The sun shone on the Ardennes as World Champions André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler took their first win of the 2013 season by turning the tables on their teammates to lead an Audi 1-2-3 in front of 35,000 endurance race fans at the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
It was also another victory in the LMP1 Privateer Class for the nr12 Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyota of Neel Jani, Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost, while the victory in LMP2 went to the Pecom Racing Oreca Nissan of Nicolas Minassian, Pierre Kaffer and Luis Perez Companc in a nail biting final hour of the race.
At the start it was the nr2 Audi of Loic Duval which came through from the second row to take the lead at the first corner followed by the nr7 Toyota of Nicolas Lapierre. The Toyota was a strong contender for the first half of the race until a problem with the hybrid system caused the rear brakes to overheat forcing the brand new 2013 TS030 into retirement.
After the poor start to the race the nr1 Audi e-tron quattro was soon back at the front of the field with Andre Lotterer fighting with his teammates for the lead of the race. Despite a puncture that forced an unplanned pitstop, the world champions were able to maintain a good pace. After the demise of the nr7 Toyota, their main challenger was the nr2 Audi of Kristensen, McNish and Duval as the challenge from the nr3 ‘long tail’ R18 faded, as did the 2012 spec Toyota TS030.
In the final hour the three Audi were on the same lap but at the chequered flag the gap was a comfortable 65 seconds.
In LMP1 Privateer class the nr12 Rebellion Racing Lola Toyota proved once again to be the benchmark and Jani, Prost and Heidfeld were able to add a second 2013 victory trophy to their tally. The nr13 Lola finished 22 seconds behind their teammates after 6 hours of racing. Strakka Racing were also on the pace until a hit from behind from an LMP2 car at the final corner spun the car round, damaging the rear bodywork and forcing Danny Watts to come into the pits. The all British team eventually finished the race four laps behind the two Rebellions.
LMP2 lived up to expectations as a closely-fought battle from start to finish and it was, in the end, the No.49 Pecom Racing ORECA 03 Nissan which took their second FIA World Endurance Championship win, and their first in the WEC on Michelin rubber. They thoroughly deserved the victory, finishing 12.5 seconds ahead of their nearest rival despite suffering a late-race left front puncture which necessitated two pit stops – one for a new tyre and one for a new nose.
The driving crew of Pierre Kaffer, Nicolas Minassian and Luis Perez-Companc edged out the No.24 OAK Racing Morgan Nissan of Pla-Heinemeier Hansson-Brundle who took their second consecutive second place and therefore the lead of the LMP2 points standings. They pushed hard throughout but lost out to their rivals when the safety car came out at the end of the first hour.
Third in class was last year’s 6 Hours of Spa LMP2 class winner, and ELMS entrant, Jota Sport. The British team was using the event as a pre-Le Mans warm up and their No.38 Zytek Z11SN Nissan was employing the talents of Oliver Turvey, Simon Dolan and Lucas Luhr. The trio, like OAK Racing, challenged hard from start to finish but it was to be Pecom’s day in the Belgian sunshine.
Marcel Fässler (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1): “A tremendous weekend. After our puncture we had to recover as much time as possible. Everybody gave everything. The guys in the pits did a fantastic job too. That was a super nice day for all of us.”
André Lotterer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1): “What a race! The one-two-three win for Audi is fantastic. We had a lot of obstacles in the race. I didn’t have a good start but quickly managed to gain an advantage, but then we lost it again due to the safety car period and the puncture. After that, it was only full throttle for us. Marcel and Benoît drove brilliantly. We recovered the loss. It was one of the nicest victories because it was a hard-fought one. And I grew up in Belgium and won here for the first time.”
Benoît Tréluyer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1): “The victory is nice but achieving it was pretty difficult. We lost a lot of time due to the safety car period and the puncture. Afterward, all of us gave everything and that paid off. Our Audi R18 e-tron quattro was perfect. It’s a great result for the whole team that did a fantastic job.”
Loïc Duval (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2): “Our race started well. I advanced and was able to build a bit of an advantage. Things were going well when the track was clear. But later, I experienced heavier traffic on track than ever before in my career. Others took big risks but when you’re leading you’re a bit more careful. We weren’t as quick as car number 1 and are going to analyze this based on our data. But it’s been a nice day for Audi.”
Tom Kristensen (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2): “The one-two-three victory is fantastic for Audi. Everything was going according to plan, the whole team did a very good job. It’s great to have beaten Toyota – even though they had problems. Before Le Mans, we continue to have the greatest respect for them. As far as our team is concerned: Loïc and Allan delivered a strong drive. Unlike the winning car, we were struggling a bit with lack of tire grip. Marcel, André and Benoît drove really well and deserve this victory. We’re now almost equal to them in the points standings. The doubled points score for Le Mans will still be important in the battle for the title. It’ll continue to be thrilling.”
Allan McNish (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2): “The one-two-three win was great for the team. Furthermore, the new aero pack for car number 3 makes us confident for Le Mans. The car was pretty fast in qualifying and in the race. Unfortunately, for our driver squad, the result was a bit disappointing. We weren’t as quick as we’d been at Silverstone, so we’ve got to analyze where we lost time. In the points standings, we’re trailing our team-mates by just one point. Each of the two driver crews has achieved a victory and a second place. At Le Mans, Loïc, Tom and I want to be back on the top of the podium.”
Marc Gené (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #3): “At the start, I had to get out of André Lotterer’s way and thus lost my starting position. The air pressure in my first set of tires was a bit high but the race was still good for us. It was clear that we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the cars of our team-mates. The whole team learned a lot today and we’re happy about having contributed our part to this.”
Lucas di Grassi (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #3): “We competed with a different vehicle concept than the two cars with more downforce. In the end, we achieved a podium and thus a result that even surpassed our expectations a bit.”
Oliver Jarvis (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #3): “Our race went as expected. In qualifying, we caused a surprise. We knew that the race would be difficult for us because the tires degraded more heavily. Third place is the best we could hope for. Congratulations to the winners who were strong today.”
Luis Perez Companc (Pecom Racing, ORECA 03-Nissan #49), 1st LMP2: “We were a little worried at the end but we thought the Zytek would need to pit again. We have a good team, good engineers, and they all worked well today. We knew as well, even before the start of the season, that we had a good car and that we would be in position to fight for podium finishes. In addition to the World Endurance Championship, our goal is to prepare for Le Mans, which is important for us. Aside from the tire puncture, the race was perfect.”
Nicolas Minassian (Pecom Racing, ORECA 03-Nissan #49), 1st LM P2: “My first stint was very exciting! It was a good battle withOlivier Pla. I had to be at the limit, without making an error! The team was excellent during the pitstop and I was able to rejoin the actionin first place. The safety car added to our lead. Sometimes it’s in your favor, and that was the case today. The Michelin tires worked well and the ORECA 03 was again competitive, reliable and strong. I’m very happy with this weekend that was positive on all fronts.”
Pierre Kaffer (Pecom Racing, ORECA 03-Nissan #49), 1st LMP2: “Sometimes to lead a race with such a lead isn’t an easy situation to manage. The traffic was an issue and I had contact with a Toyota; I was so upset. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we only had a left front puncture. We were a bit worried and it was tight but we did it. Thanks to my team mates who did an incredible job, and to the team who did a super job at the pit stops. The strategy was perfect. Thanks to Michelin for great tyres and to ORECA whose car performed so well, it was both solid and reliable. It’s what you need in endurance racing, and what we need at Le Mans.”
1 1 Audi Sport Team Joest LOTTERER / TRÉLUYER / FÄSSLER Audi R18 e-tron quattro 6:00’55.971 168 laps
2 2 Audi Sport Team Joest KRISTENSEN / DUVAL / McNISH Audi R18 e-tron quattro +1’05.815
3 3 Audi Sport Team Joest DI GRASSI / GENÉ / JARVIS Audi R18 e-tron quattro +1’54.992
4 8 Toyota Racing DAVIDSON / BUEMI / SARRAZIN Toyota TS030 – Hybrid +1 Lap
5 12 Rebellion Racing PROST / JANI / HEIDFELD – Lola B12/60 Coupé – Toyota +3laps
1 49 Pecom Racing PEREZ COMPANC / MINASSIAN / KAFFER Oreca 03 – Nissan 6:02’10.682 157 laps
2 24 OAK Racing PLA / HEINEMEIER HANSSON / BRUNDLE Morgan – Nissan +12.581
3 38 Jota DOLAN / TURVEY / LUHR Zytek Z11SN – Nissan +15.990
(Image: Gerlach Delissen)