At the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the third round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), TOYOTA GAZOO Racing took first and second places, respectively. The full impact of the teams not being able to use warm tyres was a feature of the chilly race and will be a point of much discussion.
The #7 GR010 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and José Mara López started from pole position and went on to win the race, giving TOYOTA GAZOO Racing a Hypercar hat-trick through the first three races of 2023.
Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, and Ryo Hirakawa, driving the No. 8 GR010 HYBRID, came from the rear of the grid to surprise everyone by finishing in second position. They have a five-point advantage over the #7 team in the drivers' World Championship standings.
Following its seventh straight victory at Spa, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing has a 30-point lead over Ferrari in the World Championship heading into the centenary edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours on 10-11 June. This marks the halfway point of the seven-race season.
A record 13 Hypercars battled it out for victory on the stunning 7.004-kilometer Spa circuit, located only 120 kilometres from the team's base in Cologne, Germany, entertaining a 72,000-strong audience.
Mike started off in the lead on dry tyres despite the light rain that was falling. Even though he started out in eighth place, he passed six cars before the safety car came out. Using only dry-weather tyres, Sébastien advanced an incredible 15 positions on the opening lap.
Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, and Antonio Giovinazzi piloted the Ferrari 499P to its first-ever podium finish in the Hypercar category. However, less than two hours before the checkered flag, Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, and Nicklas Nielsen were forced to retire after an accident from which the Italian driver walked away unharmed.
Due to the cold and rainy conditions before the start, the team mounted rain tyres, as did the other Hypercar competitors. Unfortunately, the lengthy Safety Car phase that allowed the track to dry out prevented the two 499Ps from gaining valuable seconds by using this strategy. With little choice but to change to slicks, Nielsen and Giovinazzi essentially altered the strategy of the two Ferraris. The two 499Ps dropped in the standings and finished the race one lap behind the leader because it took them too long to get their tyres to the optimal temperature. Despite a Drive Through for the Spaniard and a mandatory stop for a damaged rim following a collision with Giovinazzi at the wheel, the two 499Ps managed to unlap and climb into the top four positions courtesy to two outstanding stints by Molina and Pier Guidi.
The Spa conclusion was an emotional roller coaster. Fuoco wrecked his 499P on the lap following the pit stop when the tyres were still cold. But Calado drove a perfect double stint, challenging for third place on the podium and ultimately achieving it by passing the number 5 Porsche in a thrilling final lap. The race was won by the Toyota with the number 7.
Antonello Coletta, Head of Attività Sportive GT: “Starting from the assumption that the rules are the same for everyone and that we abide by them, I think we need to reflect on the ban on tyrewarmers. It’s a common opinion in the paddock and among professionals, not to mention the drivers, that this situation has become dangerous. At Spa, there have been many accidents and extreme episodes due to cold temperatures and changeable weather, and it’s time to do some serious thinking on the matter because it has major ramifications for safety. We are on the eve of a decisive race like the 24 Hours of Le Mans where, overnight, temperatures are low and speeds very high. It’s not just an issue for us. The accidents involved different cars, from different classes, driven at the time by both professional and gentleman drivers, and this situation had already been predicted some time ago.”
Team WRT won the LMP2 race twice in a row at Spa-Francorchamps, this time using the No.41 Oreca-Gibson instead of the No.31 car that won in 2022.
At today's TotalEnergies 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, Rui Andrade, Robert Kubica, and Louis Deletraz triumphed over Josh Pierson, Tom Blomqvist, and Oliver Jarvis in the No. 23 Oreca by a margin of 6.042 seconds.
The win comes as a perfect time, ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours in mid-June. Team WRT Principal Vincent Vosse was happy after a stressful day: “We did it, but it was really a difficult race to understand and to manage. We had to cope with a lot of strategy changes. Eventually, we were at the right place at the right moment. It looked as car #31 could win, then it was either of them, and finally it was #41, but we proved competitive with both. Rui, Louis and Robert are happy, and I am happy for them, the other team is a little bit disappointed, but this is just normal. The good thing is that we won and are second in the championship, eight points behind the leaders, as we go to Le Mans.”
During the last hour of the race, Deletraz and Blomqvist battled for the lead until Deletraz made a spectacular last-minute splash and dash pit stop to pass the United Autosports vehicle.
After Albert Costa gave chase to the No. 9 Prema entered car driven by Andrea Caldarelli in the final laps, Inter Europol Competition finished third.
Sharing the vehicle with the Spaniard were Fabio Scherer and Kuba Smiechowski, making Kubica and Smiechowski the first Polish drivers to finish on the podium at the same time in the WEC's 11-year history.
The first female driver in FIA WEC history, Lilou Wadoux made history with her victory.
Alessio Rovera, Lilou Wadoux, and Luis Perez Companc, driving the No. 83 Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo, won the LMGTE Am class. Wadoux made history by being the first woman to win a WEC driving category.
Lilou Wadoux, 488 GTE No. 83: “I’m really happy to have achieved my first win of the year: it’s a great moment that I want to celebrate with my whole Ferrari team. This is my first triumph as an official Prancing Horse driver. That is why I want to thank everyone, starting with my teammates and the AF Corse team, who did a great job. The fact that I am the first female driver to win an FIA WEC race gives me great pleasure, but as I often say what interests me is racing and not the gender gap. Anyway, to stand on the top step of the podium in a world championship event is a great thrill, especially on a track like Spa which I think is fantastic. The 24 Hours of Le Mans? The dream would be to win it in June, but if that is not possible, I would be delighted to make it onto the podium of the world’s most famous endurance race.”
The No. 33 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R driven by Nicolas Varrone, Nicky Catsburg, and Ben Keating finished 18.6 seconds behind Rovera.
For the second race running Catsburg fought off massive pressure from the pole sitting ORT by TF Aston Martin Vantage AMR driven by Charlie Eastwood to hold on to second and extend the U.S entered teams points lead.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans, the "big one" of the FIA World Endurance Championship, will be held on June 10 and 11.
Full results can be found below.
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