Another Spa thriller for two of the three Aston Martin Vantage GTEs at Spa Francorchamps

Sunday, May 08, 2022


Spa Francorchamps never disappoints, and yesterday’s second round of the World Endurance Championship certainly fell within that statement as the six hours of Spa was injected with incident, accident together with the wrath of Mother Nature to produce just another thrilling encounter.

With success ballast from their previous podium success from Sebring still playing upon the minds of the engineers and drivers within #98 Northwest AMR and the #33 TF Sport Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTE entries, Friday’s Qualifying put those fears to rest as Ben Keating smashed his previous best at the circuit to claim Pole Position within the GTE Am Class with Paul Dalla Lana locking out the front row again with his #98 car.

With Satoshi Hoshino again falling foul of track limits during his fastest Qualifying lap, he and his #777 D’Station Racing crew would have to make do with a P7 start amongst a grid of thirteen other cars.

Despite the lap difference between them in Qualifying, Dalla Lana soon had the jump on Keating at the start to assume the class lead, albeit briefly before the American snatched it back again just a few laps later after the Safety Car restart following the opening lap shenanigans. Tomonobu Fujii would again start the #777 car and it wasn’t long before he was on one of his now customary first stint crusades through the field to be quickly pressurising Dalla Lana for second overall.

After the first half hour of racing, the #98 had started to fade as (maybe tyres?) struggled with the additional weight and high track temperatures although darker clouds were by now rolling in around the circuit to quell that problem! By now the #21 AF Corse Ferrari of Toni Vilander had also split to the top two Astons for position as Keating maintained a healthy lead with Fujii not too far behind the Ferrari but an unseen error by Keating just a lap later saw him come back around in P3 and with the Ferrari now in the lead of the class.

By the end of the first hour, the #777 was the first Aston to stop as Fujii swapped over to team boss Hoshino for his first stint of the race with both Keating and Dalla Lana sitting in their respective cars for their now customary opening double stint.

Moments later, another Safety Car for a crashed LMP2 car came as the first drops of rain began to fall but with that intervention quickly turning to a red flag to aid the recovery of the driver, recover the mid-circuit stricken vehicle and make the necessary repair to the tyre wall and barrier after a significant impact. It wasn’t long after that before the first loud claps of thunder were heard above the circuit – this was only going to go one way with the weather!!

A twenty-minute cessation of racing activities was broken with the sounds of race cars being allowed round to pick up the Safety Car train for the restart with Hoshino holding P2, Keating P3 and Dalla Lana P7 in class.

Ten laps behind the Safety Car (as other cars faltered) and Hoshino back into pit lane saw the rain finally begin to fall and fall heavily around the circuit and with cars on slicks on a rain drenched circuit, that lead to another red flag for circuit conditions - disappointing for the spectacle but safety first for the drivers and circuit marshals!!

Two and a half hours after the original start to the race and the remaining grid got ready for another Safety Car restart and just one lap later back to green as the rain had by now stopped and it would be long for a drier line to be established. By now, the #98 was back up to P2, the #777 P5 but the #33 car had dropped to P12 that’s to its pit stop strategy at the time.

Being one of ‘those’ races, it wouldn’t be too long before the next FCY for another car stranded again in one of the circuits new/revised gravel traps but also the rain returned, this time with a vengeance to force another red flag for track conditions.

With the cars again parked along the start straight, frustrated drivers within the TF Sport garage hoped for an improvement as Sorenson told others that he’d only driven one lap up until that time – straight out and straight back in as they waited for a declared 16:40hrs restart.

Three laps behind the Safety Car again before finally going back to green with ninety minutes remaining of the six-hour race clock as it had continued to count down during all of these periods of caution but for the GTE Am class, that had set itself up again for another cracking finale with the #98 and #33 Astons again squabbling for the class lead with their respective Danes Marco Sorenson and Nicki Thiim now aboard each.

Into the final hour and another FCY for another LMP2 car in the barrier as late service stops for the two lead Astons saw the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche of Harry Tincknell acquire the class lead with just 45 minutes to go! Lap after lap of all three cars jockeying for position, intensified by another FCY after car into the barrier and then (surprisingly) battling Hypercar and LMP2 cars effectively getting in the way of these three cars shoot out to the chequered flag.

Eventually the six hours was at an end, and it was the #77 Porsche who finally claimed the top step of the podium with the #33 TF Sport car of Keating, Henrique Chaves and Sorenson in second and the 98 Northwest car of Dalla Lana, Pittard and Thiim claiming third.

After multiple visits to the pits, the #777 D’Station Racing crew would eventually finish P7 despite the valiant of efforts from their new Silver driver, Charlie Fagg.

Not quite the fairy-tale double-double after their P1/P2 lockout at Sebring but very close to it as the #98 consolidate their class lead from the #98 crew as the Championship now looks to its next round at Le Mans in June!!





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