After a break of 174 days (can you tell we were counting?), last Saturday it was time for the FIA World Endurance Championship to go back to racing. And it did so in an unmistakable thriller of a race and under the pouring rain. The absence of spectators did create a haunted atmosphere around the empty paddock, but that did not take away from the spectacular track action we’ve come to love from the FIA WEC.
Strict rules never stopped fierce racing
Staging an international race while a global pandemic is still raging throughout the world is a daunting challenge at best, but with strict rules and precautions, the FIA WEC managed to return to form albeit with fans watching the race at home instead of in the grandstands. For teams and press strict rules were in place and each team basically lived in its own bubble with no access to anything else other than their own truck, garage and hospitality. Even before practice a scare ran up and down the paddock as Algarve Pro driver Gabriel Aubrey tested positive for Covid-19. This subsequently initiated the championship’s Covid protocols, applying contact tracing and putting the entire Algarve Pro racing team in quarantine in their hotel, as well as a few other members of the paddock they were in contact with.
Immediate and strong track action
When the track action finally resumed the FIA WEC returned to immediately strong form. Both practice sessions and qualifying were run under bright and sunny Spa skies, which played into the hands of the Rebellion racing team, who promptly parked their none-hybrid LMP1 on pole position. United Autosports repeated its success of the ELMS race, when they started from pole and consequently won as Phil Hanson put the Oreca 07 on pole by a whopping 1.5 seconds. Racing Team Nederland struggled during qualifying. While they were definitely not behind on pace, the team struggled with the stewards’ decision of stripping them of their lap times because of abuse of track limits, which subsequently sent them to the back of not only the LMP2 field but the back of the entire grid.
Raining cats and dogs…
Come race day, the conditions drastically changed and, an hour before the race, the heavens opened, and it started pouring down. As the heavy rain didn’t cease before the green flag, the first WEC race since Austin, now almost six months ago, started under safety car conditions. This lasted for four laps before the field was set loose. The conditions played to the advantage of the four-wheel-drive Hybrid Toyotas, which left the Rebellion cars behind as if they were standing still.
A dramatic comeback in dodgy wet conditions
In LMP2, there was a dramatic comeback from the Racing Team Nederland team with Giedo van der Garde leading the charge. The Dutch ex-F1 driver went from the back of the grid to taking the class lead from United Autosports in less than two hours. As for the pole sitter, United Autosports, it played the long game and took advantage of the dodgy wet conditions to retake the lead in class, repeating its success from last week’s ELMS race to fortify its championship leading position.