Despite winning the season opening Six Hours of Silverstone last month on a post race exclusion, Team Porsche has made it clear that it wants to eliminate all comers from possibly defeating them on the track when the green flag drops on Saturday’s Six Hours of Spa Francorchamps in Belgium. While on Thursday the 919 Hybrid runners were successful at putting distance between themselves and German rivals Audi Sport Team Joest, a new challenger appears ready to set up their own assault on the top step of the podium.
New Zealand’s Brendon Hartley put the No. 1 Team Porsche entry on top of the charts with a one minute, 58.012 lap of the 4.352 mile mix of permanent circuit and public roads, with Toyota Gazoo Racing’s pair of all-new TS050 Hybrids both managing to get within seven tenths of the Kiwi’s hot lap at some point of the opening day of action. Stephane Sarrazin placed the No. 6 Toyota in position two, with the second Porsche 919 of Romain Dumas in third, while the second Toyota TS050 of Kaz Nakajima closed out the first four.
While Porsche and Toyota showed solid form in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s final preparatory race prior to the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans next month, Audi’s pair of R18 E-Tron Quattros were a good two seconds off the leading standard. Only Marcel Fassler, piloting the team’s No. 7 entry, managed to post a lap on the challenging layout in under two minutes. After claiming pole position last time out at Silverstone, Audi suddenly appears hard pressed to avoid starting both of its cars from the third row on Saturday, unless a major bounce back occurs during qualifying on Friday afternoon.
Among the non-hybrid LMP1s, Rebellion Racing was tops on Thursday with both of its Rebellion R-One, AER-powered coupes nearly a second clear of the Colin Kolles-entered CLM P1-01 coupe, also featuring AER power. After sneaking onto the overall podium at Silverstone due to both attrition and the exclusion of Audi, a repeat performance by Rebellion appears to be a much tougher outlook ahead of Saturday’s start.
In LMP2, a new player is threatening to upset the apple cart this weekend in Belgium. Manor Racing’s ORECA 05 coupe with Roberto Merhi driving was best in class on Thursday, posting a personal best of two minutes, 7.865 seconds, nearly nine tenths of a second ahead of the remainder of Manor’s in-class competition. The run is impressive, considering the effort was posted by the team’s second entry, which unlike its primary challenger will not be competing next month at Le Mans.
While coupes are the main attraction in LMP2 nowadays, one notable open top prototype runner is a potent threat for Saturday. G-Drive Racing’s Gibson 015S was second in LMP2 on Thursday with ex-Formula One pilot Giedo Van der Garde at the controls. Although the Jota Sport-prepared entry is not a full-time runner on the FIA WEC circuit, the team enters Spa-Francorchamps with momentum after taking the opening round of the European Le Mans Series championship, also held at Silverstone, but with a two hour shorter distance. Unlike Manor’s second car, the G-Drive/Jota combination will be present next month at Circuit de la Sarthe.
Two more ORECA 05s claimed the next two places on the timing chart Thursday, with Gustavo Menezes of Signatech Alpine in position number three and G-Drive Racing’s Roman Rusinov in fourth. After winning overall at both Daytona and Sebring and backing up the effort with a runner-up placing at Silverstone, Extreme Speed Motorsports’ Ligier-Nissan coupe with Brazilian prospect Pipo Derani rounded out the fast five in LMP2, just over a second off the fastest runner.
In the grand touring divisions, the expected double feature between AF Corse Ferrari and Prodrive Aston Martin Racing began in full on Thursday, with the two arch-rivals splitting the leadership roles in the Pro and Amateur classes. James Calado’s two minutes, 18.494 second pass edged AMR’s Richie Stanaway by just under half a second to claim top time in the Pro category, while AMR’s Pedro Lamy led the Amateur runners at two minutes, 19.748 seconds with AF Corse’s Rui Aguas in second.
With the two rabbits claiming the top four positions in the Pro division, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GT program was best of the rest on Thursday, with Stefan Mucke clocking the team’s fastest pass. Best of the rest in Amateur was Chevrolet Corvette C7.R runner Larbre Competition, who clocked the third fastest lap on the day with Paolo Ruberti at the controls. However, Larbre’s weekend propsects were compromised late on Thursday following Yutaka Yamagishi’s hard crash at the Stavelot corner. Yamagishi suffered no injuries in the shunt, however the team will have their work cut out for them to fix their wounded challenger in time for qualifying on Friday afternoon.