2019 FIA WEC 6h Spa Francorchamps 2019, Spa, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.

The draw of Spa-Francorchamp is undeniable, it is a cauldron of excitement and anticipation, but travelling there with a weather forecast of unseasonably poor weather takes on something of a religious conatation yet the track organisers proudly announced 52,000 such disciples made that journey, and what a spectacle was laid out before them on Saturday 4th May 2019. All woke to stormy weather, with a clear snow line appearing overnight, and the circuit firmly above it. Temperatures on the day were not even tempted to challenge double figures and tyre suppliers were frantically trying to find ways to generate heat in their products. Indeed if you wanted to warm up at the circuit the all you had to do was join the penguin-like throng massing at the rear of the garages near the roaring tyre warmer cabinets.

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On schedule the cars rolled away from the grid and the sun forced its way through the clouds to form an alpine-like atmosphere which was about to get even more so. A sum total of two laps were completed before from the La Source hairpin a combination of sleet, hail and probably brimstone lashed down upon proceedings, the chaos had commenced. 

LMP1

Both Toyota Hybrid TS050s having led from the front row pitted in the first seven minutes. The thought dawned that Race Control will have seen this apocalypse assembling on the weather radar but had pressed on to get the race underway. The original pole-sitting #7 Toyota of Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez appeared to have the measure of its fabled sister car, building a 50-second cushion by the 3-hour point. However, a rogue sensor on the hybrid system cost them 11-minutes in the pit garage and four laps were lost making for a spirited fightback from 24th position overall at the time to 6th by the final flag. 

2019 FIA WEC 6h Spa Francorchamps 2019, Spa, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.

This left the way clear for the #8 Toyota of Alonso, Buemi and Nakajima to take victory with a smooth, clear run although we did witness a rotation in the Pouhon tarmac run-off for Alonso, the track(!) making a mistake there which was expertly handled  by the maestro.  To say the weather was changeable downplays the extent to which everything in the meterological kitbag was thrown at the field, and up until the final 40-minutes over 82% of the race was completed under green flag running, at a measured but considerable pace. There were four safety car periods required during the almost six hours, whether due to deterioriating conditions or relatively minor incidents that required track repairs. All 34 cars entered completed this race though a few were somewhat delayed. The race was eventually red-flagged with just 11 minutes to go as the weather closed seemingly one last time, yet then fittingly rolled away for a sunlit blue sky podium celebration, you could not write this quite unbelieveable plot and its twists. 

The win moves Alonso, Buemi and Nakajima into a 31 point Drivers Championship lead which of course concludes at our much beloved second Super-Season visit to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.  Toyota Gazoo Racing were able to celebrate securing, not too surprisingly, the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance LMP1 Championship prior to the final round.

Image: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Akio Toyoda, President, Toyota Motor Corporation added this post-race testamonial to the team “The team has faced challening conditions on demanding circuits, for example the race at Fuji, the heavy rain of Shanghai, the famous bumps of Sebring and the snowy weather at Spa, an undulating and difficult circuit. I am proud of the six drivers and all team members who fought hard in all the races and won the teams’ championship, and I would like to express my thanks to them.” 

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2019 FIA WEC 6h Spa Francorchamps 2019, Spa, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.

Behind the battle of the hybrids, the LMP1 privateers had their own fight, the #3 Rebellion R-13 of Menezes, Laurent and Berthon coming out on top in second place overall after a race long battle with the #11 SMP Racing car of Belgian star and WEC debutant Stoffel Vandoorne with teammates Aleshin and Petrov.

LMP2

Early in the LMP2 race the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara P217 Gibson took the fight to the Oreca 07 dominated field. As ever the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car put up stern opposition which was joined after a difficult opening period by championship rival #36 Signatech Alpine and the ever present non-championship pole-sitter #26 G-Drive Racing car of Vergne, Van Uitert and Rusinov the order settling out as the various safety cars and full course yellow periods tended to drive the strategy decisions.

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2019 FIA WEC 6h Spa Francorchamps 2019, Spa, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.

As the race evolved the #36 Signatech took extended periods in the lead, handing off to its championship rival the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca. Yet it was a storming triple stint from Pastor Maldonado that brought the #31 Dragonspeed into contention at the right time a flying Maldonado passing #38 Aubry and #36 Lapierre during his remarkable charge. The lead was secured on lap112 which was never surrendered until the red flag concluded the race, marking Dragonspeed’s first LMP2 victory.

2019 FIA WEC 6h Spa Francorchamps 2019, Spa, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.

As a result, the #36 Signatech trio of Nicolas Lapierre, André Negrão and Pierre Thiriet slightly extend their lead in the standings to four points over #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing of Ho-Pin Tung, Stéphane Richelmi and Gabriel Aubry.

GTE-PRO

When Balance of Performance (BoP) is done well it allows a diversity of cars to compete and really wage war. The slippery weather conditions only contributed further to constant fights up and down the GTE-Pro field. The #67 Ford GT of Priaulx and Tincknell did not appear to enjoy the conditions having set pole the previous day and ultimately was taken out of contention for victory by a drive-thru penalty for a pitlane infringement an hour into the race. 

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2019 FIA WEC 6h Spa Francorchamps 2019, Spa, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.

The Porsche RSR, Aston Martin Vantage, BMW M8 and Ferrari 488 all seemed to suit conditions better and engaged in clean but close combat.From an awkward start to its endurance racing life the Aston Martin Vantage AMR has now emerged to be a very competent weapon and that showed in the mixed conditions. 

Close to six hours of extreme weather conditions saw Aston Martin Racing’s No.97 crew of Alex Lynn and popular local Maxime Martin take their first win of the season in the highly-competitive GTE Pro category.

2019 FIA WEC 6h Spa Francorchamps 2019, Spa, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.

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The #51 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO of Pier Guidi and Calado took the second place.  During the race’s closing stages, the AF Corse entry was hot on the heels of category winner Aston Martin Racing with less than a second separating the two cars. The red flag 11 minutes before the six hours concluded  brought a premature end to their charge to the front.

With the #92 Porsche RSR of Estre and Christensen coming hone  third  and its sister #91 crew finishing eighth, the Porsche GT Team have a 93-point lead in the overall standings making it mathematically impossible for Ferrari to catch them, securing the World Endurance GTE Manufacturers’ Championship with one round still remaining.

To conclude and prove the diversity and balance on display the BMW Team MTEK #82 and #67 Ford GT came home fourth and fifth respectively separated by just one tenth of a second. 

GTE-AM

The LMGTE Am field once again saw plenty of action from start to finish but the top spot of the podium eventually went to #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing RSR of Ried, Pera and Campbell.  

2019 FIA WEC 6h Spa Francorchamps 2019, Spa, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.

The pole-sitting #90 TF Sport Aston Martin rolled home second with Yoluc, Hankey and Eastwood at the wheel of their Aston Martin.  #61 Clearwater Racing’s trio of Perez-Companc, Cressoni and Griffin took third for Ferrari, again demonstrating a three manufacturer distribution on the podium.  The Clearwater team had enjoyed a close battle with the #98 Aston Martin Racing and the #86 Gulf Racing team in the early stages of the race.

Category Championship leaders #56 Team Project 1 finished fifth for Porsche. At the top of the standings, #56 Team Project 1 now lead #54 Spirit of Race by 23 points meaning everything is still to play for at the season-closing 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

2019 FIA WEC 6h Spa Francorchamps 2019, Spa, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.


When all is said and done, the teams provided the platforms for the world’s best drivers to show off their talents. The weather threw everything at those drivers and the race management provided guidance to ensure the environment remained the right side of the safety threshold. When casual observers, fans and even the “old lags” of the Press Office are rubbing their eyes in disbelief you realise Motorsport is having its Kennedy or Moon Landing moment. All will speak of WEC Spa 2019 in positive awe and incredulity, Where were you that day?