The first race of the season, the 2018 6 Hours of Spa, is almost upon us. Thursday saw Free Practice 1 and 2 (FP1 and FP2) and while these sessions traditionally don’t tell you anything, it was nevertheless interesting to see the cars out for the first time in the season.
One situation that did play out was the interplay between the LMP1 competitors. While the Toyotas were expected to be the fastest cars on track, the non-hybrid cars will certainly put up a good fight. The eagerly anticipated contest did in fact materialise when the Toyotas topped the times for FP1 and FP2, but the tables were turned when the #1 Rebellion pushed the opposition aside in FP3. This though had as much to do with Toyota running their race setup in FP3, as their times in that session being slower than in FP2.
In the GTE Pro class, Ford had the run of the show in the first three practice sessions, topping the tables each time while the places behind switched between Ford, Porsche and BMW in each session. But here again the running in the practice sessions is often misleading as teams here also test different settings to be used in the race. The GTE Am contenders were having a great scrap however, with the Dempsey-Proton cars occupying the top positions more often than not.
But all the practice in the world does not compare with official qualifying, as this is where the real racing begins. Under clear skies and warm weather, the first of the qualifying sessions got underway on Friday afternoon, as the GTE cars, both Pro and Am, took to the track to determine the starting order for the race on Saturday.
Keeping the theme that they had created thus far in the free practice sessions, Ford certainly looked like the team to beat. In the early stages, it was the two Fords that led the Pro class (#66 followed by #67), with the #91 and #92 Porsche RSRs nipping at their heals.
The qualifying session was of course undertaken by two drivers in each team, with the class pole position being the average of both drivers during the short 25-minute session. Qualifying is such that you can get a totally clear run or you can be baulked by a car in a lower class, it is just luck of the draw because this is simply a sprint shoot out. In the race itself, which lasts six hours, problems as described above will balance out for most cars in the field, as every car will be hindered by a slower car at some point in the race.
At the end of 25 minutes though, it was the two Fords (#67 followed by #66) that headed the two Porsches (#91 followed by #92). These top four cars were covered by less than a half second, the lead Ford posting 2:12.947 while the second of the Porsches posted a time of 2:13.352.
The GTE Am class was an all-out scrap with the order changing throughout the short 25-minute session. At first it was the Dempsey-Proton Porsches, #77 and #88 that led the way, with the #56 Gulf Racing car showing great promise. The #56 Project 1 RSR was also showing signs of significant improvement. At the end of the session, it was the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche that led the class from the #98 Aston Martin (Dalla Lana/Lamy/Lauda). Coming home in third place in class was the #56 Project 1 RSR, something that will result in great celebration in the pit garage as this was the team’s first race in WEC. Although it is the team’s first foray into WEC, they have an enviable 25-year record in GT racing.
The interesting and rather unfortunate fallout from qualifying, was that the #86 Gulf Racing RSR posted a lap time of more than a second quicker than the eventual class pole position. The reason they are not on pole is that their fast qualifying time was cancelled due to the car exceeding track limits on lap 8. This means that the #86 car will start from the back of the grid.
With the weather set to be more of the same, and even warmer, the race is bound to be a good one as all teams will be eager to post maximum points for this opening round. The rolling start is set for 13h30 local time…enjoy the racing.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & John Mountney