Text & Images: Rick Kiewiet
The coming weekend, traditionally on Saturday, it's time again for the Total 6h of Spa. Read everything you need to know in advance in this short preview. The first indicator of an exciting race is the weather forecast: it's going to be wet. And cold. Track conditions will be all but ideal...
It's not really a question if Toyota's going to win in LMP1, but more as to which one? Will it be the no. 8 car, with Alonso, Nakajima and Buemi? They managed to win the prestigious last race, the 1000 miles of Sebring and last years race. Or can the sistercar strike back again after a very strong winning streak in Asia? The talks might be more about the situation with Toyota off track, as rumours are that Brendon Hartley is set to replace Fernando Alonso next year.
In an attempt to make the race less Toyota-dominated, the FIA completely dropped the fuel restrictions for the non-hybrid LMP1 cars of Rebellion, SMP, ByKolles (now with a Gibson v8 instead of a Nissan engine) and Dragonspeed for the next race. They will be able to run free as the FIA tries to bring the field closer together.
Besides the question if the non-hybrids can now put up more of a challenge against the hybrid TS050, it will also be interesting to see if SMP racing can continue its way up the ranks as results have been steadily improving over the last races. After a difficult start of the season, Aleshin and Petrov managed to defeat the Rebellions in Shanghai and Sebring. Local hero and ex-F1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne is set to replace Jenson Button for the Spa round.
In LMP2 you'll find a lot more tension as there's only 2 points separating the no. 36 Signatec Alpine squad (125 pts) from the Jackie Chan DC racing no. 38 (123). Last year in Spa the no. 38 with Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stephane Richelmi took full points after the disqualification of the no. 26 G-Drive car, but the victory in Le Mans and a second place in Sebring gives the edge to Negrão, Lapierre and Thiriet.
But the fight for the category-win might also very well be between the new driver-squad of the no. 37 Jackie Chan - Oreca, who surprisingly won the 1000 miles of Sebring and last years top runner: the no. 26 G-Drive racing squad. Like last year, the latter enters his now called "Aurus 01" as a test run for Le Mans. Drivers Roman Rusinov and Jean-Eric Vergne are joined by Dutch debutant Job van Uitert, who's a mere 20 years old.
Closest category at the moment is the GT Pro. Although the two factory Porsche's are leading the championship comfortably, the rest of the field is coming closer and closer. At Sebring, the top-10 in qualifying was within 0.866 of a second and in the race the no. 81 BMW led the race for most of the final 2 hours, a pitstop just before the end forcing them to give up first place.
Last year's race was won by the no. 66 Ford GT of Mücke and Pla, who after a strong start of the season suffered several setbacks over the last races. The sistercar managed to score 3rd place in Sebring. Ford announced their official factory withdrawal from the championship after this season. However, the cars itself will not disappear from the championship as the Detroit brand is set to find customer teams, supported by the factory, to run the cars in the seasons to come.
The no. 56 Project 1 Porsche 911 driven by Patrick Lindsey, Jörg Bergmeister and Egidio Perfetti is consolidating a comfortable championship lead two races before the end. If they win the race they can crown themselves champions before the final race of the season: the 24 hours of Le Mans.