A penalty ruins Bruni and Vilander’s race but two GTE-Am podium positions sweeten the pill.
Spa-Francorchamps, 2 May – Despite hopes that the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps would prove an exhilarating Saturday for the Ferraris in the GTE-Pro class, it turned out to be an extremely frustrating day as a series of external factors impacted severely on the performances of both cars and drivers alike.
Davide Rigon and James Calado in the no. 71 Ferrari were involved in a mid-race collision, while “Gimmi” Bruni and Toni Vilander’s no. 51 paid dearly for a pit-stop problem that turned into a disastrous penalty that sent the reigning world champions to fourth place in the final standings.
The second and third position finishes delivered by Ferraris in the GTE-Am class may not fully compensate for the disappointment but still attest to the superb competitiveness of the cars and their drivers.
The start showcased just how fast the Aston Martins are. No. 99 and no. 97 set the pace initially but Bruni, at the wheel of AF Corse’s no. 51 Ferrari, was well able to keep up. He was faster in the mixed but was unable to attack on the straight because of the British cars’ top speeds. Rigon was grappling with the same conundrum not far behind, finding himself stuck in fifth position studying the rear end of the no. 95 Aston Martin. The first half of the race unfolded without any major upsets – the only real surprise was that the no. 97 Aston Martin adopted a different strategy to the rest of the cars and pitted earlier.
Unfortunately, a crash put paid to the well-laid plans of one half the AF Corse garage. Three hours and 11 minutes from the end of the race, Rigon, who had taken over the car from a brilliant Calado, was just about to lap a Porsche. The Italian driver attempted his attack at the Bus Stop chicane, but the Porsche closed the door, spun and then sent Davide’s car into a spin too. Bruni arrived at the scene of the accident a little later and had to slow to avoid the cars now at a standstill on the track. Rigon got back in the race but in doing so forced a prototype off the track and got a 5-second stop&go penalty for his trouble. He also pitted for a tyre change. At that point, however, his race was severely compromised and the car finished seventh in the end.
The last two hours were thrilling: Vilander turned in a very solid drive that left the gap between him and the two lead cars unchanged. Then Bruni took over and really upped the speed ante which initially saw him dispense with no. 97 (Turner-Mucke-Bell) before getting right up behind no. 99 (MacDowall-Stanaway- Rees).
Before the English car pitted, Bruni had managed to pass MacDowall in a wonderfully elegant, confident manoeuvre. But when his turn came to pit, he ended up losing his position. Unfortunately, that was far from all he lost in the pits as the mechanics failed to check one of his tyres and the marshals deemed this a safety irregularity.
Bruni rejoined the race in second 11” from no. 99, now in the hands of Fernando Rees, but just a short while later the incident in the pits was under investigation. The no. 51 Ferrari bridged the gap with Rees getting on his tail just as the very severe 1-minute stop&go penalty was announced. Bruni passed the Aston Martin but had to stop shortly afterward to complete his penalty and was fourth across the line in the end behind Rees and the two Porsches of Lietz-Makowiecki and Muller-Estre.
The three Ferraris racing in the GTE-Am class acquitted themselves very honourably indeed. Dalla Lana-Lamy-Lauda in the no. 98 Aston Martin won the race, repeating their Silverstone victory. However, just as happened in England, the other two steps on the podium were taken by the no. 83 AF Corse Ferrari driven by Rui Aguas, François Perrodo and Emmanuel Collard, and SMP’s no. 72 Ferrari fielded by Andrea Bertolini, Alexey Basov and Viktor Shaytar. The third Ferrari, Matt Griffin, Duncan Cameron and Alexander Mortimer’s no. 55, was seventh. The next round of the WEC is the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans which takes place on June 13 and 14.