Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No. 7 GR010 HYBRID fought to victory in a rain-soaked 6H of Spa which was heavily disrupted by three red flags and a smattering of safety car and full-course yellow periods.
In a reverse of fortunes for the Toyota team after the No. 7’s big off at Sebring, this time it was the sole GR010 to make it to the finish after the sister No. 8 retired in the first half of the race due to a hybrid system failure.
The issue occurred in the second hour with Sebastien Buemi at the wheel just as the first red flag period, which was called for barrier repairs following a big off for Miro Konopoka (who walked away) in the ARC Bratislava ORECA, ended and the cars pulled away from the grid.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) May 7, 2022
“It was a pretty serious issue,” Buemi said after climbing out the car and heading back to the pits, leaving his stranded GR010 on the exit of Campus after multiple power cycles during the lap. “They told me to jump out and not touch the car. There is a big risk of something going on when something like that happens.”
Despite the No. 8’s disappointing day, Toyota still emerged victorious with Jose Maria Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi, who secured a sixth straight 6H of Spa win for the Japanese manufacturer.
“Great to have all the fans in today — it looked like a full house. We are looking forward to Le Mans now. This is good momentum,” Conway said after the race.
Alpine, which won at Sebring, took a strong haul of points with a second place finish while the pole-sitting Glickenhaus took third in Hypercar but ninth overall.
Early in the race the No. 708 looked strong on pace and was able to keep in touch with the Toyotas that quickly took charge in the opening stint. In the second half of the race though, the team fell away. With all the confusion, disruption and changing conditions, it made a mistake on tyre choice. Pipo Derani misheard his team on the radio and chose slicks too early instead of cut slicks, causing the car to struggle for grip. The team opted to box again for cut slicks dropping them down the order and forcing them to pit yet again for full slicks during a late full-course yellow in the final hour. Result aside, the car showed itself to be reliable and quick this weekend — a positive sign for Le Mans, where the team will once again run two cars.
LMP2 was Belgian team WRT’s day. For a time it appeared that the No. 31 ORECA might have a chance to win the race overall, as the flurry of stops and stoppages due to heavy rain left Robin Frijns at the head of the field with over two hours to go.
As the track dried and the racing got underway, Frijns dropped to third overall but held on for the win in the team’s home race. It was a near faultless run that won the race — one which almost ended in tears when Rene Rast had a collision with a spinning Ultimate ORECA in the final minutes.
Behind, Realteam by WRT made it a 1-2 for the Belgian outfit after a late spin from Phil Hanson at the Bus Stop cost the No. 22 United ORECA second in class after a lengthy, frantic battle on track between Hanson and Ferdinand Habsburg.
LMP2 had many contenders, but there were so many spins, trips through the gravel and brushes with the barriers that staying out of trouble was key to victory.
This was most certainly the case for United Autosports as, in addition to Hanson’s uncharacteristic error, the sister car also had a messy race. Alex Lynn put in a herculean effort to try and win for the No. 23 crew, but drama in the pits cost the team a podium as the driver’s door wouldn’t open. This forced the team to undergo a driver change from the passenger side, costing a huge amount of time and eventually dropping the car to sixth.
The No. 38 JOTA ORECA, which looked in control of the class early in the race but lost time due to two offs, took third.
Oliver Jarvis eventually brought the No. 23 home behind the No. 38 JOTA ORECA. The Penske ORECA, which also had multiple off-track moments, crossed the line fourth and its sister car eventually took fifth.
“We missed speed and struggled with technical issues last year. Now, this year, we finish one-two at our home race. It was a great show on track; all the drivers looked good. Let’s see what we can do at Le Mans now,” said WRT boss Vincent Voss.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) May 7, 2022
GTE Pro was a thriller with a surprising outcome. The first red flag in the race looked as if it was going to ruin the battle for the win as the lack of a wave-around and a set of ill-timed stops from a few of the cars left the No. 52 AF Corse Ferrari on an island out front with a lap lead. Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina looked certain to cruise to the win barring an incident, but a wave-around later in the race (after the red flag for rain with two hours to go) meant four of the five cars in class were on the lead lap again, creating a huge finish.
The battles for the podium raged until the end of the race, with the action reaching a crescendo in the final laps when Michael Christensen — who drove for five hours of the race — in the No. 92 Porsche caught James Calado in the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari and pushed his 911 to its limit to steal the late win.
Remarkably, Calado, who inherited the lead with an hour to go at the final round of stops, held on. Despite the pair running nose to tail for multiple laps, he produced a masterclass in defensive driving on a greasy track and survived a late lunge by Christensen at the Bus Stop on the final lap.
“It was really tough,” Calado exclaimed. “I knew the No. 92 was quicker. I was on the soft compound and risked everything. It was really fair, close racing and I enjoyed that all the way to the end.”
This was a real turnaround for the Ferrari team who struggled for pace at Sebring and looked to be behind on pace this weekend ahead of the race. The conditions, strong driver performances and an ‘own goal’ at Turn 1 on the opening lap from Porsche helped AF Corse secure a double podium and their first win of the year.
It was Kevin Estre’s human error which was to blame for Porsche’s bad start. The Frenchman made contact with the pole-sitting sister No. 91, causing a puncture that would cost Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz a lap — a deficit which they were unable to recover from.
“I apologise to the No. 91 for contact at Turn 1,” Estre said on social media. “I locked up and couldn’t go anywhere. They got a puncture from the contact and it’s fully on me.”
Corvette, meanwhile, finished a lowly fourth after a quiet race in which the C8.R faded in the wet conditions after a strong start.
In GTE Am, Harry Tincknell was the late hero in the No. 77 Dempsey Proton Porsche, managing to fuel save to avoid a late splash and hold off a hard-charging Marco Sorensen in the TF Sport Aston Martin. Strong stints from team owner and driver Christian Ried and Seb Priaulx (in only his second WEC start) before Tincknell climbed aboard laid the foundations for this win.
“We were lurking the whole race,” Tincknell said. “We were right there at the start when Christian was in the race against but we were always P5 or P6. We had a limp in the middle, it rained, then we started to come back and we were talking at the end about boxing for fuel or risking it. I said, ‘Let’s try it; I’ll try and save fuel. You never know what’s going to happen.’ The FCY came. It meant we were safe on fuel and the last stint was crazy. It was win or fence. I took maximum risk, and by the time he was coming back to me, it was too late.”
Northwest AMR took third to make it a double podium for Aston Martin.
Next on the calendar is the Le Mans 24 Hours, set to be held on June 11-12.