TOYOTA GAZOO Racing earned its first win of the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season after a dramatic, weather-affected 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, driving the #7 GR010 HYBRID, overcame a strong challenge from Hypercar competitors, as well as the notorious Ardennes weather, to win round two of the 2022 season, the final event before the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The team celebrated its sixth consecutive victory at Spa-Francorchamps with the #7 bouncing back from an accident at Sebring to make it seven wins out of eight races since the GR010 HYBRID was introduced at Spa in 2021.
Unfortunately, only one GR010 HYBRID reached the checkered flag at Spa. Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa were leading the race in their #8 car when an issue on the hybrid system forced its retirement after 90 minutes.
The race had started full of promise for the #8, with Sébastien moving up from fourth on the grid to second on the first lap. Mike was close behind in third, having briefly lost a spot when he was boxed in at the exit of the first corner.
On lap 16, the GR010 HYBRIDs hit the front, both overtaking the race-leading Glickenhaus on the same lap. Sébastien therefore led in the #8, but the race changed quickly when rain began to fall around the hour mark, followed by an LMP2 accident which caused a red flag.
After a 25-minute delay, the race resumed behind the safety car but the leading #8 stopped on the side of the track. As Sébastien stepped out of the car to retire, the rain got heavier and Mike brought the #7 into the pits for wet tires, dropping to third.
Conditions worsened and caused further interruptions, including two more red flag periods, until the race restarted properly with just over two hours remaining, and Kamui running in second. He wasted little time in overtaking the #31 WRT for the lead as the rain stopped and track conditions started to improve.
Inside the last hour-and-a-half, José took the wheel of the #7, now on hybrid intermediate tires, for the final stint. He resumed in the lead of a close battle for victory among the three Hypercar competitors until three full course yellows late in the race disrupted the fight at the front.
José controlled the final stages of the race as track conditions improved continuously and he crossed the line after six hours to win by 27.473secs from the #36 Alpine.
Ferrari Beats Porsche by 0.523s!
James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi claimed a sensational LMGTE Pro victory after one of the best category races seen in WEC’s decade long history.
The No.51 AF Corse duo surged to the front in a rollercoaster race that saw a final hour shoot-out with the No.92 Porsche GT Team entered Porsche 911 RSR-19 driven by Michael Christensen.
Calado was able to hold off the flying Dane in the final laps, after a late full course yellow appeared to give the Porsche an opportunity to make a move.
Christensen had fought to clear the sister AF Corse Ferrari driven by Antonio Fuoco in the last 30-minutes and made a decisive move at La Source despite some contact between the pair.
Calado then came under intense pressure but was able to expertly defend the lead. This was despite Christensen looking as though he might make a last ditch move into the Bus Stop chicane. But it was Ferrari that ultimately tasted the victory champagne.
The No.92 Porsche had taken the lead at the start of the race but did so after some contact with the pole clinching No.91 sister Porsche started by Gianmaria Bruni.
The Italian was forced to make a slow lap with a puncture and dropped a lap on the leading cars. Bruni and teammate Richard Lietz then fought back but were only able to finish fifth.
Rounding out the category podium were Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina in the No.52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo. Fuoco had initially held off the charging Christensen in the final hour.
Corvette Racing’s Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner took fourth placed points, but their race was compromised by getting stranded in the pits when they had the misfortune to stop just as the first of the three red flags was deployed.
Home Joy for WRT in LMP2
The local WRT team swept to a brilliant home victory as Rene Rast, Sean Gelael and Robin Frijns claimed a highly popular LMP2 victory.
Frijns even led the race overall in the mid-portion of the race as he pulled away from eventual winner Mike Conway in a sensational display of wet weather driving.
It was WRT’s fourth victory since it entered the WEC a year ago and ensured that Frijns, Rast and Gelael head the points standings heading into Le Mans next month.
The Ferdinand Habsburg, Rui Andrade and Norman Nato crewed Realteam by WRT Oreca-Gibson ensured it was a perfect day for the Vincent Vosse led squad, while the No.38 JOTA car of Will Stevens, Antonio Felix da Costa and Roberto Gonzalez took the final rung of the podium.
Several action-packed battles played out in the final hour of the race with Team Penske in the thick of the action as Felipe Nasr battled with the No.22 United Autosports USA car of Phil Hanson to wow the large crowd.
The No.83 AF Corse entry of Francois Perrodo, Alessio Rovera and Nicklas Nielsen reprised their Sebring result by taking another Pro/Am division win to add to Rovera’s achievement of sealing pole position in LMP2.
Dempsey Proton Take LMGTE Am Honours
The Harry Tincknell, Christian Reid and Sebastien Priaulx take LMGTE Am victory for the No.77 Dempsey Proton Porsche squad. It was the German teams’ first WEC win since the 2019 race at Spa.
Tincknell held off a charging TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage driven by Marco Sorensen in the final laps to become the first driver to win with three separate GT marques – Aston Martin, Ford and now Porsche.
Sorensen and his teammates Ben Keating and Henrique Chaves took second just 1.5s off Tincknell as they crossed the finish line.
Aston Martin enjoyed a strong result, as the Northwest AMR entry of Nicki Thiim, Paul Dalla Lana and David Pittard filled out the podium in third position.
The next round on the schedule of the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship is the 24 Hours of Le Mans which will take place over the weekend of the 11/12 June.
Click HERE for the provisional race results