The Endurance fans, who met in 25000 at the circuit of Spa-Francorchamps to see the most expected heat including the ones that are part of Le Mans Series 2010 calendar, will have something very particular to tell the posterity: not about the challenge among Peugeot and Audi, won by the lions of France without many difficulties, not about the numerous flags shown to signal accidents that on this mythic circuit are no longer waited for, and not even the historic podium of the GT1 gained by the crew made by Cyndie Allemann and Rahel Frey, on that occasion with Yan Zimmer running alongside them, but something about the electric blackout which has made it necessary to interrupt the race for more than half an hour in waiting for the damage being repaired. Then it's of little importance that the problem was caused by the electric station of the district which cut off the supply of current to all Spa area: the detractors of the organization seized the opportunity to blame the circuit management, favoured by the fact that the auxiliary generator unit didn't work owing to a problem in the electric control panel. To side openly against it there was Bas Leiders who, in his interview at the end of the race, pointed out that in a so highly expensive circuit they couldn't always complain about something that didn't work well. If we add that the marshals of the pit lane made a gross mistake by leaving the red light on too long at the restart, penalizing those who were so unlucky to find themselves in the pit lane just at the moment of the race interruption, it's easy to understand how damaging this episode was, once more, for the image of a wonderful circuit whose future has been rather nebulous for years. It's a pity if we consider the attention called on the eve of the race, to that event, with three Peugeots and three Audis lined up officially, besides the 908HDI of the Oreca team and other 43 cars among prototypes and GT cars.
Even the changeable weather didn't make easy the task of teams on that track: on Friday the first session was accompanied by the rain which obliged the teams to choose wet tyres at first and later to pass to the intermediate ones at the mid-session. In the afternoon the conditions were improving, allowing to have tests on a dry track, even if temperatures remained particularly low, permitting Pagenaud to run at 1:59:826, improving over one second the time which made him win Pole Position last year. The session was interrupted twice, first to remove, from the Rivage corner, the Saleen of Larbre stopped by a puncture, later on to remove the FLM driven by Luca Moro, who got into the barriers of the Eau Rouge.
The last session of free tests, which took place on Saturday morning in a tepid sun, confirmed the performance of Peugeot with Sarrazin who improved his previous day's performance of about 4 tenths and with Audi cars, remained far off in the first days, rather closed in their time notwithstanding they had chosen an unloaded upset to be ready for Le Mans. Still a "solo" performance of the Acura, among the P2s, escorted on such occasion by the Lola RML powered Honda, while among the seven GT1s, the Ford GT were the leaders, from time to time only worried by the Aston Martin DBR9. In GT2 there was open war between Ferrari and Porsche, with the Aston Martin of Turner which was faster in the first day.
First part of the qualifying session was devoted to GTs, with situations diametrically opposed: while among GT2s the favoured cars were already known, among GT1s there was a state of uncertainty after the category absence from the "8 heures du Castellet": the only indications were given by free practices and pre-championship tests and they didn't seem to assure the result.
The fastest GT2s were soon on track, with Melo in Ferrari AF who recorded the best time in 2:20:336 and Lieb the only driver who managed to stop a chronometer practically with a time alike (2:20:416). All the others set times rather alike but far from the first two drivers, thanks too to the interruption of the session six minutes before the end, due to the disastrous off-track of Frey driver in her Ford GT on the chicane of Fagnes. At the end the third place was gained by Kaffer, the ever fast driver, the only other one to ran under 2:21, while for the first time in the first positions we could see BMW, enter two cars all over the weekend, with Werner seventh. On the contrary Giancarlo Fisichella was bitterly disappointed because he was relegated to the 13th position owing to the red flag shown just while he was recording his fast lap. Among GT1 cars the free tests expectations were respected, with Ford GT cars widely faster than the rivals' ones, above all with Bas Leiders, home favourite, able to stop chronometers at 2:17:316, followed by Mutsch with 1 second more and Jusse in his Corvette with 2 full seconds. It was a pity for the female crew at the wheel of the third Ford GT that, owing to the above-mentioned off-track, had only to be content with the second-last time in that class.
The second part of the qualifying session, devoted to prototypes, took place without big problems, favouring the mere performance. Audi and Peugeot shared the stage, with the German cars immediately on track looking for a useful time on a relatively free track, while the French lions, the Oreca car included, appeared only in the second mid-session: only Bourdais opted for the timing chosen by the Germans, which probably turned up to be correct. The former drive of F1, as well as the Champcar champion, had already made Pole Position since the first lap, with a stratospheric time of 1:57:884, followed by an excellent Bernhard in Audi at six tenths. The other pretenders to success had suffered interesting gaps, over than 1 second and a half; Sarrazin, Lapierre, Lotterer, Kristensen and Wurz were classified in that order. The Danish driver of Audi, who finally came back to the track, was protagonist of a misunderstanding with Watts on the Source, when the English driver closed the door being slightly collided on the rear side and his car spun right round, however, he soon managed to restart.
It was just Watts who easily set the best time of 2:03:135 among the P2s, with more than 2 seconds' lead over the Lola driven by Erdos and 4 seconds over the Pescarolo Oak of Lahaye, while Pla had difficulty in placing his Ginetta fourth.
Finally among the FLM cars there was the Verdonck best performance in the Hope Polevision (2:13:743), followed by Boutsen Energy with about half a second .
Sunday seemed a day of good omen in comparison with the one on the previous two days, with a sunshine that brought temperatures to typical standards of the season. While spectators were enjoying this spring flash, in the pits the doubts were increasing as minutes went by: weather forecast told about a general bad weather all over the race and unfortunately the forecast was right. Who had no time to be worried about rain was the Strakka team, working to repair the Arcura rear axle, damaged by Leventis during the warm-up, owing to an off-track at Les Combes: Kane, the driver selected for the start, will manage to leave the pits only two laps after the start.
When the cars left the line-up for the formation lap, the first raindrops started to get the circuit wet, with the result of causing not few problems to the drivers who found themselves with dried tyres and what's more a cold ones; it was Lotterer who went out in worst conditions, at Les Combes had an about-face damaging the car rear side against the protections: the German driver managed to go back to pit stop where it took eight laps for the technicians to allow the crew to continue the race. Also Penis lost the control of his Peugeot on the straight after the Bruxelles, but he succeed in avoiding the protections regaining his position. At the start Lamy forced the braking of the Source to defend himself from Bernhard but his car spun right round and he found himself at the eighth place among two Rebellions, while the leading was taken by the Peugeot driven by Montagny, followed by the car of Panis, the two Audi cars of Bernhard and McNish, the Aston Martin Signature and Gené. The two fighting Audi cars cut the Raidillon and went out of it in a reversed position, with Aston Martin and Peugeot stuck to the exhaust pipes: the Spanish driver took advantage of it and at Les Combes ran after McNish. Meanwhile, behind them Francioni bumped with one of the two cars Lola Racing Box against the barriers of Raidillon, requiring the Safety car entry.
At the restart Panis had a moment's hesitation and was passed by McNish and Gené that exchanged their position: the French driver was also attacked by Bouillon after the Source, but he managed to hold his position up to the Eau Rouge, when the rival collided with him on the car side causing his car spun right round and ending against Raidillon protections. As for Oreca the race was finished there! Behind the two Peugeots the fight went on between McNish and the two Rebellions, with Bouillon who managed for a moment to get the better of the Scottish driver. Meantime, Lamy recovered after the mistake made on his starting and passed the Rebellions, he also managed to overtake the Audi at the Bus Stop, driving the three Peugeots to the first three places, with Montagny who claimed more than thirty seconds from McNish. However, the track was going to be dried and the performances of the two first ladies of the event were getting more and more alike. On lap 18 an unexpected turn of events could have changed the race: Ebbesvitk, recovered at the wheel of the Zytek, after starting from the lining-up bottom due to the engine failure in the qualifying tests, alongside the Aston Martin Vantage of Turner at the braking of the Bus Stop, was bumped on side and the car crashed against protections. There was a great fear for the driver who couldn't get out of the prototype, it was required the entry of the Safety car and marshals' intervention. The driver was immediately sent to the hospital of Verviers where they diagnosed a vertebra fracture. The neutralization of the race favoured the Audi strategy made McNish enter immediately, while Peugeots cars were left on track; on lap 25, when the race has been restarting from only four laps, the Scottish driver had only 35 seconds' lead from the top, which turned up to 51 seconds' lead over when all the other P1s, after few laps, had to go to pit stop for first refuel.
The race lived a period of peace for almost an hour, a period in which all the best drivers made a second pit stop which also involved the first change of driver, but after little longer than two hours from the start, here arrived the above-mentioned blackout that forced the race managers to interrupt the race, by stopping the cars on the starting straight in conditions of "closed park". The unusual event saved the race of Montagny, who had shortly before damaged a suspension in a collision with the Lola KSM, managing, however, to go back to the pits, where technicians set to work immediately. When after more than half an hour the race restarted with a good fight between Capello and Bourdais, with the French driver who will pass on the finishing line, will be overtaken on Les Combes and will definitively gain the leadership at Fagnes.
If the fight for the leadership finished there, the struggle for the second place was enlivened at the end thanks to a new shower. Kristensen played his cards for the intermediate tyres while Peugeot cars remained with dried tyres by taking advantage when it stopped raining: with the Audi by then in difficulty, Sarrazin was able to cancel one minute's lead in few laps stealing the Danish driver's second place at only two laps from the end with an overtaking on the finishing line, while the third 908HDI had to be content with the fourth place after a spurt on the Rivage bend just at the moment in which it started raining.
In P2 there was a perfect race from Quifel, with Pla who managed to take a good lead over the rivals that Amaral succeeded in keeping, all that thanks to a problem met by the Lola RML that took the lead for a long time and later on finished second. Third and fourth places were scored by Pescarolo Oak cars, driven by Moreau-Hein and Lahaye-Nicolet respectively. On the contrary, the unsuccessful weekend went on for the Strakka which, after recovering with a good number of fast laps up to the fifth place, suffered from a new off-track with Leventis, this time due to a driving problem.
In GT1 there was the dominium of Ford with Leiders-Palttala-DeDocker crew, "escorted" on podium by the other two crews of the same car make, who were favoured in the last two laps by a problem met by the Saleen of Larbre that finished fourth.
In GT2 there was a lonely race for the Porsche driven by Lieb-Lietz, with a good fight of few laps from the finish between Fisichella, Melo in Ferrari AF and BMW with Muller, with the Brazilian who was ahead of the Italian by only 765 thousands and the German by 1:482.
Finally, let's have a look at Le Mans Formulae, with the Boutsen team defeated at home by the Hope Polevision driven by Zacchia, Kaufmann and Moro.
Next Le Mans Series meeting will take place on July 15-16-17 at Portimao, obviously in company of Connectingrod.