Alonso, Toyota dominate 6 Hours of Spa

Image by Jakob Ebrey/LAT

Alonso, Toyota dominate 6 Hours of Spa

Le Mans/WEC

Alonso, Toyota dominate 6 Hours of Spa

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GTE Pro was won by the No. 66 Ford GT of Olivier Pla, Stefan Mucke and Billy Johnson after a race-long battle with the pair of Porsche GT Team GTEs. Pla made the final pass for the lead side-by-side up Eau Rouge with the No. 91 Porsche of Richard Lietz, who dropped like a stone in the closing laps, and fell to fourth. The win marks the first WEC win for both Johnson and the No. 66 Ford.

The No. 92 Porsche finished second with Michael Christensen getting past Lietz at the Bus Stop, while the No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE took an unlikely third place after a thrilling battle with the No. 91 as Davide Rigon, after a titanic scrap, banged doors on the penultimate lap at the Bus Stop to make the final move stick.

Unfortunately, Ford’s sister No. 67 crashed out after dropping down the order from pole and recovering to second in the first hour. It was the only other car in addition to the destroyed SMP BR1 that failed to finish.

Harry Tincknell was behind the wheel, and while running second just after the end of Hour 1, went straight on at Eau Rouge.

“It was a 29-G impact,” Tincknell, who climbed out unscathed, told RACER. “Something went, we’re not sure what. Whether it was the tire or suspension, the team will have a good look at it. I heard that horrible noise from the front-left when something’s very wrong.

“I knew it was going to be a very big hit.”

It was a very divided GTE Pro race, in which the Ferraris, BMWs and Aston Martins failed to feature; the No. 71’s late charge to third came as a surprise after the Fords and Porsches dominated.

In the end, the No. 82 BMW Team MTEK M8 GTE completed the top five, after a quiet but reliable run. Whether the Balance of Performance was wildly off, or games were being played at Spa, is not yet clear.

Either way, it’s disappointing that Aston Martin and BMW, with their new cars, were never in the fight, all four finishing off the lead lap on their WEC debuts.

GTE Am, like GTE Pro, was dramatic at the end when the field was bunched up. The reigning champions in the No. 98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage took the win, and dominated much of the race, but after the safety car for Issakyan’s shunt, Pedro Lamy had Euan Hankey in the TF Sport Aston Martin right behind.

The Aston of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda en route to victory in GTE-Am (Image by LAT)

The pair fought hard in the run to the flag, but Hankey couldn’t get past, and Lamy scored Aston Martin Racing its record 38th GTE win in the WEC and his record 19th Am class win.

Completing the podium was the Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE, the Singaporean team having a quiet run to the podium, climbing the standings when the other class runners hit trouble or lost time through costly errors.

It was a disappointing race for the Porsche teams, which showed race-winning levels of pace through practice, and qualifying, before all four in the class had a miserable time in the six hours.

The Dempsey Protons hit trouble at the same time, the No. 77 having mechanical issues while battling for the class lead moments before the sister No. 88 went off at Pouhon.

On its WEC debut, Project 1 Racing looked odds on for a podium before Egidio Perfetti also went into the barriers at Pouhon, before the car later collided with the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari in the pits, ending the latter’s chances of a top-five finish in Pro.

Gulf Racing UK also had a tough time. The team started from the back of the grid after its qualifying times were deleted, and had an off in avoidance of the MR Racing Ferrari which was tapped into a spin at Les Combes on the opening lap.

Mike Wainwright went into the tires and brought out the race’s first safety car. The crew finished, but seventh in class.

LMP2, like LMP1 was mostly uneventful, and lacked memorable on-track battles for position in the second half of the race.

G-Drive Racing scored its second Spa win in a row with its ORECA 07 Gibson of Roman Rusinov, Jean-Eric Vergne and Andrea Pizzitola, by 21 seconds over the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA which muscled past the Signatech Alpine in the final hour to snatch second with Ho Pin Tung starring in the No. 38 at the end.

“I think it was an amazing win,” Vergne said. “Last week I won [in Paris’ Formula E round], today I won so it is pretty good I think. A big thanks to my team.

“In my first stint I pushed really hard and extended the gap to one minute, 20-something. Then when I took over the car I kept pushing. We kept extending the lead and then we had the safety car so the lead went down to 12 seconds.

“Then I had to push again and didn’t make any mistakes and crossed the line first.”

Off the podium, the No. 37 All-Malaysian-crewed Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA finished fourth, ahead of the TDS Racing 07 Gibson that completed the top five.

The most frantic action in LMP2 came early in the race, with both the Racing Team Nederland Dallara and DragonSpeed ORECA storming to the front of the field. Geido Van Der Garde in his WEC return handed the Michelin-shod Dallara crew an early lead after two daring moves at Les Combes to take second and the lead. Pastor Maldonado, in his WEC debut, also starred, climbing to second.

But both had their chances end early on; the RTN P217 had alternator trouble, and the ORECA was handed a penalty for speeding in the pits.

The next round of the FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ is the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours on June 16-17.

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