Audi clinched a hard-fought victory in the second World Endurance Championship race of the season to bounce back from disqualification in Silverstone and win the Six Hours of Spa, giving them a momentum boost ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval and Britain’s Oliver Jarvis clinched a first WEC victory together for the No 8 Audi R18 e-tron, finishing two laps ahead of the No 2 Porsche of Marc Lieb, Neel Jani and Romain Dumas.
All six manufacturer LMP1 cars hit trouble during a race that took its toll on Audi, Toyota and, in particular, Porsche as the high temperatures at Spa-Francorchamps affected the hybrid engines.
The 2015 championship-winning No 1 Porsche 919 of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley led from pole position in the hands of the New Zealander, but suffered a left front puncture with Bernhard at the wheel during the second hour. Incredibly, after handing over to Webber, the No 1 suffered the same problem and needed a 10-minute stop for bodywork repairs, before a front-axel energy-retrieval system replacements saw them lose over an hour in the pits and wind up 27th.
Their issues compounded the fact that the No 2 was already running with reduced hybrid power levels, meaning it was a sitting duck to the Audis and Toyotas on the long straights, and Porsche had already surrendered the lead to the No 5 Toyota TS050 of Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima after they double-stinted their tyres at the first stops.
The Toyota would lead through to the fourth hour where, having built a one-lap lead over the No 8 Audi, Nakajima brought the car to the pits with smoke billowing from the exhaust after an obvious engine failure. The Toyota would return to the track for the final lap, completing it under electric-power only, to ensure it finished one place ahead of the No 1 Porsche.
Inheriting the lead, the No 8 Audi came in to the pits for a precautionary rear engine cover change, with Dumas, Jani and Lieb battling their hybrid issues to finish second. Rebellion repeated their feat at Silverstone by coming home in third and fourth, with the No 13 R-One AER of Alexandre Imperatori, Dominik Kraihamer and Matheo Tuscher picking up their second consecutive podium ahead of teammates Nick Heidfeld, Nicolas Prost and Nelson Piquet Jr in the No 12.
Heidfeld was nearly caught by the No 7 Audi – which was down the field due to pit repairs on a broken floor and bodywork – only for Fassler to hit an LMP2 car and drop back, finishing just eight seconds behind the fourth-placed Rebellion come the end of the race.
The final hour saw a lengthy safety car period after a big accident involving Stefan Mucke in the No 66 GTE Pro Ford GT, after the rear engine cover came off as Mucke ran through Eua Rouge. The Ford spun off into the barrier heavily before coming back out on to the track, narrowly being missed by the No 2 Porsche, and after immediate concern for his well-being it was soon confirmed that Mucke had escaped with bruising to his leg.
The safety car period reignited the LMP2 battle after the No 36 Signatech Alpine Oreca-Nissan 05 of Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Richelmi and Gustavo Menezes appeared to be cruising towards victory.
Lapierre had to dive into the pits for a late splash-and-dash, before hunting down and passing the No 31 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier-Nissan JSP2 of Ryan Dalziel, Luis Felipe Derani and Christopher Cumming to win by less than four seconds.
Manor secured their first podium since entering WEC this season after the No 45 Oreca-Nissan of Roberto Merhi, Richard Bradley and Matt Rao finished third, having previously led until Merhi was given a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
The GTE Pro battle once again proved to be an AF Corse Ferrari-only affair, leading to suggestions that the Italian marquee could be pegged back for the Le Mans 24 Hours in order to level the playing field.
The No 51 Ferrari 488 of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado led until they were forced to pit with engine failure nine minutes from the chequered flag, allowing teammates Sam Bird and Davide Rigon in the No 50 Ferrari to take victory. Ford securee their first podium with the remaining No 67 of Marino Franchitti, Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell taking second ahead of the No 97 Aston Martin Vantage V8 of Richie Stanaway, Fernando Rees and Jonny Adam.
Aston Martin took the spoils in GTE Am for their first win of the season, with the No 98 Vantage V8 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda finishing one lap ahead of the No 83 Ferrari 458 of Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas. The podium was completed by the No 50 Chevrolet Corvette of Yutaka Yamagishi, Pierre Ragues and Paolo Ruberti.
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