SPA FRANCHORCHAMPS, Belgium—Toyota Gazoo Racing won their third race in a row Saturday afternoon courtesy of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez, only taking the checkered flag less than an hour after passing their sister car, driven by Sebastiian Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Rio Hirakawa.
In the battle for third in this hypercar and overall class, it came down to the battle between the AF Ferrari Corse of James Calado, who along with co-drivers Alessandro Pier Guidi and Antonio Giovinazzi, passed the Penske Porsche of Frederic Makowiecki, Dane Cameron and Michael Christensen on the final lap before the checkered flag, giving the Scuderia another podium but trailing their Japanese rivals by 33 points in the world championship.
The Toyotas did not take the lead right away at the beginning of the race, as a slight drizzle filled the start and Toyota opted for slick tyres which did not work as Conway went wide at La Source hairpin letting both Ferraris take the lead at least one hour into the race. But as luck would have it, Conway and Buemi, who started from the rear of the field, caught up with many entries that had began the race on wet tyres and both took the top two positions, battled for the rest of the race until an hour remaining when Kobayashi passed Hartley going up the hill at Eau Rouge managing to find a legal passing area to the right, which seemed like a violation of track limits. But the marshals cleared this, and the number seven took the victory. Cadillac placed one of their cars, which was driven by Alex Lynn, Earl Bamber and Richard Westbrook in fifth, with Hertz team JOTA in sixth with Antonio Felix da Costa, Will Stevens and Yifei Ye at the wheel. Next were the French Total Energies team of Mikkel Jensen, Jean-Eric Vergne and Paul di Resta in seventh, eighth Glickenhaus, with Olivier Pla, Roman Dumas and Franck Mailleux and ninth being the second Peugeot of Gustavo Menezes, Loic Duval and Nico Mueller.
The other two classes were full of excitement, in fact, more than the hypercar class. In LMP 2, the home team WRT, driven by Rui Andrade, Robert Kubica and Louis Deletraz who was driving in the final hour, passed United Autosports Tom Blomqvist, by having a quicker pit stop with minutes to go in the race. The team defeated Blomqvist and his co-drivers Josh Pierson and Olivier Jarvis by only a little more than six seconds after battling out for much of the race. Third was Inter Europol, who was led by Albert Costa, overtook the Prema entry of Andrea Calderelli in the closing stages. And along with co-drivers Fabio Scherer and Kuba Smiechowski, it gave them their first ever podium. along with Kubica, it is the first time in the WEC’s 11-year history that two drivers from Poland stood on the same podium.
Another record was broken as the Richard Mille Ferrari, driven by Alessio Rovera and Luis Perez Companc won their first race of the season over Corvette Racing’s Ben Keating, Nicholas Varrone and Nicky Catsburg by a comfortable 18 seconds. But the talk was about the third driver on the winning team, Frenchwoman Lilou Waddoux, who becomes the first woman to step on the winner’s podium in WEC history at 19 years of age. Third went to the ORT TF by Aston Martin AMR Vantage driven by Charlie Eastwood.
The race in Spa is the final tune up for the next round, which is the 24 Hours of Lemans on June 10-11, which will have more entries than any other round this season.
By Mark Gero