Spa-Francorchamps showed a few of its many faces yesterday during both 90 minute practice sessions for the 6 Hour race on Saturday. While the first practice session around noon was dry and sunny, the afternoon session was just the opposite.
Rain started to come down just before the start of the session, and never stopped although conditions improved a little around mid session, only to get worse again by the end when the rain was really pouring down.
SMP Racing dominated the dry morning session, but when the rain started to fall in the afternoon it was business as usual with both Toyota’s on top of the time sheets.
Sergey Sirotkin was the fastest in the dry and sunny midday session yesterday, setting the pace in the #17 SMP Racing BR1 with a best time of 1.56.264. the Russian was just under 2 seconds faster than sportscar debutant and home driver Stoffel Vandoorne who had a quickest laptime of 1.58.236, putting both SMP Racing cars on top of the timesheets for the first time.
Both Toyota’s followed about half a second behind the SMP’s, with Sebastien Buemi in the #8 TS050 slightly quicker than Mike Conway in the #8.
Gustavo Menezes was the fastest Rebellion driver clocking in a 1.59.106. The Bykolles Enso CLMP1/01, running for the first time with its new Gibson engine, was 7 seconds off the pace with only Oliver Webb and Tom Dillman running in the first session of the day.
For the first time this season the non hybrid LMP’s are allowed to race without any fuel restrictions per lap and Sirotkin managed a lap time which was only 0.1 seconds slower than Toyota’s fastest time in last year’s free practice sessions. Qualifying times dropped significantly last year, but the SMP pace of yesterday morning gives an indication of the raw speed that is inside those privateer prototypes.
In the LMP2 class Nico Lapierre was once again the fastest man leading the way in his #36 Signatech Alpine Matmut in 2.03.441. Jean Eric Vergne followed close in the #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01, 0.236 seconds behind Lapierre. Giedo van der Garde was quick in the Racing Team Nederland Dallara, setting the third fastest time, 0.9 seconds off the Alpine’s pace. In the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca, Pastor Maldonado and Gabriel Aubry in the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca completed the top five.
GTE Pro couldn’t have been any closer between the two leading cars. Maxime Martin in the #97 Aston Martin and Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford GT setting exactly the same time of 2.15.290; not even a thousand of a second difference between both cars!
Antonio Felix Da Costa was third quickest in the #82 BMW M8 a mere 0.116 seconds behind. The #66 Ford GT of Olivier Pla and Nicki Thiim in the #95 Aston Martin both followed within a second of the leading Aston and Ford. Both Ferrari’s were at the back of the LMGTE Pro pack yesterday morning, although only 1.2 and 1.4 seconds slower than both leaders.
GTE Am was a close one too, with the first six cars within 0.9 seconds from each other. Ben Barker in the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche lead the dance setting a 2.17.068, just 0.070 seconds ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella in the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari. Matt Campbell in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche, Charlie Eastwood in the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin and Jörg Bergmeister in the #56 Project 1 Porsche, rounded out the top 5 in class.
Then came the rain ….
The tricky conditions in the afternoon brought out a few red flags, SMP Racing the most unlucky team when Stephane Sarrazin lost control of his BR1 in Blanchimont and went hard into the barriers. The car was brought back to the pits with what looked like extensive damage both at the front and the back.
Fernando Alonso was outright fastest in the afternoon session; his best time of 2.19.483 was over 1.3 seconds quicker than Mike Conway in the second Toyota TS050 Hybrid. Vitaly Petrov in the #11 SMP Racing BR1 set the third quickest time (2.21.429), followed by Neil Jani in the #1 Rebellion R13.
In LMP2 Pastor Maldonado set a dominant pace of 2.27.682 in the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca. The former F1 driver was 1.6 seconds faster than Matthieu Vaxiviere in the #28 TDS Racing Oreca and 1.7 seconds ahead of Gabriel Aubry in the #38 Jackie Chan. Nicolas Boulle spun in the #50 Larbre Competition at La Source mid-session, without any damage to the car.
The Aston Martins stayed quick in the Ardennes, Marco Sorensen now quickest in the #95 AMR Vantage setting a fastest lap of 2.32.648, just 0.025 seconds ahead of Gimmi Bruni in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR. Alexander Lynn put the #97 Aston Martin into third place, followed by Sam Bird in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari.
Porsche cemented their position at the top of the GTE Am class, this time with the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing 911 of Matt Campbell who put himself right in between the Pro drivers with a laptime of 2.34.093. Oliver Beretta in the #70 MR Racing Ferrari and Ben Barker in the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche completed the top 3 for the afternoon session.