Seven months after the last race held at the Circuit of the Americas and following the radical alterations to the calendar brought by the pandemic, the FIA WEC World Championship is back with the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. Five 488 GTEs will tackle the challenging Belgian track in the last round before the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As announced a few days ago, the 24 Hours will be held behind closed doors, just like next weekend’s race in the Ardennes.
LMGTE Pro. After claiming third place in the United States, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado will be seeking a win on a circuit that generally suits Maranello’s cars. The 2017 world champions lie second in the standings twenty-six points behind leaders Thiim-Sørensen and a win could boost their title ambitions. Last year they finished second in the 488 GTE no. 51 of AF Corse in an edition that went down in history as one of the most unpredictable in terms of weather, with snow whiting out the 7-plus km track.
Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina, in the AF Corse 488 GTE no. 71, are aiming for an important result after the second place in Bahrain and the tricky race at COTA. They both know Spa-Francorchamps very well, and indeed, it is the Italian driver’s favourite track. He won the 2016 and 2017 editions here with Sam Bird who he will rejoin for the next 24 Hours of Le Mans.
LMGTE Am. The Am class leaders, François Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Nicklas Nielsen, are in Belgium two points ahead of their closest pursuers and with 15kg of ballast due to their position in the standings. The crew of the 488 GTE no. 83 of AF Corse used the European Le Mans Series race held at Spa last weekend to prepare for this event. Perrodo and Collard, joined for the event by Harrison Newey, finished second in a race won by the Ferrari of Kessel Racing. AF Corse’s second car, no. 54 crewed by Giancarlo Fisichella, Thomas Flohr and Francesco Castellacci, followed a similar programme although the official Ferrari Competizioni GT driver didn’t take part in the race. The trio are seeking a first podium of the season, aided and abetted by not carrying ballast. The third and final Ferrari to start in the LMGTE Am class is the 488 GTE of Red River Sport with Bonamy Grimes, Johnny Mowlem and Charles Hollings at the wheel. The three Britons have closed the gap to the performances of the most experienced teams in the class and will seek further progress at Spa.
Circuit. Spa is one of the most beautiful circuits in Europe and one of the few largely unchanged ‘old generation’ tracks still in use. Indeed, the track immersed in the green of the Ardennes still has nearly all the technical characteristics of the original circuit (which was about 14 kilometres long), making it able to bring out the differences between the drivers. The fans’ pulses quicken when the cars pass by the Eau Rouge or Radillon, and nerves fray when a driver goes at full tilt (or not) into this fearsome dip. Of course, drivers don’t only set their best times courtesy of the Eau Rouge and Radillon. The central part of Spa is exciting, with its sequence of fast curves interspersed with short straights. This second stage is perhaps the most technical. After the mixed section, at the exit of the treacherous Stavelot, the drivers go back in time to the evocative straight in the Ardennes forest, the Blanchimont, which leads to the final turn, the Bus Stop. However, the Belgian circuit is also famous for its very changeable weather conditions, which often produce wet and dry stretches on a track that is almost seven kilometres long.
Programme. The FIA WEC cars will first take to the track on Thursday, with a ninety-minute free practice session starting at 4:25 pm local time, repeated on Friday morning at 9:30 am. In the afternoon, another 60-minute session offers another chance to find the best set-up for qualifying, which for LMGTE cars will be from 6 pm to 6:20 pm. The race will take place on Saturday from 1:30 pm to 7:30 pm.