Today’s FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps is set to be a crucial one for Porsche’s factory GTE Pro team. After a dominant run this season, scoring three class wins (with a 1-2 at Le Mans) and five further podiums between its two 911 RSRs, it comes down to today’s race and the second Le Mans of the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’ to secure the world championships.
As it stands, Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen in the No. 92 Porsche lead the Drivers’ standings ahead of the sister No. 91 of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz, who are 25 points adrift.
Porsche’s rival in the class is now Ferrari. The No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi is third in the Drivers’ standings but 44.5 points back, and the Prancing Horse is second in the Manufacturers’ standings, 100 off the lead. So a strong haul of points today will see Porsche head to Le Mans in comfort, it can seal the Manufacturers’ crown easily and eliminate the No. 51 Ferrari from Drivers’ title contention.
Realistically, the fight for the Drivers’ title is now between the two Porsche crews — it can be sealed here but the No. 91 will need to finish well. 64 points are still available, 25 points for today’s win, 37 points for a Le Mans win and a point for pole in France too.
Because of this, Estre says the No. 92 Porsche’s real competition is the sister car, and the weather. With the forecast poor today, caution will be key.
Overnight ahead of the race the area surrounding the circuit in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest was covered in snow. But the real threat for today’s race may well be rain. The circuit itself clear of the white stuff, but heavy rain is forecast to last from the build-up to the race until late in the evening.
“Our pace is good on long runs this year, and this dictates results in the WEC, not one lap pace. But the race here may be different because of weather,” Estre told RACER.
“It doesn’t look like it will be dry. And if it isn’t then we may struggle to fight for the win, as Ford looks good in the wet, Ferrari will come back, and Aston and BMW have learned a lot. We need to stay focused and confident.
“I think we’ll have the title race in the back of our minds, and in these conditions everyone will be careful. The others in terms of strategy will need to take risks to get ahead and hope for something, so we don’t need to take risks. When you think too much though, that’s when you make mistakes, you drive differently when you think of a championship.
“We’ve had a mega year, have made so few mistakes. That’s been the difference. If one car has made a mistake, the other has ended up on the podium. Consistency has left us at the top in the championship. We’ve kept our drivers and crew the same all season, ridden our luck, and it’s been Porsche’s year as a result. We’ve not dominated like crazy, we’ve just executed where it matters.”
Porsche’s 911 RSRs will start mid-pack on the grid today, seventh and eighth, but all they need is a solid haul of points to win the GT Manufacturers’ FIA World Endurance Championship. If Porsche doesn’t drop 33 points to Ferrari then it wins, it needs to head to Le Mans with a 67 point lead to win the title.
In simple terms, Ferrari needs a 1-2 and for Porsche to have a bad run to keep the race alive.
“It wasn’t our best qualifying,” said Pascal Zurlinden, Porsche’s Director GT Factory Motorsport. “We’d hoped to be in the top five. Unfortunately, not everyone got a perfect lap or their good lap was annulled. The competition is very tight. If we scored this result in tomorrow’s race we’d be manufacturer world champions.
“So, nothing is lost yet. And anything is possible in a six-hour race, especially with the weather forecast predicting rain.”
If they don’t get full points awarded today due to the weather, if Porsche has an uncharacteristically poor result and titles do go down to the wire, then the pressure shifts to Le Mans, which Estre says will make for a tough week in France.
“Hopefully we will win it all before! But Drivers’ title wise it will be tough. We will be thinking about the win at Le Mans, but we’ll keep the championships in mind. If the championship is not done, then you have a huge pressure coming into Le Mans — which is what the WEC wanted to happen.”