Wide open Le Mans in prospect after drama at Spa Six Hours

Weekend racing wrap

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The last round of the World Endurance Championship before the Le Mans 24 Hours raised expectations for a vintage edition of the endurance classic next month.

A busy weekend of racing saw the new DTM season open at the Hockenheimring and a revamped Marrakesh street circuit hosting the World Touring Car Championship. However the British series was forced to run three shortened races at the fast Thruxton circuit as where tyres suffered even more punishment than usual in unseasonal heat.

Catch up on all those below plus more video highlights from World Rallycross, NASCAR, Supercars and more.

World Endurance Championship

Race 2 or 9: Belgium

The Toyotas were fast but faltered
Audi claimed their first World Endurance Championship victory for 12 months at Spa as there was no repeat of their Silverstone disqualification. But the story of the race was how the three manufacturer teams raced each other to destruction – by the time the chequered flag had fallen enough of them had hit trouble to again allow one of the independent Rebellion cars onto the podium.

Porsche led the field away at the start cut the Marc Lieb/Neel Jani/Romain Dumas car was soon in trouble and had to reduce its hybrid boost levels for the remainder of the race. The car still came home in second, however. The fast-starting Audis initially kept Toyota contained, but the TS050s clearly enjoyed superior cornering performance and the result was a riveting scrap.

Toyota’s progress was blunted, however, when Mike Conway tangled with Nick Heidfeld. The same pair had also hit each other during two weeks ago in Paris driving Formula E cars but this time Conway was to blame. The other TS050 led most of the race until engine failure forced it out.

With the other Porsche spending over an hour and a half in the pits to have an energy recovery system replaced that left the untroubled Audi of Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval and Oliver Jarvis to grab the win. But as far as next month’s big race is concerned, all bets are off.

In LMP2, Signatech Alpine won with Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Richelmi and Gustavo Menezes. GTE Pro saw Ferrari dominate with Sam Bird and Davide Rigon while the sister car of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado retired ten minutes from home and Stefan Mucke suffered a huge crash at Eau Rouge in his Ford GT. GTE Am was won by the Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda.

Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters

Round 1 (Races 1-2 of 18): Hockenheimring

Paul di Resta returned to the top step of the podium in race two of the Hockenheim season-opener – his first victory since taking the title in 2010. Fourth in race one gives him an early lead in the points over Mercedes team mate Robert Wickens.

Edoardo Mortara took a similarly straightforward win for Audi in race one. But he was unable to add to his points tally in the Sunday race after being delayed by a lap-one collision involving Jamie Green, Bruno Spengler and debutant Esteban Ocon.

World Touring Car Championship

Round 4 (Races 7-8 of 24): Morocco

Tom Coronel took his first WTCC win in three years with victory in the opening race at a revised Marrakesh circuit. James Thompson started on pole but was quickly nerfed off by Hugo Valente, with the Lada driver being handed a penalty for the incident.

Nicky Catsburg also ran Thed Bjork off, with the Lada man again receiving the penalty. Up front Coronel resisted pressure from reigning champion Jose Maria Lopez to win ahead of him and his Citroen team mate Yvan Muller.

The weather took a dramatic change for race two as the rain crept in, but unlike the previous round in Hungary there was no question on which tyres to use. Rob Huff led from pole position and went on to take the win ahead of team mates Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro, though the latter briefly lost third to Lopez but reclaimed it when the Citroen man slipped up.

World Rallycross Championship

Race 2 of 12: Hockenheimring

Mattias Ekstrom was on double duty at the Hockenheimring where he was also in action for Audi in the DTM. His rallycross outing was more successful, however, yielding victory ahead of team mate Topi Heikkinen. The Swede led the overnight classification, but was beaten by Heikkinen in the first semi-final to finish second, while Liam Doran pulled out a magnificent performance in semi-final two to reach the final ahead of Ken Block and Petter Solberg. Ekstrom won a frantic final ahead of Heikkinen, Block, Solberg, Doran and Robin Larsson.

Peugeot had a difficult weekend with Sebastien Loeb missing out on the final by one place and Timmy Hansen’s car bursting into flames in Qualifying three. Remarkably the team had Hansens car ready for qualifying four half an hour later and he won – only to be disqualified. The team had discarded too many fire-damaged parts, leaving his car underweight.


Round 4 (Races 8-9 of 33): Barbagallo

Having arrived at Barbagallo fourth in the standings victory in the opening race (above) put Craig Lowndes on course to leave the double-header on top of the championship. With 22 laps to go Lowndes opted to make an extra pit stop on top of the compulsory visit, fitting soft tyres and charging through the field from 22nd to grab the lead with four laps to go. The drama didn’s top there -Lowndes had to survive a last-lap downfall to cement his first win of the year.

Mark Winterbottom became the year’s eighth different winner in race nine, holding off a string of four rivals covered by 1.7 seconds at the flag.

NASCAR Sprint Cup

Race 11 of 36: Kansas

Kyle Busch became the first driver to win three races this year after long-time leader Martin Truex Jnr dropped back after his wheel nuts were not fully tightened during a pit stop.

British Touring Car Championship

Round 3 (Races 7-9 of 30): Thruxton

Video not available yet

As usual tyres were the main talking point as the BTCC rolled into the UK’s fastest race circuit, but more so than ever with soaring temperatures causing drama. Tom Ingram took his second pole of the season ahead of a surprised Aiden Moffat. But the latter became the first of many victims of Thruxton’s tyre-punishing configuration: his front-left gave way after he’d fought back to second following a poor start. Adam Morgan led by this point following overtaking and drama aplenty and after passing Matt Neal – who’d qualified third and led the race despite full ballast – but it was soon to go wrong for the Honda. Mark Howard and Mat Jackson also suffered blow-outs at the same time as Moffat, with Neal experiencing one at the final chicane a lap later. He tried to cut across into the pits but collected an unfortunate Josh Cook, who also tagged Neal’s team mate Shedden, putting all three out of the race and bringing out the red flags.

The decision was soon taken to shorten the race distances from sixteen to twelve laps and Andrew Jordan won a rather sedate race two ahead of local driver Rob Collard and long-time leader Adam Morgan, who was muscled out with just two laps to run.

Dan Welch was promoted to pole in the final reverse grid race but lost the lead from the line to Jackson – later claiming he couldn’t see the lights. Despite this he ran a strong surprise second until a bolt failure on the front left suspension put him out. Further back Jordan’s day also ended on a low note with an unusual rear puncture, and Jack Goff compounded a miserable day for Shedden after collecting him at the final chicane. Jackson held on to win ahead of Neal and Morgan, who picked up podiums in all three races.

Guest series: TCR

Round 3 (races 5-6 of 32): Spa-Francorchamps

Victories for Aku Pellinen and Jean-Karl Vernay meant the top three drivers in the TCR series left Spa-Francorchamps separated by just four points. Pepe Oriola heads the table on 84 points ahead of James Nash and ex-F1 racer Gianni Morbidelli. However Attila Tassi was fortunate to emerge unscathed after a tyre failure in the middle of the high-speed Pouhon corner led to a heavy impact with the barriers on the final lap of race one.

Also this weekend

Nine riders fell in the Moto GP round at Le Mans including championship leader Marc Marquez, though he recovered to finish 13th. Jorge Lorenzo won to take the championship lead with Valentino Rossi second and Maverick Vinales earning Suzuki’s first podium since 2008.

Over to you

Next weekend Formula One returns to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix where the GP2 and GP3 championships will also begin. IndyCar’s build-up to the Indy 500 continues with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the road course previously used by F1. The European Formula Three series heads to evocative Pau street circuit and NASCAR moves on to Dover.

What racing action did you watch last weekend? And what are your plans for the weekend coming? Let us know in the comments.

Thanks to Robert Mathershaw (@Mathers) for contributing to this article.

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42 comments on “Wide open Le Mans in prospect after drama at Spa Six Hours”

  1. That overtake at 1:01 in the WEC video is probably one of the bravest I have ever seen, what a move!

    1. @wessel-v1 I wasn’t able to watch the whole thing but the first hour-and-a-half I did see was some of the most riveting racing I’ve seen all year. As I said on F1 Fanatic Live, it was much more engaging and authentic than the four grands prix we’ve had so far this year.

      1. Tony Mansell
        9th May 2016, 14:49

        Maybe a website name change then? 11 comments is certainly setting the world alight !

        1. Of course I’m not going to change something I’ve been happy with for over a decade on the strength of a handful of races. But that IndyCar race at Barber was more exciting to me as well.

          1. Tony Mansell
            9th May 2016, 15:41

            I thought it had been a half decent start to the f1 season, that’s all, staggered a ‘fanatic’ would think otherwise..

            MotoGP fans never tire of telling the world how great their sport is compared to F1. Well you can watch both. And with the worlds races all available at the flick of a button, some time, some where there is likely to be a decent race going on. Why that requires a snipe at f1 I don’t know.

          2. In this as in most conversations you stand a better chance of understanding my point if you pay attention to what I’m saying rather than assigning an opinion to me and then complaining I don’t hold it.

          3. Tony is kinda highlighting a problem F1 has that inevitably hurts it. In that, negativity is, well, everywhere. The teams, the drivers, Bernie * 5… And often journalists as well.

            With such a negative atmosphere put out by those people, of course, the fans will always think the same way.

            In this way I think we are sorely missing Murry Walker.

          4. No, the problem is FOM doesn’t market or promote F1 so people start acting like it’s the media’s job to only ever put out a positive message about it.

            It isn’t.

            With such a negative atmosphere put out by those people, of course, the fans will always think the same way.

            I assure you, with 12 years’ experience writing this website behind me, the fans are quite capable of making up their own minds about whatever they choose. They do not wait to be told what to think by the media. If they did, you wouldn’t keep hearing all these conspiracy theories about Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.

    2. If it had taken place in F1, the driver would have had a penalty for passing off-track.

      1. I think WEC are far stricter with circuit boundaries and rightfully so.

        1. Michael Brown (@)
          9th May 2016, 20:36

          They most certainly are, unlike F1’s stewards who “crack down” on track limits for one weekend of the year.

          That pass was fair. You can see that the right wheels are just barely on the track.

      2. @jules-winfield WEC has a much better policy on track boundaries than F1 has ever had. On top of that the overtake was out of class so it’s not even like it made all the difference…

  2. What a weekend it has been. Was live at Spa only to come home on sunday to watch the DTM and WRX round. Really looking forward to next week when the WRX visits Belgium, going to track again.

    Porsche still looking like the strongest of the three LMP1s, if past races are anything to go by I’d put my money on #1. However one could all of a sudden score big by putting it on a Rebellion. Factory teams will bring their A-game, question is whether that will be enough to win the toughest race on this planet.

    1. Oh, and if anyone ever again complains about Pirelli, they should do some research on Michelin in the MotoGP…

      1. There were also a lot of punctures at Spa which is where F1 last had a major tyre drama. Aother maybe down to contact but it seemed to happen a lot. Has something changed at Spa in the last 12 months that may cause these tyre issues?

        1. Not really. If you’re referring to the WEC race, I think one of the issues was with the air / track temperature which was a lot higher than usual and translated into much higher tyre degradation than anyone expected.

          Also, I reckon it’s pretty hard to keep your tyres in one piece when you have that amount of contact between the cars and pieces of carbon fiber flying all over the track on a constant basis for 6 hours.

    2. @xtwl You need a big mayham to allow a Rebellion to win at Le Mans given most manufacturer will bring 3 cars instead of two. With their rate of failures, it’s still possible but highly unlikely. I concur, if a Porsche is trouble free, it would probably mean a win for them. Glad to see how close it was between the 3 at Spa (even if I don’t expect Toyota to be that close at Le Mans, but they would still be ready to grasp any opportunity).

      1. @jeanrien – Neither Porsche nor Audi are bringing three cars this year. Toyota never has. So if all run in similar trouble like last race, but more frequently, it’s very well possible a trouble free Rebellion finishes ahead.

        1. @xtwl I missed that. You are right on every front here, probably best for the suspense. It should be a thrilling race and there is indeed place for hope and celebration for Rebellion there. Even if a 24h race is probably less advantageous for them, if one of the big team hit trouble and should repair for 40 min, they can probably catch up while it’s not possible on a 6h race, but nonetheless still possible.

          Will see, and looking forwards to it.

  3. From Super GT Fuji. Motul Autech GT-R won the race after Calsonic suffered from spectacular tyre blowout with 4 laps to go..

  4. FlyingLobster27
    9th May 2016, 12:25

    I crunched the numbers, and if Rebellion were registered as a manufacturer, with two thirds and two fourth places, they would be leading the championship. That’s how crazy the unreliability is in the works teams right now. An actual, physical podium is a fantastic reward for this team which has stayed loyal to the series despite being given zero chances to compete on pace. Hopefully their story will inspire the ACO to redress the balance – and, as the P2 market is about to become limited, I think they need to if they’re going to attract small structures to P1 non-hybrid.

    The SRO GT Series held its second Sprint event at Brands Hatch on Sunday. 37 GT3 cars managed to make it through Paddock Hill and Druids without casualty during both starts! Incredible. Victory for Bernd Schneider (THE Bernd Schneider) and Jules Szymkowiak in the first race, while the WRT pit crew predictably got one of its five cars in front in the main race. But, as the team found out, more cars means more problems: their lead crew L.Vanthoor/Vervisch hit trouble early on, while another two took each other out prompting the only Safety Car of the day. Still, it was a black Audi on top, this time with Enzo Ide (great drive from him BTW) and Christopher Mies.

  5. I’ve recently moved to Australia and have the pleasure of being able to watch the V8s live at a convenient time. Brilliant stuff as always with great strategies and battles throughout the field, especially for the lead. Both races from Perth were not a disappointment.

  6. WRX seems to go into the No holds barred direction. Not i personally like it that way.

  7. Wonder what the odds will be on Rebellion winning Le Mans? Audi and Porsche won’t even have their usual third cars to fall back on, and based on the unreliability shown by all three manufacturers, I wouldn’t totally count out one of the independents getting to the front…

  8. @keithcollantine the BTCC races are already available at http://www.itv.com/btcc/races. At least, they are for me (in Australia). It’s possible that they use reverse-geoblocking so that only non-UK viewers can see the races here, but I don’t see any indication of that being the case.

    1. There aren’t any geoblockings on BTCC any more I think, because there isn’t rivalling broadcast in many countries anyway. Definitely working in the UK.

  9. I watched the WEC for the first time and granted i was impressed with the racing and with the battles for the lead, but i was also impressed by the amount of ERS, engine and brake FAILURES mainly in the top teams. Also cant they race more than 1 hour without refuelling? This got me figuring out if WEC or F1is the endurance championship.

    1. F1 is the endurance sprint…. And WEC is now sprinting endurance race… Really strange.

      There is more pushing the limits and passing in WEC, also more drama.

      It is gonna be a hard Weekend for European GP…

  10. What an absolute waste of time those WTCC videos are. 1 minute of sped up rubbish!

    Shame, I liked the look of that new Tilke track and wanted to see some of the action. I stopped them both after 20 seconds when I could tell whoever was making the video had some serious attention span issues.

  11. That WEC race was, without exaggeration, one of the best races I’ve seen in years and without a doubt the first endurance race that kept me on the edge of my seat for its whole duration. Absolute insanity.

    And it’s wasn’t just the huge attrition rate and the constant and sudden changes of leadership in LMP1 that made it spectacular. The top four LMP2 cars in four seconds at the end and Lapierre’s overtake, all the drama in GTE Pro with Calado’s retirement with 9 minutes to go and Mucke’s monster crash, cars going three wide literally everywhere on the circuit, Toyota running a full lap on hybrid power alone with literally no combustion engine…

    Seriously, there are no words to describe this event. Absolutely brilliant stuff. Le Mans is going to be a MIGHTY race if it follows this pattern!

  12. Ok, after seeing the WEC clip, i realized we all were too harsh on Kvyat :). So many “Hi there!”s from behind!!!

  13. With regards to the 6 Hours of Spa, can anybody explain why the No. 5 Toyota was given a four lap penalty after the race?

    I’ve seen no explanation for why they were penalised, which dropped them behind the No. 1 Porsche entry – they’d completed 114 laps (as shown in the provisional classification) compared to 112 for the Porsche and were originally in 26th place, but were demoted to 110 laps and 27th place on the basis of an unpublished and unexplained decision by the stewards when the final classification was published.

    What is more confusing is if they are only recognised as having completed 110 laps, then technically shouldn’t the No. 5 car have been ineligible for points as they would not have completed the required minimum distance (which was 112 laps)? I don’t understand what the stewards were doing after the race in that instance.

    1. FlyingLobster27
      9th May 2016, 18:45

      Kazuki Nakajima hadn’t completed a minimum driving time. The only source I have for this is Endurance-Info (in French, link here).
      I don’t understand it, as there’s nothing essential about a driver not doing enough in Pro classes. Surely it could just be that Nakajima didn’t drive enough to score points for himself in the Drivers’ standings, but the car’s position shouldn’t be affected in that case, and the team and the other drivers should get the points.

      1. The idea is that it’s a team sport, and all team members are supposed to pull their weight unless there’s a good reason for doing so (e.g. the driver in question potentially got injured mid-race and can’t do a final stint due to being checked). Not doing the correct time is considered a team fail, so the team gets the penalty.

  14. BTCC videos are available at: http://www.itv.com/btcc/races/watch-all-the-action-from-thruxton
    Awesome pile up in race 1!!! and action beforehand.

  15. We can complain about F1 tracks but DTM turn 1 and track limits is just ridiculous compared to the discussion about the Russian GP. Rather prefer the F1 solution.

    Also Maldonado would look pretty good in DTM :) Some bad apples there, wow.

  16. Tony Mansell
    10th May 2016, 12:00

    Well said Mike. I couldn’t reply to you directly as the reply function had been switched off. I think we definitely do miss a golden era Murray Walker, he was a true lover of the sport and held everyone in it,in total high regard. And you didn’t even need to patronise to make your point! first class.

  17. The best thing I took from watching the WEC race in Spa was that Toyota are looking like a real threat to both VAG teams, which really is a welcome development in my book.

    WRX, those guys are just mental! It looks like just about the best fun you could have with 4 wheels and an engine.

  18. Edoardo Mortara is probably the most underrated racer out there. Deserved a chance in Formula 1.

  19. Just by the by, the IndyCar GP at Indianapolis is on a (considerably) different configuration of the road course from the one previously used by F1. Pedant out!

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