172 days of inaction in the WEC. No lap records, no exertion, no chequered flag. Coronavirus had reduced global sport to private gyms and forest tracks, and then this happened: a restart-finish victory for the 911 RSR of the reigning GTE Pro world champions, Kévin Estre and Michael Christensen at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. A highly successful dress rehearsal for Le Mans and for the entire Porsche team.
A turbulent restart-finish victory during Le Mans dress rehearsal.
Fourth pole position of the season forfeited?
Yes and no.
Under ideal qualifying conditions in the Ardennes, Michael Christensen initially catapulted the 911 RSR with start number 92 to pole position in 2:14.223. And yet, this initial race became an emotional roller coaster, because although Kévin Estre shaved 0.032 seconds off Christensen’s lap time, race officials had used video analysis to decide that Estre had driven with all four wheels outside the route marking on his fastest lap, meaning that the #92 had to compete from the back of the field. On Saturday, however, the stewards overturned the race officials’ decision and Christensen/Estre were back where they belonged: in pole position.
In their sister car with start number 91, their works driver colleagues, Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz, achieved third place in qualifying for this year’s even more fiercely competitive GTE Pro class.
The race is on: rain against sun
Just before the start of the Le Mans dress rehearsal, the circuit was inundated with such heavy rain that it was impossible to start the race, even behind the safety car.
When the race finally got underway as the rain eased and the safety car had left the track, the two Porsche 911 RSRs were initially unable to find their grip. It took a while for the situation to improve, as the track began to dry out. But those who were starting to enjoy this section of the race, were soon disappointed by renewed heavy rain and a second safety-car phase. The two GT race cars from Weissach fell back a second time. It was only with the return of the sun in the second half of the race that the strengths of the RSR came into their own. Steady, rapid stints and clever team tactics allowed Christensen and Estre to pass Ferrari and Aston Martin and retake the lead. In the end, Bruni and Lietz had to be satisfied with fifth place.
This victory enabled Porsche to again close the gap between the leaders in the overall ranking, now lying in second place as are Christensen and Estre in the drivers’ championship.
The GTE Am class also saw fierce competition
The Dempsey Proton customer team is celebrating its first podium position of the current season. Following an incredible qualifying round, when works driver, Matt Campbell, took pole position with 2:15.300, the team ultimately had to be satisfied with second place. Although Campbell used the full potential of the 2017 version of the 911 RSR in the final stage of the race, he was 2.898 seconds off securing the first victory of the season.