It seems only a few days ago I was packing up and leaving the Silverstone media centre after witnessing a superb opening race to the WEC 2015 season. If this race was anything to go by, there is a very strong case for WEC to be the premier international motor sport series.
What other championship offers the pinnacle of engineering and innovation, close racing, fair racing and a contest that holds your attention from start to finish with battles going on all the way down the field throughout all the classes?
Now I’m starting to prepare my kit and pack for the Spa 6 Hours. More motorways, ferries and hotels. This time it’s just a hop across the Channel and a journey back in time to the Belgian Ardennes countryside, with towns bearing the delicious names of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot, which gave birth to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. The beautiful circuit that we affectionately call Spa.
The big question for me though is, will the Spa 6 Hours be the second round of the 2015 WEC season, or is it going to be a dress rehearsal for Le Mans. The safe answer is a bit of both really. Audi and Porsche will field three cars each, routine fayre for Audi, but another level of complication for Porsche. Toyota will do what it’s good at, just quietly getting on with things and playing the long game. Additional LMP2 cars will appear in preparation for La Sarthe and more distractions will challenge those fighting for the championship.
The opener at Silverstone in 2014 proved to be disastrous for Audi when two of its cars were both out early due to worrying accidents. This left the door wide open for Toyota to storm to victory taking both first and second places, and Porsche claiming third in its first race. Eager to avoid a repeat, this year Audi was the quiet one, as very little fanfare surrounded their pre-race efforts. Porsche on the other hand took pole and second place on the grid.
The two Porsches held station with their 1-2 formation for around 90 minutes of the race, looking most impressive, but the Audis were never far behind. A thrilling hour-long duel between the Porsche of Jani and the Audi of Fässler ensued as the lead swung back and forth repeatedly. At the end of six hours, Audi’s persistence paid off and despite a stop/go penalty for a most un-Audi like pit lane infringement, they could still mount the top step of the podium. In fact the finish was a close-run affair, with Porsche just five seconds behind the Audi and Toyota a further ten seconds back.
To be able to see all three top contenders flash past the start/finish line in quick succession required triple neck-snapping action, giving the spectators real value for money.
While the attention is understandably focussed on the LMP1 cars, the competition is no less fierce in the GTE ranks. At Silverstone Ferrari got the better of the Porsche RSR taking the Pro laurels by just ten seconds, while in the Am stakes the lead Aston Martin was followed home by two Ferraris.
Is Spa a fitting dress rehearsal for the 24 Heures du Mans? Those of you with grease under your fingernails and an understanding of hybrids, flywheels and batteries are better placed to have an opinion. I’m just looking forward to a great race around an iconic circuit.
But what can you say about Spa? Spa is unique, Spa is special, Spa is firmly rooted in history, born in the time of simple mechanics and engineering, of open cockpits and scant regard to safety. How will Spa welcome the latest engineering and space age technology this year? I’m sure the circuit will show respect, but it will not be intimidated by fancy technology and hot shoes eager to impress the boardroom of international manufacturers and sponsors. All the drivers say that Spa is their favourite track, and so that should make for an interesting race apart from anything else.
So who will take Eau Rouge flat out, carry speed into the Kemmel Straight and be the last to brake for Les Combes? And that’s before the lap gets interesting. Last year Anthony Davison, Sebastien Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre powered the TS040 to victory covering 171 laps. How many laps will be needed to decide the victor this year?
The final question on everyone’s mind is, will it rain? Just like at Le Mans, it always rains at Spa, and that will make things interesting. As if they weren’t already.