6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps 2022
The iconic Spa Francorchamps set the stage for GR Racing’s first appearance of the season. Despite glorious qualifying weather, Toyota’s Jose Maria Lopez described the atrocious weather as, “like a horror movie”.
The weather was still good at the start of the race. Spa’s new gravel traps would always be punishing but were worse than expected on a crowded track. Iron dames hit the gravel on the first corner. GR Racing’s #86 spun out after being hit by Toni Vilander in the AF Corse #51. Meanwhile, LMGTE Pro Porsche GT #92 Team driver Kévin Estre locked up going into La Source and sent #91 teammate Gianmaria Bruni’s rear tyre into the air. GR Racing’s Mike Wainwright got back on track and cleared sector two as the safety car came out, but Iron Dames’ #85 car had to be lifted off the gravel.
The race resumed with GR Racing 12th in class. The #86 had to pit in due to a slow puncture. The track was declared wet just under an hour into the race as skies darkened and drops fell. Minutes later Arc Bratislava’s Miroslav Konopka span into a barrier at Stavelot. Thankfully Konopka was unharmed.
After a 25 minute delay the race restarted in dire conditions with almost zero visibility. By the end of the second hour Franck Dezoteux’s Spirit of Race #71 had spun out, Toyota’s #8 was out of the race, while up ahead the Alpine and Glickenhaus hypercars had run off the track. The race stopped again. At 27th overall, GR Racing delivered a solid performance in downright treacherous conditions.
At two-and-a-half hours in the race started again with GR Racing’s new driver Riccardo Pera behind the wheel. The team climbed to 26th overall and 3rd in GTE Am. Visibility remained atrocious, with Pera accidentally boxing in the Ferrari #52 while giving way to Nick Tandy’s #64.
Francesco Castellaci slipped off a corner and spun across the track, bringing a yellow flag down. By now AF Corse’s #54 was 2nd in GTE Am ahead of GR Racing. As conditions worsened a full course yellow dropped, giving teams a free pit stop opportunity around the 3- hour mark.
The full course yellow lifted just in time for Esteban Guitierrez’s Inter Europol #34 to lose a fight with a barrier, leading to the race’s third red flag. Even with the safety car out, conditions were diabolical. Water flowed across the track like rivers as cars barely held on.
At just over four hours into the race conditions remained treacherous but started to ease up. GR Racing reached 7th in class and 28th overall with 90 minutes left. Ben Barker kept GR Racing’s #86 on a track more suited to water skis than cars. Two full course yellows presented an opportunity for teams to change wets for slicks: The first after Sebastian Bourdais breached Vector sport #10, and the second after Simon Mann span the AF Corse #21 out onto the gravel near Les Combes. Jonathan Aberdein locked up and aquaplaned the Jota #28 into a barrier. A full course yellow followed and GR Racing took the opportunity to pit in.
Once the yellow lifted almost a full half-hour of high-intensity battles followed. Team Project 1’s #56 was over a minute ahead of GR Racing when driver Brendon Aribe sent his 6th in class Porsche into the barrier at turn 9. With Team Project 1 out of the race, GR Racing took 6th in class.
The yellow lifted in the final 10 minutes and a frantic dash to the finish line ensued. AF Corse’s Ferrari narrowly beat Porsche GT in LMGTE Pro thanks to an accidental assist from Team Jota’s LMP2 car. Dempsey Proton took a closely fought first in GTE Am, with just over two seconds separating the top 3. TF Sport and Northwest AMR came 2nd and 3rd in class. GR Racing took 26th place overall, with a respectable 6th in class finish.
Despite the stop-start racing, Spa put the Endurance in World Endurance Racing. Missing Sebring may have cost the team points, but the team showed just as much fight as ever. In a gruelling race where just staying on the track was too much for so many, GR Racing put in a solid performance under shocking conditions. All eyes are now focused on June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.