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Toyota LMP1

FIA WEC Spa-Francorchamps Review

The 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship moved on to Belgium and the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit this last weekend. As always this is the last FIA WEC race before Le Mans, so whilst there were battles on the track for championship points, there was also a lot of planning for the Le Mans 24 Hours. Ever present, our man in the stands was present trackside to follow all the action and bring you this exclusive report, looking at the main talking points and what we learned from the race.

1. Toyota’s Le Mans chances look good
Toyota Gazoo Racing has started the FIA WEC season with two wins from two races, and a Le Mans outlook which has arguably never been stronger. The 2017 TS050 Hybrid is a winning machine, with the regular drivers in the No.7 and No.8 cars both proving to be in the form of their lives heading into the big race next month. The question remaining though, concerns the aero-package. At Spa, the No.9 car of Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Sarrazin and Yuji Kunimoto debuted the low-drag configuration of the car, which the team will race at Le Mans, while the No.7 and No.8 full-season FIA WEC entries ran the high-downforce kits that the team will use at the six-hour races all season.
FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-FrancorchampsWhile the performance (a fifth-place finish) for the Le Mans option is likely down to the team using the race as an extended test session for both the car and drivers, it was interesting that it didn’t feature all weekend. The car did briefly take the lead when Lapierre out-braked himself into La Source at the start, but after that it failed to feature in the race for the podium, finishing far behind the two other Toyotas and both Porsches.

The difference is that Porsche has been running its own Le Mans kit all season so far, and has therefore had much more race experience with it, which is confidence building, as even though it hasn’t won yet, it came close at Spa with the No.2 919 Hybrid, which would have been involved in a grandstand finish had Brendon Hartley not lost time in the pits due to a nose change late in the race following a clumsy collision with the No.36 Signatech Alpine.

It remains to be seen how close the two marques will be on-track at Le Mans because of this, though it has all the makings of a classic should Toyota have some speed up its sleeve.

2. Aston Martin struggling for pace?
Aston Martin Racing has had a remarkably quiet 2017. While its two Vantages are still relatively fresh from combining to score the Teams’ Championship and Drivers’ Championship last year, so far this year they haven’t looked like even sniffing a podium.FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa FrancorchampsIn GTE Pro it’s been all Ford and Ferrari so far, with Chip Ganassi Team UK and AF Corse in turn dominating Silverstone and Spa. Porsche has had flashes of pace, but the new car looks to be a few months from being perfect in the reliability and consistency department. Le Mans could well be a different story though. Le Mans will have a separate and thus far undetermined Balance of Performance applied, and this could favour Aston Martin’s Vantages as the cars have looked to be struggling.

In addition, the No.95 did produce one single lap in Free Practice 2 at Spa which put Dane, Marco Sorensen seconds quicker than his teammates, and atop the standings in the class. After that it was unable to produce a similar time, but it begs the question, is there something in reserve?

3. The Ferrari 488 has arrived
As mentioned above, the Ferrari 488 dominated at Spa, and in the second half of the race proved totally untouchable. It has been reliable – which it wasn’t last year – and now has the speed to match. AF Corse’s driver line-up too seems to be strong from top to bottom, with newcomer Alessandro Pier Guidi looking both quick and consistent over his stints in the car.

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-FrancorchampsThe team finished the race 1 & 2, and looked unstoppable. If they can continue their form at the Le Mans 24 Hours, then they may well emerge as title favourites, should Ford not keep tabs, the Porsche get up to speed and Aston pick up the pace.

4. The new LMP2s look reliable
Before the season started there was much speculation as to how reliable the new LMP2 cars would prove. In testing the cars were suffering from electrical woes, and gearbox issues which often prevented teams from having extended runs. Silverstone and Spa though, have been very encouraging, the 2017 cars looking strong over long distances all of a sudden. Last weekend there was only one retirement in the field, which was Tockwith Motorsports’ Ligier JS P217, which suffered from a gearbox failure at the very end of the race. Tockwith is new to racing in LMP2 though, and the FIA WEC is a difficult challenge to master.

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-FrancorchampsLe Mans may be a different story, as going for twenty-four hours is much harder than six. But so far the signs are positive, and Le Mans’ potential to become a race of attrition is looking increasingly slim.

5. And race well together too!
As well as being reliable, the race at Spa put to rest the nay-sayers who assumed the racing in the FIA WEC’s LMP2 class would be poor, with the entire field being made up of Oreca 07s. The cars are aerodynamically sophisticated and performance wise much more powerful, which on paper in effectively a ‘spec series’, has the potential to produce processional racing. So far that hasn’t been the case, especially at Spa, with the 07s able to get a good tow and race close together.

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-FrancorchampsThe drivers are enjoying racing with the new kit, and so are the fans. So when Le Mans rolls around, with a diverse 23-car grid, it could be the class to watch!

The next round of the FIA WEC will be the 24 Hours of Le Mans, taking place on the 17th -18th June 2017.
If you would like tickets to be at the big race of the season then please call the Travel Destinations team now on 0844 873 0203. Availability is limited, but we can still look after you.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

24 Hours of Spa

Come to see the 24 Hours of Spa

There’s never been a better time to attend the 24 Hours of Spa

There was a time when Spa Francorchamps’ annual 24-hour race was a touring car contest, relevant only within Belgium’s borders, but those days are very much over. Since 2001, it’s become a pure GT race, and in many ways much better for it. The 24 Hours of Spa is a race that’s become famous for its gritty and spectacular racing. If you love witnessing feats of motorsport endurance first hand, there’s few better places to go than the Ardennes Forest in July.

These days, a capacity grid of around 60 cars take on the Spa circuit through day and night for the ultimate prize in Belgian motorsport. Like the Nürburgring 24 Hours, the 24 Hours of Spa has benefitted greatly from the addition to SRO-regulated cars, with the three classes in the race now made up entirely of GT3 cars from the Blancpain GT Series. With no significant difference in pace between the fastest and slowest car on the grid, the drivers at the front have to work extra hard to fight through the hordes of traffic.

Spa 24 Hours

As a result, the cars that cross the line on Sunday afternoon after 24 hours of racing always look incredibly beat up because the competition up front is so fierce. In recent years, the race for the overall lead has been decided within the final few hours, with the adverse conditions at the circuit often taking their toll on even the most sophisticated examples of modern GT machinery in the closing stages.

Plenty of factory-backed teams are due to be on the bill for this year’s race, showcasing the latest and greatest cars that SRO-sanctioned racing has to offer. The 2016 edition of the race has the mouth-watering prospect of having McLaren, Bentley, Audi, Mercedes, Porsche, Nissan, BMW, Ferrari and Aston Martin-backed squads in attendance.

When you’re there, spectating up-close at Spa for the 24 has a unique charm. Unlike the Le Mans and the Nürburgring 24 hours, you can walk the entire way round the 4.3-mile circuit as a fan, visiting both the inside and the outside at various points with relative ease.

Spa 24 Hours

Many of those in attendance spend the first half of the race doing a complete lap. They start on the start/finish straight grandstand and end up at La Source before taking a rest during the early hours of Sunday morning and coming back as dawn breaks to do the same again but in reverse, seeing the cars cross the line at the end of the race. Food options away from the main paddock are limited though, so packing your own food is advisable if you plan on spending much of the race out in the forests.

The night hours of the race are particularly special. We all know Spa is a picturesque circuit in the day, but seeing over 50 cars it the pitch black, flying up Eau Rouge, with flames spitting out the exhausts and brake discs glowing is incredible. It’s the Spa we all know from watching Formula One and the WEC on TV, but on an another level.

Standing atop the hill on the outside of the no-name corner heading down to Pouhon is also extraordinary. On a clear night, you can see cars passing through areas as far the Bus Stop from certain vantage points.

24 Hours of Spa

With Travel Destinations you have the choice of camping at a private site towards Stavelot, or staying at a hotel in Malmedy. It’s quick and easy to access the track by calling a cab, or taking a short car ride throughout the race and its build up, because it has far fewer fans than a place like Le Mans.

For everyone standing trackside, it has a far more relaxed feel than the other marquee endurance races, but that doesn’t in any way detract from the experience.

The Spa 24 Hours capture’s everything that’s appealing about watching an established race at a legendary circuit like Le Mans or the Nürburgring, but without huge crowds, sometimes limited spectator access and necessity to take a whole week off work to see the event.

If you’ve not been to Spa for the 24 Hours, as an endurance racing fan it simply must be done.

It’s a motorsport event that deserves your attention.

Follow this link for more details of how you can join us at the Spa 24 Hours this July!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photos by Dailysportscar

Spa 24 Hours 2015 Preview

Spa 24 Hours 2015 Preview

The Spa 24 hours is one of the biggest GT races in the world; If proof were needed, and it isn’t, of the popularity of the GT3 formula, then the 66 car entry would certainly be admissible in court! Better still, If there has been a change since 2014, it’s been an improvement in the quality and depth of the professional teams that will feature in this year’s events.

spa-24-start
Before an analysis of the entry though, it’s worth revisiting one major talking point from last years race; safety.
Put gently, the 2014 spa 24 hours was one of the scariest races that this writer has ever witnessed. A string of major accidents saw huge damage, more than one driver hospitalised, And on reflection very good fortune that we aren’t looking back on worse news still.
A solid response was required from the race organisers and that’s what we got!
Adoption of the Sean Edwards foundation programme was a sensible and highly appropriate move, recognising the challenges inherent in a packed grid of cars with broadly similar performance but with drivers of vastly different skill and experience levels.
Moving onto the entry proper, these might all be GT3 cars but there’s no shortage of variety. 11 different marques, and 14 different cars are represented amongst the 66 cars & three class grid. No fewer than 28 of those cars populate a packed Pro Cup.
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Audi have already taken a major 24 hours racing honour with the new for 2015 Audi R8 LMS after a dominant run at the Nurburgring 24 hours in May. Their plans though in preparation for Spa suffered a blow with an uncharacteristically off-colour run at Paul Ricard. Despite that though there is little doubt that the quartet of new Audis feature highly on many peoples list of race favourites. The crack WRT and Phoenix efforts are studded with Audi factory talent with the #1 WRT car in particular, featuring the talents of Messrs panther, Rast and Winkelhock, a difficult lineup to ignore. Phoenix meanwhile field a trio of Le Mans 24 Hours winning drivers in their No.6 Audi, Lotterer, Fassler and Rockefeller another very classy looking squad.
The Audi though it is not the only new car this year with Lamborghini campaigning their brand-new Huracan GT3, a car which features an identical powertrain to the Audi but with a very different aerodynamic solution. The new Lamborghini is as yet unproven over 24 hours but it’s been fast all year so far and there’s little to suggest it will be anything other than a major contender.
lambo-spa-24
McLaren too have a new toy for 2015 with the spectacular new 650 S GT3, three of which will contest the pro class. Look out in particular for the pair of von Ryan Racing entered cars which feature a galaxy of McLaren factory talent – the No. 58 car in particular, fielding Bell, Estre and van Gisbergen has all the signs of being a real contender.
Bentley were the new boys last year but suffered early problems that cost them dearly. They’re back in 2015 though with no fewer than four cars in the Pro Cup, a pair piece for M-Sport and HTP with the lead M-Sport car looking likely to be in the overall mix if all goes to plan.
nissan-spa-24
Nissan’s GT-R has had a comprehensive upgrade for this year and it shows! There are two Godzillas in the pro class, one apiece for GT Academy Team RJN and MRS GT. The No. 23 RJN car won last time out in a very convincing display at Paul Ricard, there’s little to suggest that Nissans won’t again be on the pace in Belgium.
BMW is represented by four of the sonorous Z4 GT3s from three separate teams. The No. 9 ROAL Motorsport car sees Paralympic hero ex-Formula One and Champcar star Alex Zanardi Contest his first 24 hour race, BMW having made major changes to the Z4 to accommodate his needs alongside there is a teammates Bruno Spengler and Timo Glock. The all Brazilian crewed No.77 car should be quick but is likely to play second or third fiddle to the pair of Team VDS cars. Maxim Martin and Augusto Farfus in the No.45 add another to all list of most likely to succeed.
bmw-spa-24
Mercedes-Benz are represented in the pro class by Black Falcon and Rowe Racing, both with a pair of well crewed SLS AMG GT3s
Finally Ferrari, who has 16 cars on the overall entry but only one in the Pro Cup. The all green No.333 Rinaldi Racing car though has proved able to mix it with the leaders throughout the season so far.
The Pro-Am class features 24 cars with almost as many stars on the roster as the Pro Cup!
Ones to watch here include the third Nissan, the No.22 GT Academy Team RJN car with a trio of GT Academy winners joined by Nissan LMP1driver Olivier Pla. Mathias Beche is another LMP1 man, he joins the TDS Racing BMW squad. Look out too for the No. 32 Leonard Motorsport AMR Aston Martin which features factory driver Stefan Mucke, and rising GT star Tom Onslow Cole on the roster.
There are a trio of British entered BMW’s from team Russia by Barwell, Ecurie Ecosse and Triple 8 Racing, all of which could be in the mix too. Amongst the Ferraris look out for a current world champions Gimmi Bruni (No. 47) and Toni Vilander (No. 52).
Look out to the sole Jaguar in the race, the Swiss Emil Frey Racing outfit have found pace this year with the pretty blue XKR. A charity effort fielding a BMW is worth the watch too with Spa legends Eric van de Poele, Marc Duez, Pascal Witmeur and Jean-Michel Martin named on the entry.
Finally the Am Cup features 14 cars, half of which are Ferraris, and, the only two Porsches in the race! These cars aren’t likely to feature in the higher echelons of the finishing order but experience tells us that some of them might well feature in the action that determines who will lift the trophy!
Here’s to a fast, thrilling and safe Spa 24 Hours.
Written by Graham Goodwin
Photography by Dailysportscar