After a 172-day break, the FIA World Endurance Championship returns Thursday at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
The iconic Belgian track will host the sixth of eight rounds of the 2019-2020 season on the revamped calendar.
Still in the mix in the title race, the Signatech Alpine Elf team will battle hard to defend its crown.
The FIA World Endurance Championship, which has been on pause since the chequered flag flew in Austin at the end of February, returns to the track this week at Spa-Francorchamps.
Following the cancellation of the 1000 Miles of Sebring, the overhaul of the calendar and the organisation of the Virtual Le Mans 24 Hours, the world's endurance elite is now set to meet in Belgium for the first of the last three rounds of the year.
In this return to action, the Signatech Alpine Elf team will battle on familiar ground. Located in the heart of the Belgian Ardennes, the track is one of most demanding and appreciated on the planet with its gradients and technical corners that put the emphasis on smooth driving and setups.
Despite all the challenges of Spa, the Philippe Sinault led team can rely on its past successes at Francorchamps since Alpine’s return to the highest level of the sport.
In the wake of its two European titles, Alpine scored its first points in the FIA World Endurance Championship with the Alpine A450b in 2015. Twelve months later, the Alpine A460 won for the first time on Belgian soil in a campaign that culminated in its first world title.
Debuting in 2017, the Alpine A470 has also enjoyed success at Spa with a pole position in the opening round of the 2018-2019 season and two second-place finishes in the reconquest of the LMP2 crown.
This experience should therefore be a valuable asset for Les Bleus as they resume a battle for the title that is more open than ever as they are just 30 points adrift of the leaders with 116 points still up for grabs.
Deprived of victory by a ruptured brake disc in Austin, Thomas Laurent, André Negrão and Pierre Ragues are eager to get back in their No. 36 Alpine A470, with the determination to get their revenge and return to their winning ways prior to the 24 Hours of Le Mans (17-20 September) and the 8 Hours of Bahrain (19-21 November).
The Signatech Alpine Elf team will also take advantage of this meeting to adapt to the new health procedures and protocols that will be enforced in the FIA World Endurance Championship paddock in the final three rounds of the season.
31 cars, including ten entered in the LMP2 category, will race in Belgium where the weather conditions are as uncertain in the middle of summer as they are on the traditional early May dates.
The crews will be in action starting on Thursday for the first free-practice session. Two more sessions will follow on Friday prior to qualifying in early evening. The Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps will start the following day at 13h30 CET.
Philippe Sinault, Signatech Alpine Elf Team principal
"More than anything else, we are very happy to be able to resume the championship and do what we get up for every morning. We would like to acknowledge the work of the federal authorities and the organisers who have made the right decisions to allow us to get back to racing. We will miss the fans, but this is an essential first step. We would also like to thank all our partners for the solidarity they have shown during this period of uncertainty. It was a very long hiatus for everyone and the team and car are more than ready for this meeting. We are very excited and look forward to it. Our goal is to continue the positive momentum seen in Austin. The drivers are in race-form, especially Thomas and André who competed at Spa last weekend, and a part of the technical team is already up and running as we are also running a prototype in ELMS. On this circuit, where we have a good grasp of details such as performance, car evolution and behaviour, the most important thing will be to adapt to the conditions, fine-tune the settings and favour Pierre's driving time so that he is ready for the start. The preparation aspect for the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be a little less than usual as it is more of a return to competition than a mock exam, but we must not forget the stakes that must be our driving force. We need to stay in the title hunt to defend our crown and it will be absolutely necessary to score big points and battle for a podium result to achieve this."
THURSDAY 13 AUGUST
16h25-17h55: free-practice 1
FRDAY 14 AUGUST
9h30-11h00: free-practice 2
14h00-15h00: free-practice 3
18h30-18h50: qualifying LMP1 / LMP2
SATURDAY 15 AUGUST
13h30-19h30: Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps