Free Practice and Qualifying report from Spa WEC

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Last weekends Spa round of the World Endurance Championship will for us and like so many other people, have to go down as one of the most bizarre motor racing events that we have ever attended.

The weather forecast leading into the race had always indicated that the three day track event would certainly be no repeat of last years scorcher and that plenty of precipitation was expected to interrupt the proceedings at various stages of the weekend. Suppose like us, many of you who we follow on social media thought (or indeed just hoped) that those forecast were just the result of some over zealous forecasting on the part of some outlets as there was no common theme amongst providers even up to the Friday night.

Anyway, all of this weather business was just a distraction as to what the the penultimate round of this super-season would give us with so many classes as yet undecided and with the knowledge that Spa never fails to entertain.

Having already had three races in Europe ahead of the the three new 'ship-away' races in Fuji, Shanghai and most latterly at Sebring, there were some good results between the four AMR runners including their new GTE's first pole in Fuji and then first class win in Shanghai. With the GTE Pro Championship how it was going into weekend, Spa was always going to be the case of whether or not Aston Martin Racing could position themselves to challenge the still championship leading Porsches for top flight honours just a year into the new Vantage GTE's racing adventure.

The same was the case in GTE Am class with both the #98 AMR supported car of Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy and the #90 TF Sport car of Salih Yoluc and Charlie Eastwood as their championship was far from over and as good result at Spa would take that into a 'winner takes all' scenario at the season finale at Le Mans in June.

First Free Practice on Thursday was warm and dry with a track temperature of 17deg C. Early running in the GTE Pro class showed that the Vantage GTE was certainly competitive on pace with the #97 car of Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn taking the top slot with the sister #95 just a second behind. In. GTE Am, solid mid field running left the teams quietly confident of pace whilst all went through their early 'housekeeping' track regimes.

Where there is chalk there is usually cheese and that came about later in the day when the heavens opened up in time for FP2 with dry set up regimes swiftly being softened to accommodate the amounts of rain falling. This time and despite the conditions it was the turn of the #95 Dane Train to shine taking the honours from the #91 Porsche by nearly a quarter of a second to conclude the day for the factory team on something of a good footing.

Things were already getting exciting in the AMR camps

Friday morning and the final Free Practice session and it was dry again although significantly cooler from yesterday. For the first time in the weekend we saw the usual increase in pace from all the Porsche's, Ford's and Ferrari's which pushed both Astons back towards the foot of the timing screen in GTE Pro as attention was being drawn to the following Qualifying session later in the day. Was the the restoration of the status quo amongst the Pro class as the actual race got closer - something that had been seen many times before this season?

With rain drops beginning to fall at the start of Qualifying all four Aston Martins went hell for leather around the 4.3mile circuit hoping that they could all early 'banker laps' would be a could idea if the rain continued. Watching from the bus-stop section of the circuit, countless times did the cars go passed with any combination of their class position indicators illuminated which help to prove that the AMR pace was still genuine in both classes. Having made their initial runs, the #97 car of local driver Martin and Lynn were sitting pretty at P1 with only seconds to go but were pipped at the drop of the chequered flag by the #67 Ford by just 0.067 of a second.

Despite losing out at the last moment, Lynn and Martin remained buoyant as to what was achieved.

“This is GTE Pro racing at its best – it’s a close category and this is the way it goes sometimes,” said Martin. “We knew we had a really strong car, but there are others who have a little more straight-line speed than us and that counts for a lot around here – so to be so close was really good. And we know that the weather is looking like it will be very wet tomorrow which suits our car, so we can be confident ahead of the race. I’m really looking forward to it”

Lynn added: “We’ve had the pace all year in this car and we know the Vantage GTE is fast enough to win, because our team-mates have proved it. We are 100% focussed on delivering our maximum in the race.”

The #95 would ultimately finish P5 in class.

In GTE Am, things were to get very exciting with Salih Yoluc going out with new AMR Junior Driver Charlie Eastwood aboard their #90 as they went against all the previous running for them to secure class honours by over a tenth of a second from the (until then) more dominant Porsche's. Speaking with Tom Ferrier later, that result was more of luck than judgement as whilst the #90 car put in some good lap times the others were clearly struggling.

The #98 AMR would also have to settle for P5 in class after having two laps deducted from them from track limits.

All of this paved the way for an exciting race on Saturday whatever the weather.

Note - Spa is sometimes a race track that can bite back at the unwary and following a heavy fall on Friday we found ourselves unable to collate and issue our reports from these sessions in a more timely manner. Apologies for the delay.

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