Spa woke to snow falling at 06h30 yesterday morning, and by the time I had made it to the circuit, the temperature was a steady zero. It looked more like a winter wonderland than a racing circuit, to be honest. There are all sorts of rules relating to whether it is safe to race and with the temperature at the time hovering around one degree plus (10h00), a decision had to be made. But to everyone’s relief the Total 6 hours of Spa-Francorchamps was going ahead.
All the teams had to work hard to have the cars ready for a low temperature start. The word was that the cars needed a 5° track temperature to start, because when the warm tyres hit the cold track surface, the tyre walls remain warm while the running surface of the tyre gets very cold very quickly. This could cause tearing of the tyres.
With the race scheduled to start at 13h26 (I kid you not), the grid procession got underway. Looking to the north, the clouds looked dark and the mutterings amongst the photographers up at Les Combs revolved around what a pasting we were about to get.
Even from as far away as the Les Combs corner, the furthest part of the circuit from the Start/Finish line, we could tell when the engines started for the warm up lap. The wind whipped up ominously, and you could feel the temperature drop as the cars swarmed past on their first racing lap. On the third lap, the lead cars came through with their windscreen wipers on, and it wasn’t long before most of the cars were overshooting the right-hander into Les Combs, and taking a short-cut across the tarred run-off area. This wasn’t a first choice for the drivers as the run-off area was well populated with ‘baguettes’, sleeping policemen to the ordinary motorist.
By now some cars had already pitted for wet tyres but those that hadn’t, were finding the going extremely slippery. The hail-cum-sleet was now intense and the temperature had fallen close to zero, and still the cars kept going, albeit very gingerly. The forecast was for intermittent rain and hail, and that was exactly the pattern the whole afternoon. The weather was probably the biggest player in yesterday’s event, with numerous safety car sessions because some had overstepped the mark just a bit too much, and ended up in the gravel.
A result of all the interruptions and hail showers was that the two works 911 RSRs found themselves up at the top of the class before too long. In fact their performance was the equal of any car in class, and after the first hour, the #92 and #91 Porsches were first and second respectively. The same excellent performance was shown in the GTE Am class, and with sixty minutes on the clock, it was #56 Project 1 leading from the #86 Gulf Porsche.
With two hours gone, and alternating sunshine and hail/sleet showers continuing the pattern, the order was constantly changing, and apart from the #91 Porsche that still held onto second place in the Pro class, the other Porsches had all slipped back. But this would have been as a result of pit stops and tyre changes rather than any incidents. In the GTE Am class, the #56 Project 1 Porsche was still running strongly in third place.
At the halfway mark, the #92 Porsche was still in second place while the #91 car had moved up from seventh place to fifth in class. Project 1 moved up a place to second, as the experience of Jörg Bergmeister, the consistency of Patrick Lindsey and the craftsmanship of Egidio Perfetti in the rain, began to tell for the team.
No sooner had one spell of sunshine broken through the heavy clouds, than it suddenly darkened again, and another sleet shower descended on the circuit. At times the going was incredibly difficult for the drivers, even behind the safety car. This shows the efficiency of the Michelin wet tyres to disperse the surface water, but this success caused those following the lead car to be enveloped in a cloud of mist and spray.
The end of the fourth hour saw the #92 Porsche back up at the head of the class with the #91 car still holding steady in fifth place. The intermittent hail and sunshine played its part again but the #56 Project 1 Porsche held firmly onto second place in class. Although the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche was back in fifth place, it had been driving steadily and had held that position for the last two hours. The #86 Gulf Racing Porsche was in eighth place and the #88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche in ninth place. The talk was of a shortened race, but as soon as one had finished that thought, out would come the sun again.
As the race moved into the penultimate hour, we were greeted with yet more heavy sleet showers. And the teams in the pit lane were constantly slipping out to the pit lane to check the skies. Two pit lane marshals, local residents, looking heavenwards, smiled and said, “It’s coming again!” Sure enough, two minutes later the track was covered by another blanket of hail and sleet. The #92 Porsche had slipped back to fourth place while the #91 Porsche was back in seventh place. As the fifth hour drew to a close, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche moved into the lead in the Am class while the runners who had shown the strongest, and most consistent performance throughout the week, the #56 Project 1 Porsche, had slipped to fifth in class.
The final hour broke and the hail showers were increasing with regularity and intensity. With just twelve minutes to go on the clock, the #91 Porsche was given a drive-through penalty for causing a collision at T19. At the time the #91 car was lying in third position and the #92 car in fourth. Four minutes later, the race was red flagged with eight minutes left to run, this being brought about by an intense snow shower. The fall out of the drive-through penalty for the #91 car was changed to a time penalty, which saw the #92 Porsche taking the final podium spot and #91 finishing in 8th position. Racing is never dull; there is always a twist in the tail!
In the GTE Am class, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche held station and was the winner in class, with the #56 Project 1 Porsche in fifth place, perhaps an undeserved result for such a strong performance during the week. Gulf Racing with #86 finished seventh in class with the #88 being declared ninth in class.
So ends the penultimate round of the 2018/2019 WEC Super Season, with Toyota being declared the World Champions. In the Porsche camp, huge congratulations are due as they too have been declared GT Manufacturers World Champions by a margin of more than a hundred points. As we close off this report, the final tally of points is still to be announced due to the drive-through penalty that never happened.
Pascal Zurlinden (Director GT Factory Motorsport): “It’s hard to find the words to describe how proud I am that we’ve won the manufacturers’ title for Porsche with this incredible team. The race was a rollercoaster of emotions for us. The weather threw everything at us: snow, rain, hail and sunshine. We were at the front and at the back of the field at times. The weather also turned our strategy upside down, but we simply kept pushing our way back up through the field. What a day!”
Race result according to FIA/WEC
1. #97 Lynn/Martin (GB/B), Aston Martin Vantage GTE, 124 laps
2. #51 Pier Guidi/Calado (I/GB), Ferrari 488 GTE EVO, 124 laps
3. #92 Christensen/Estre (DK/F), Porsche 911 RSR, 124 laps
8. #91 Lietz/Bruni (A/I), Porsche 911 RSR, 124 laps
1. # 77 Ried/Pera/Campbell (D/I/AUS), Porsche 911 RSR, 122 laps
2. #90 Yoluc/Alers-Hankey/Eastwood (TR/GB/GB), Aston Martin Vant. GTE, 122 laps
3. #61 Companc/Cressoni/Griffin (RA/I/IRL), Ferrari 488 GTE, 122 laps
5. #56 Bergmeister/Lindsey/Perfetti (D/USA/N), Porsche 911 RSR, 122 laps
7. #86 Wainwright/Barker/Preining (GB/GB/A), Porsche 911 RSR, 121 laps
9. #88 Al Qubaisi/Roda/Cairoli (I/I/I), Porsche 911 RSR, 115 laps
The final round of the season will be the Le Mans 24 Hours on 15-16 June. See you there.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale and Porsche Motorsport