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Spa WEC: Toyota takes one-two in rain-affected race

Co-author: Jamie Klein

Toyota took advantage of torrential early rain to take a one-two finish in the Spa round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, as the #7 crew extended its points lead with a victory.

Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi scored their third win of the 2019/20 season after coming home 34 seconds ahead of the sister #8 car of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, who finished second for the fourth race in a row.

Kobayashi, Conway and Lopez overcame a penalty under the system of LMP1 success handicaps of 3.52s, nearly half a second more than the sister car. 

Rebellion Racing's polesitting R-13, which had topped every session ahead of the race, struggled in the wet and wasn't a factor on the way to a lapped third place in the hands of Bruno Senna, Gustavo Menezes and Norman Nato.

The race began under the safety car after a rain storm half an hour before the start and both Toyotas were able to accelerate past the Rebellion after Nato went wide at La Source when the race went green at the start of lap four. 

The #8 Toyota had a clear edge at this stage, Buemi storming into a lead of more than 10s ahead of Conway before an electrical glitch cost the Swiss driver half his advantage. 

Buemi stayed on wet tyres at the first round of pitstops, while Conway was given slicks a lap later. When the #8 car had to come back in after the safety car that followed immediately after their pitstops, the initiative was handed to the #7 Toyota. 

A lead of more than a minute for Kobayashi disappeared with the third safety car of the race late in the third hour. The two Toyotas exited the pits together but Hartley failed to pick up speed as the earlier electrical glitch returned and he lost 40 seconds. 

A fourth and final safety car of the race, triggered when Thomas Laurent crashed heavily at Blanchimont in the #36 Signatech Alpine LMP2 car late in the penultimate hour, closed the two Toyotas up again. 

The gap between Lopez and Nakajima that had stood at 35s had come down to 3.8s when the race went green. Nakajima reduced that gap to just over a second before the two cars pitted at the same time with just under 40 minutes to go, at which point the positions were frozen per Toyota's usual rules of engagement. 

The gap was approximately 10s when Buemi bought the #8 car in for a splash-and-dash fuel stop two laps before the chequered flag. 

The Rebellion struggled over the course of a race that was wet for much of the first four hours.  Nato dropped behind the ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01 a couple of laps after the race went green as he struggled on his first set of Michelin wets. 

Nato was the first of the LMP1 field to stop, switching to a new set of wets on lap 16, which turned out to be the wrong call. He was back in the pits for slicks shortly before the safety car returned to the track, which put him behind the LMP2 class leaders. 

The Rebellion was a full lap down by the time the conditions finally improved and was never able to get back on terms with the Toyotas.

The returning ByKolles entry shared by Tom Dillmann, Bruno Spengler and Oliver Webb ran third behind the Toyotas early on until slowing with electrical gremlins. A trip to the garage to fix an engine sensor in the the final hour dropped the car to the back of the field. 

LMP2: United Autosports wins again

United Autosports took a third straight victory in LMP2 with Paul di Resta, Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque in the #22 Oreca.

The Racing Team Nederland Oreca that led for much of the first half of the race finished third behind the Cool Racing Oreca once bronze-rated Frits van Eerd took over from his faster teammates Giedo van der Garde and Job van Uitert.

Van Eerd played a role in triggering Laurent's big crash at Blanchimont while the pair were battling over second in class, as the Dutch driver moved across on the Signatech car as both were trying to navigate the GTE Am class Red River Sport Ferrari.

Signatech's demise helped Nicolas Lapierre move up to second in the Cool Racing car he shares with Antonin Borga and Alexandre Coigny.

JOTA Sport's two Goodyear-shod cars had a race to forget, with the #38 car ending up fourth after appearing to struggle early on in the wet conditions and the sister #37 car losing eight laps with an early brake balance issue.

GTE: Porsche's reigning champions get first win of the season

Porsche pair Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen took their first win of the 2019/20 season after coming out on top five seconds ahead of the best of the Aston Martins.

The occupants of the #92 Porsche 911 RSR-19, who were reinstated on pole having initially been sent to the back of the grid, benefitted from a well-timed change to slick tyres before spending the latter part of the race battling both Aston crews.

Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn led in the #97 Vantage GTE into the final stint by virtue of not stopping during the final safety car period, but a brief off and a late splash for fuel dropped them to third behind the points-leading #95 car of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen.

Thiim and Sorensen had dropped to the rear of the field with a puncture in the second hour but the subsequent safety car period allowed them to get back in the fight.

Ferrari's pair of works 488 GTEs had starred when conditions were at their worst but dropped back when the track dried out. James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi ended up as the Italian marque's best finishers in fourth place in the #51 car, closely followed by the #91 Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz.

GTE Am honours went to the AF Corse Ferrari shared by Nicklas Nielsen, Francois Perrodo and Emmanuel Collard just ahead of the best of the Dempsey-Proton Porsches, the #77 car of Christian Ried, Riccardo Pera and Matt Campbell.

Race results:

Cla # Drivers Car Class Laps Gap
1 7 United Kingdom Mike Conway
Japan Kamui Kobayashi
Argentina Jose Maria Lopez
Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1 143
2 8 Switzerland Sébastien Buemi
Japan Kazuki Nakajima
New Zealand Brendon Hartley
Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1 143 34.170
3 1 Brazil Bruno Senna
United States Gustavo Menezes
France Norman Nato
Rebellion R13 LMP1 142 1 Lap
4 22 United Kingdom Philip Hanson
Portugal Filipe Albuquerque
United Kingdom Paul di Resta
Oreca 07 LMP2 140 3 Laps
5 42 France Nicolas Lapierre
Switzerland Antonin Borga
Switzerland Alexandre Coigny
Oreca 07 LMP2 139 4 Laps
6 29 Netherlands Frits van Eerd
Netherlands Giedo van der Garde
Netherlands Job Van Uitert
Oreca 07 LMP2 139 4 Laps
7 38 Mexico Roberto Gonzalez
Portugal Antonio Felix da Costa
United Kingdom Anthony Davidson
Oreca 07 LMP2 139 4 Laps
8 33 United States Mark Patterson
Japan Kenta Yamashita
Denmark Anders Fjordbach
Oreca 07 LMP2 138 5 Laps
9 47 Italy Roberto Lacorte
Italy Andrea Belicchi
Italy Giorgio Sernagiotto
Dallara P217 LMP2 137 6 Laps
10 92 Denmark Michael Christensen
France Kevin Estre
Porsche 911 RSR - 19 LMGTE PRO 135 8 Laps
11 95 Denmark Marco Sorensen
Denmark Nicki Thiim
Aston Martin Vantage AMR LMGTE PRO 135 8 Laps
12 97 United Kingdom Alex Lynn
Belgium Maxime Martin
Aston Martin Vantage AMR LMGTE PRO 135 8 Laps
13 51 United Kingdom James Calado
Italy Alessandro Pier Guidi
Ferrari 488 GTE EVO LMGTE PRO 135 8 Laps
14 91 Italy Gianmaria Bruni
Austria Richard Lietz
Porsche 911 RSR - 19 LMGTE PRO 135 8 Laps
15 71 Italy Davide Rigon
Spain Miguel Molina
Ferrari 488 GTE EVO LMGTE PRO 135 8 Laps
16 83 France François Perrodo
France Emmanuel Collard
Denmark Nicklas Nielsen
Ferrari 488 GTE EVO LMGTE AM 134 9 Laps
17 77 Germany Christian Ried
Italy Riccardo Pera
Australia Matt Campbell
Porsche 911 RSR LMGTE AM 134 9 Laps
18 90 Turkey Salih Yoluc
Ireland Charles Eastwood
United Kingdom Jonathan Adam
Aston Martin Vantage AMR LMGTE AM 134 9 Laps
19 56 Norway Egidio Perfetti
Germany Laurents Hörr
Italy Matteo Cairoli
Porsche 911 RSR LMGTE AM 133 10 Laps
20 88 Italy Gianluca Giraudi
Mexico Ricardo Sanchez
Switzerland Lucas Legeret
Porsche 911 RSR LMGTE AM 133 10 Laps
21 57 United States Ben Keating
Brazil Felipe Fraga
Netherlands Jeroen Bleekemolen
Porsche 911 RSR LMGTE AM 133 10 Laps
22 54 Switzerland Thomas Flohr
Italy Francesco Castellacci
Italy Giancarlo Fisichella
Ferrari 488 GTE EVO LMGTE AM 133 10 Laps
23 62 United Kingdom Bonamy Grimes
United Kingdom Johnny Mowlem
United Kingdom Charles Hollings
Ferrari 488 GTE EVO LMGTE AM 132 11 Laps
24 37 China Ho-Pin Tung
Ireland Ryan Cullen
United Kingdom Will Stevens
Oreca 07 LMP2 132 11 Laps
25 98 Canada Paul Dalla Lana
Brazil Augusto Farfus
United Kingdom Ross Gunn
Aston Martin Vantage AMR LMGTE AM 131 12 Laps
26 86 United Kingdom Michael Wainwright
United Kingdom Andrew Watson
United Kingdom Benjamin Barker
Porsche 911 RSR LMGTE AM 130 13 Laps
27 4 France Tom Dillmann
Canada Bruno Spengler
United Kingdom Oliver Webb
ENSO CLM P1/01 LMP1 126 17 Laps
28 35 Japan Nobuya Yamanaka
Australia Nick Foster Jr.
Spain Roberto Merhi
Ligier JSP 217 LMP2 122 21 Laps
36 France Thomas Laurent
Brazil Andre Negrao
France Pierre Ragues
Alpine A470 LMP2 106 37 Laps
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About this article

Series WEC
Event Spa-Francorchamps
Author Gary Watkins