Under blue skies and in warmer weather than the last couple of days, the 2nd round of the World Endurance Championship (WEC) got under way at 1430 local. Rain showers are in the current forecast for 1800 onwards so we may see varied conditions before the 2030 finish. That forecast perhaps alleviates one of the current issues… Tyre use & degradation.
It was a frenzied rolling start, Toyota smarting from being pipped to pole by the #1 Porsche 919 hybrid. Nico Lapierre thought he might remedy that at La Source, but sailed through the turn in on the brakes and headed for the circuit exit, thankfully recovering in the run-off area.
The racing in the first hour has been first class, demonstrating to the large crowd gathered that this has become the premium category of motor ‘racing’ after some of the examples set by single-seaters recently.
Preceding the event the track was frequently washed, and will still be rubbering in in these early stages. We have not heard much from the Toyota drivers to have pitted, and their TS050s do look most comfortable in the current conditions. Andre Lotterer with his local knowledge took the first stint in the #1 Porsche and suggested that 919 was great in the initial phase of the stint, but the tyres went away and he struggled to the 45-min stop with graining, lossing the lead in the process to the #7 Toyota TS050 hotly pursued by its sister #8 car. The #2 Porsche seems to have a provided different feedback which probably shows how sensitive these cars are to set-up. The #7 & #8 currently lead with the #1 & #2 Porsche following on.
Intriguingly the third Toyota TS050 #9 is seemingly on a similar pace to its WEC-sisters. The #9 is in a lower downforce setup more reflective of Le Mans, but we suspect that Toyota have not shown all of their hand just yet.. It is delivering longer stint lengths to reflect its more slippery nature.
If things were frantic at the front the battle at the front of LMP2 category was crazed! It was speculated that some of the drivers had forgotten it was a 6-hour race and were really going at it. Tyres are an issue here too, and it appeared that the winners at Silverstone from Jackie Chan DC Racing (run by seasoned experts JotaSport) contained themselves with a reserved pace compared to Alpine Signatech, CEFC Manor TRS Racing and G-Drive Racing.
Tockwith Motorsport(TMS) have given the Ligier JSP217 its WEC baptism, and appears to be finding the pace very hot. They have also received a number of penalties to-date, but are still running in well in the mid-field. The aim here is to gain experience for Le Mans and a solid 6-hour performance will undoubtedly help, as well as embedding Karun Chandhok into the team.
To consider the GTE-Pro category as reserved in the first hour might be a bit much. They did spend much of the time in grid order the #71 Ferrari 488 GTE from the two Ford GTs chased by the #51 Ferrari of Calado/Pier Guidi. The four leaders were chased by the two new for 2017 Porsche 911 RSRs. Again it is battles up and down the field with some excellent racing. Just after the first hour the #67 Ford GT had a post stop electrical problem pulling off at Eau Rouge for a systems reset. Harry Tincknell completed that and the car is back in the hunt, and once again will be charging from the back ala Silverstone.
GTE-Am category is lead by late setting pole-sitters #98 Aston Martin Vantage of Dalla Lana / Lamy / Lauda which is taking the fight to the two customer Ferrari 488s. Unfortunately the private 991 RSRs are hauling round at the back of the field, but currently moving steadily up.
With the weather predicted to change around mid-race, with clouds gathering this is going to be a fascinating race to watch or listen to. BT Sport has coverage and EuroSport will be tuning in for the final hour.. Also RadioLeMans has its superb quality digital audio feed in place so really you all have no excuses! Our team is Live in the twitter-sphere @SportsCarGlobal and ready for your comments, thoughts & observations.. You know what to do, Enjoy it 🙂
One other item worthy of mention is the FIAWEC organisation has agreed a new highlights deal for the Saturday after the race with ITV4 in the UK – set your recorders NOW !