A comparatively short trip across the border into Belgium awaits French outfit OAK Racing next weekend (May 3-5) when the FIA World Endurance Championship pitches camp in Europe for the first time this season ahead of round two, the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
Facing up to the challenge will be OAK Racing’s regular two-car WEC roster, plus an additional LMP2 entry. Guillaume Moreau, Dominik Kraihamer and home favourite Bertrand Baguette are all hoping to build on their solid showing at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March where the #15 OAK-Pescarolo LMP1 demonstrated strong pace amongst its petrol-powered rivals.
A class podium at Sebring also made for an excellent start to the Onroak Automotive designed and built Morgan 2012 LMP2 programme, especially after the #24 car driven by Jacques Nicolet, Matthieu Lahaye and Olivier Pla had taken pole position and set fastest race lap. Spa offers the trio another opportunity to demonstrate the car’s pace starting, as they do, amongst the favourites for victory.
With the Le Mans 24 Hours now just seven weeks away, OAK Racing will also field a second Morgan 2012 LMP2 at Spa for home hero Bas Leinders and co-driver David Heinemeier Hansson in preparation for La Sarthe. Indeed, two days after the race (May 7) the line-up’s second Belgian ace, Maxime Martin, will join the pair at Spa for further testing.
Although predominantly a test session in race conditions, Leinders’ exceptional junior single-seater CV and raft of sportscar honours, not to mention Heinemeier Hansson’s two ALMS podium finishes at the wheel of the Conquest Endurance-run Morgan 2012 LMP2, ensures the #35 machine can not to be discounted either.
Sebastien Philippe, Team Manager: “We should be relatively competitive at Spa as there are quite a few fast sections where the aerodynamics, one of the LMP1’s strongest features, will play an important role. We will also enter a pair of Morgan 2012 LMP2s, which theoretically offers the team twice as many chances to succeed. Our hopes rest in particular with the #24 car thanks to its established driver line-up and the great result already achieved at Sebring. As for the #35 crew, David Heinemeier Hansson has experience of the Morgan 2012 LMP2 from contesting this season’s ALMS with Conquest Endurance. However, this will be his first outing with OAK Racing and maiden visit to Spa so of course he will need time to adapt. The opposite will be the case for Bas Leinders who has already tested with us at Bugatti Circuit and knows Spa like the back of his hand. There’s every chance they can score a podium finish but this remains primarily a test in race conditions ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours.”
Bertrand Baguette, #15 OAK-Pescarolo LMP1: “I am delighted to be returning to race at Spa in front of my home crowd as part of the World Endurance Championship. The last time was in 2009 when I contested Formula Renault 3.5. Along with my team-mates our objective is to score a strong result, especially as the car is competitive. I must admit that there will be some pressure as I do not want to disappoint the numerous home fans attending! It is an important meeting for the entire team as well as for my long-time partners the RACB and Aspria. In addition, Spa is a very particular circuit combining fast and tight sections, much like Le Mans. It therefore provides a great opportunity to prepare for the 24 Hours and gauge ourselves against the other teams.”
Olivier Pla, #24 Morgan 2012 LMP2: “Just like the 12 Hours of Sebring, the 6 Hours of Spa will be a very important race in this year’s World Endurance Championship. The car is competitive, as we have seen in the US, so our priority is to challenge for victory. That will not be easy given how strong the field is. We must also be cautious with the changeable weather conditions that are always a feature at Spa. While the event is a good chance to prepare for the Le Mans 24 Hours, come the end of the season our main objective will be the championship. It is therefore very important to take each race as it comes.”
Bas Leinders, #35 Morgan 2012 LMP2: “I got to know OAK Racing really well during the test day at Bugatti Circuit last week. I was also positively surprised by the Morgan 2012 LMP2’s behaviour and felt comfortable straight away in the car. I can’t wait to race it around the most beautiful circuit in the world! Two years ago at the 1000 kilometre race I climbed the top step of the LMGT1 class podium and hopefully we will be able to fight for the rostrum again with my team-mate David Heinemeier Hansson, even if the number one objective remains to prepare for this June’s Le Mans 24 Hours.”
Motors TV will have all six hours live across Europe from 2pm CET on Saturday 5 May with race and qualifying streaming also available on the WEC website, www.fiawec.com. Meanwhile Radio Show Ltd has live commentary from each session online at www.radiolemans.com.
6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps schedule:
Thursday 3 May
11:45 – 13:15: Free Practice 1
16:25 – 17:25: Free Practice 2
Friday 4 May
10:00 – 11:00: Free Practice 3
15:40 – 16:00: Qualifying (LMP1 & LMP2)
Saturday 5 May
10:05 – 10:25: Warm-up
14:30 – 20:30: 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps