Spa
Credit: FIA WEC / Joao Filipe

After a near six-month gap, the World Endurance Championship returns to racing at the historic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for Round 6 of the Season 8 calendar.

The WEC last raced at the Circuit of the Americas for the six-hour Lone Star Le Mans race which was led and won unchallenged by the #1 Rebellion Racing crew.

The championship was set to go to the Sebring International Raceway for the ‘Super Sebring’ weekend where WEC’s 1000 Miles of Sebring would collaborate with IMSA’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 circumstances at the time meant that it would pose health risks to any attendees, as then confirmed with President Trump’s travel ban. The WEC intends to return to Sebring in 2021 for Season 9.

With the 6 Hours of Spa and 24 Hours of Le Mans deferred, both running behind closed-doors, a 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual race was held on June 13-14.

During the off-time, the WEC calendar faced major adjustments as Spa and Le Mans was to take place during late Summer/early Autumn, with an 8 Hours of Bahrain in November to conclude Season 8.

Season 9 of the WEC will now run an annual calendar, rather than the expected beginning in September as the Season 8 adjustment have changed that to March 2021.

At the latest, this piece explores a sneak-peak of what could come for the WEC’s return with a 31-car field.

Speaking of the weather…

Many WEC fans will think back to the dramatic turn of weather conditions during the course of the six-hour race in 2019.

A combination of sunshine into rain, which then transitioned into snow and a temporary blizzard, then back into sleet conditions only for the race to end on a light shower.

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In what was the second 6 Hours of Spa race of the ‘Super-Season’, the conditions played havoc on strategy as cars struggled to stay on the track.

There were others, like the majority of the GTE field, who played the waiting game as they clung onto the rapidly-disappearing grip on their slick compound tyres in pursuit to gain an advantage on their competitors.

The race itself could see a minor chance of thundery showers, as could qualifying on the day before on August 14, but will certainly not present the drastic conditions of last year’s race.

A number of WEC debuts…

Heading into this weekend, the Eurasia Motorsport team and Bruno Spengler in the #4 ByKolles Racing LMP1 will debut in the championship.

In a class of 10 LMP2s, the Eurasia Motorsport will debut amongst fierce competitors like JOTA Sport, Racing Team Nederland, and United Autosports; the latter team has two consecutive WEC wins to their name from Bahrain and COTA so lead in the LMP2 standings.

Having just won ELMS’ 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on the previous weekend, United Autosports will be hungry for another victory in their WEC entry.

Their #35 Ligier JSP217 will be driven by Nobuya Namanaka, Nick Foster, and Roberto Merhi.

Foster, who drove in the 2017 WEC season for Gulf Racing in GTE-Am, came as a recent replacement for Daniel Gaunt due to travel difficulty circumstances.

Foster also competed in the 2019/20 ALMS for the team and will be keen to return to Spa and work alongside his co-drivers.

“To be re-joining the team that first put me in the prototype and in which helped me to my first P2 podium is special,” he said on the announcement.

Merhi will be returning to the WEC as the other two drivers look forward to their debut, having driven in ALMS outings for the New Zealand team.

Yamanaka has raced for the team for the previous two seasons of the ALMS in both in their LMP3 and LMP2 cars, whilst Gaunt had built his own affinity with the team.

The team have made a name in the Asian Le Mans Series, having obtained three podiums and a pole position so far in the 2020/21 ALMS season.

Mark Goddard, Team Principal at Eurasia Motorsport, stated his thoughts at the announcement: “We’re really looking forward joining the WEC grid and to the race in its own right, but also to help us prepare for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”

On the announcement of Merhi’s Spa and Le Mans participation, Goddard said: “He was very quick in Asia, an environment that was quite new to him and showed his quality with pole position in Shanghai and on top of that he was a really nice guy to have around the team, so will be a good asset to help Nobuya and Dan get to grips with the car and track which will be new to them.”

Eurasia Motorsport are preparing to tackle Spa for the first time in LMP2 machinery, and are amongst a number of new entrants to look out for during this race, as endurance stars Algarve Pro Racing are also set for a WEC debut in their #25 Oreca 07-Gibson.

After Spa, the team will tackle Le Mans yet again which has recently been announced that it will run behind closed-doors.

Bruno Spengler was announced as the third driver in ByKolles’ line-up recently, having took part in a three-day test at Circuit Paul Ricard, ahead of his WEC debut at Spa.

The LMP1 squad will be keen to establish and practice for the Le Mans 24 as Spa will allow them to set their pace amongst their competitors, allowing Spengler to gain experience in the leading category in the multi-class race, and testing their low-downforce aerodynamic package.

In the past five Spa races, the team has held an 80% finishing/success rate to finish in four of those outings; finishing P4 in 2018 was their best outcome to-date.

As ByKolles have not entered a full entry into the WEC and only the Spa and Le Mans races, they will be using their one and focal package.

The Canadian has built a wealth of experience in sports-car endurance racing, having competed in an array of races like the several Daytona 24 participations.

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Whilst he stands as a WEC and Le Mans rookie, he will be keen to take advantage of Toyota’s success handicap woes and will want to match the pace of the #1 Rebellion.

The fight of the manufacturers in LM-GTE Pro

To shine some light on the GTE Pro class, it would not go amiss to mention the competition between Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche, as well as in the Am class.

The #95 Aston Martin of Marco Sørensen and Nicki Thiim were on a streak of two race wins from Bahrain and COTA, thus establishing a commanding lead of 109 points in the GT WEC Drivers’ Standings over the 83 points of the #51 AF Corse.

The duo of Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado sit only one point ahead of the #92 Porsche of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen.

The GTE-AM category poses more of a competition with 11 entries, with Aston Martin and AF Corse amongst the privateer teams.

The #83 AF Corse driver crew lead the GT Am endurance trophy with 83 points, having been closed up by the #90 TF Sport’s Aston Martin with a win at COTA; two points separate the two cars in the standings.

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The GTE classes will certainly be the ones to watch for close, wheel-to-wheel racing.

Whilst there may be only 31 entries, which was less than the ELMS’ field of 41 competitors at its four-hour race, the WEC’s return will be refreshing.

After six months, WEC’s multi-class mashup will spring back the action of Le Mans racers, with the added bonus of veteran drivers and rookie teams establishing their equal hunger for a win at Spa-Francorchamps.

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