Fernando Alonso claimed his first FIA-level victory since the 2013 Formula One Spanish Grand Prix as he led Toyota Gazoo Racing to a one-two victory at the opening round of the FIA World Endurance Championship’s super season at Spa-Francorchamps.
Despite the number 7 Toyota TS050 crew fighting from a lap down to be on the tail of the number 8, Toyota decided to hold position at the final set of stops with less than 30 minutes remaining – allowing the car of Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi to take the flag ahead of the Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi car.
In truth, victory for the number 8 never looked in doubt. Barring potential mechanical difficulties, the speed of the hybrid LMP1 cars over the class’s privateers didn’t give any other team a real chance of battling for anything other than the final spot on the podium.
That turned out to be a relatively strong fight as the SMP Racing BR1 driven by Matevos Isaakyan was taking the fight to the Rebellion Racing team but an unexplained failure in the car led to a large crash at the top of Raidillon. Thankfully the Russian was fine but it gifted Rebellion a three-four finish.
The number 1 had finished on the podium, but was disqualified after the race due to the car’s plank being worn down too much after the race.
Disqualification for the number 1 allowed the number 3 Rebellion to move onto the podium with the ByKolles entry claiming its best-ever result in fourth. The second SMP Racing car of Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin was the last of the classified finishers in a depleted LMP1 field.
The class was down three entries after a crash for DragonSpeed’s Pietro Fittipaldi in qualifying – fracturing his left leg and breaking his right ankle – while the two Manor-Ginettas were withdrawn after issues with the team’s sponsor not paying required funds.
In LMP2, G-Drive Racing’s Jean-Eric Vergne led the team to back-to-back victories at the Belgian circuit in the team’s Oreca 07.
At the start of the race, the LMP2 pace-setters were the Racing Team Netherland crew of Frits van Eerd, Guido van der Garde and Jan Lammers. The Dallara team stormed its way to the top of the class but an alternator issue dropped the yellow machine down the field.
The biggest battle was for second as Ho-Pin Tung in the Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca claimed second place in the final hour as the Chinese racer got the better of André Negrão in the Signatech Alpine in the pits – Tung pitting a couple of laps earlier and getting up to pace quicker than Negrão could come in and pit.
Fourth place went to the second Jackie Chan-backed car with the all-Malaysian line-up of Jazeman Jafaar, Weiron Tan and Nabil Jeffri edging out the TDS Racing Oreca.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing claimed GTE Pro honours in the last hour of the six hour race as Olivier Pla passed Richard Lietz in the Porsche after a side-by-side run up Eau Rouge. Pla used the Ford’s speed advantage to good effect as he crossed the line with more than 13 seconds in hand.
Leitz slipped further down the order as he struggled for grip, first the second Porsche 911 RSR of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen barged through to claim the runner-up spot. Davide Rigon and Sam Bird finished third in the AF Corse Ferrari 488 EVO with Lietz eventually finishing fourth.
António Félix da Costa and Tom Blomqvist brought the BMW Team MTEK M8 home in fifth on the car’s WEC debut, with the new Aston Martin Vantage finishing sixth at the hands of Maxime Martin, Jonny Adam and Alex Lynn.
Aston Martin Racing did claim GTE Am honours as reigning class champions Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda just about held on to win by 0.221 seconds.
Just missing out was the TF Sport team – more familiar to followers of British GT – as it moved up from the European Le Mans Series into the WEC with Charlie Eastwood, Euan Hankey and Salih Yoluc in an Aston Martin Vantage. Hankey tried to claim the win – by late-braking up the inside of Lamy at the Bus Stop – but couldn’t deliver the power on the drag race to the line.
Clearwater Racing claimed third in its Ferrari 488 as Matt Griffin, Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok held off the weak challenge of the Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR which couldn’t demonstrate the pace the Porsche teams had threatened coming into the weekend.