has managed to pull even further way in GTE Am, with TF Sport Aston Martin #90 still sitting second, and Team Project 1 Porsche #57 new in third position.
The teams now have one month of preparation, until the 24 Hours of Le Mans on 19-20 September 2020.
High Class Racing #33 was handed a 6 laps plus 1 minute and 14 seconds penalty, due to Mark Patterson not doing his requered minimum driving time. That demoted them from the fifth place in LMP2 to last.