Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez led 132 of 148 laps Saturday (April 29) to win the FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. It is their second win of the year.
The margin of victory at the line was 16.637 seconds over the No. 8 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa. However, the No. 7 was given a post-race five-second penalty for going outside track limits to make a pass after their last pit stop. As a result, the official margin of victory will be 11.637 seconds.
Ferrari AF Corse’s James Calado was able to get past Porsche Penske Motorsport’s Frederic Makowiecki on the final lap to take third for himself, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi. Makowiecki, Dane Cameron and Michael Christensen were fourth, while Chip Ganassi Racing’s Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook were fifth in the No. 2 Cadillac.
After Giovinazzi’s would-be pole lap was disallowed for a track limit violation, Conway started from the overall pole in mixed conditions. Teams were forced to chose between slicks or wet tires. Ferrari AF Corse chose to start Giovinazzi on wets, which gave him the grip to take the lead away from Conway on lap 2.
Shortly afterwards, Iron Lynx’s Claudio Schiavoni spun into the gravel trap at Les Combes to bring out an early safety car period. At this point, the track started drying, forcing a number of teams into an early pit stop for slicks. That allowed Conway to retake the lead.
With Ferrari AF Corse forced to make an extra stop, Chip Ganassi Racing’s part-time No. 3 with Renger van der Zande driving got all the way up to second overall. Then, disaster struck in the second hour. Van der Zande bottomed out in Eau Rouge. The result was a nasty crash.
Van der Zande was able to get out of his Cadillac VSeries.R on his own and appeared to be unhurt. Regardless, he was out on the spot and the safety car was back out.
A big story Saturday was the WEC’s rule change for 2023 that banned tire warmers. The move really hadn’t been much of an issue at Sebring International Raceway and Algarve International Circuit thanks to warm weather. However, at Spa, it never got above 55 degrees during the race. As a result, drivers had to carefully get temperature in their tires, while losing as little time as possible.
There were a number of spins and off-course excursions on cold tires that rarely happen in the Hypercar class. Ferrari AF Corse’s Antonio Fuoco was not so lucky.
Fuoco made a pit stop in the fifth hour for tires and fuel, a standard stop. After leaving the pit lane, he spun the tires on the run down the hill from La Source to Eau Rouge. The result was this crash:
Fuoco was ok, but he was dejected. After exiting his Ferrari 499P, he walked behind the wall, sat down and put his head in his hands. Since Fuoco’s car came to rest in the middle of the track, another safety car came out.
The No. 51 Ferrari still had a chance to win here, but the safety car forced them to make an second extra pit stop as compared to the Toyotas. That put Calado the better part of 90 seconds behind. From there, the No. 7 Toyota coasted to victory.
LMP2 was more of the same from the first two races early on. United Autosports’ No. 23 with Josh Pierson at the wheel dominated the early going.
A caution in the third hour put the two Team WRT entries at the top of the order with PREMA Racing’s No. 63 giving chase. The PREMA charge ended during the safety car period for Fuoco’s crash. Mirko Bortolotti was found to have violated safety car procedure and was given a three-minute stop-and-hold penalty. The team ended up finishing two laps down in 11th and failed to score points.
In the end, it was the No. 41 Team WRT ORECA 07-Gibson with Louis Deletraz driving that ended up in the lead. He pulled out a comfortable gap and held on to take the class for himself, Rui Andrade and Robert Kubica in seventh overall.
Andrade, Deletraz and Kubica ended up 6.042 seconds ahead of Pierson, Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis. Inter Europol Competition’s Albert Costa, Fabio Scherer and Jakub Smiechowski were third, followed by PREMA Racing’s No. 9 for Andrea Caldarelli, Filip Ugran and Bent Viscaal. United Autosports’ No. 22 for Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Frederick Lubin.
In GTE-Am, ORT by TF’s Michael Dinan started from pole and led early, but it was another Aston Martin, the D’Station Racing entry for Tomonobu Fujii that rose to the lead. Then, Fujii got a little rough with the Iron Dames’ Sarah Bovy, putting her left side tires in the wet grass at one point. That didn’t please the stewards.
Ultimately, it was the Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari of Luis Perez Companc, Alessio Rovera and Lilou Wadoux that came to the front at the halfway point with Wadoux at the wheel. Strong form from Wadoux allowed the team to extend their advantage.
Once Rovera got in the car late in the going, he had a decent advantage over Corvette Racing’s Nicky Catsburg. All he had to do was hold station to pick up a sweet victory for himself, Wadoux and Luis Perez Companc. Wadoux’s class victory is the first-ever class victory for a woman in the WEC, which dates back to 2012.
Richard Mille AF Corse’s margin of victory was 18.653 seconds over Corvette Racing’s Catsburg, Ben Keating and Nico Varrone. Catsburg just beat out the ORT by TF Aston Martin shared by Ahmad Al Harthy, Dinan and Charlie Eastwood. Proton Competition’s No. 88 Porsche for Ryan Hardwick, Zacharie Robichon and Harry Tincknell were fourth, while the Iron Dames Porsche for Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey were fifth.
Teams will take the next month off before the Le Mans Test Day on June 4. That mandatory test day leads into the 24 Hours of Le Mans race weekend, where 62 cars will take on the 8.467-mile road course.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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