Toyota Gazoo Racing/Michelin dominated Round 3 of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship, the traditional dress-rehearsal fixture ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours. The #7 and #8 GR010 Hybrids of Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez and Buemi/Hartley/Hirakawa monopolized the top two places in Belgium, chased by the #51 Ferrari 499P/Michelin (Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi) which clinched a footing on the podium on the final lap.
Teams were forced to choose their tires for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps moments before the start with persistent drizzle falling over the circuit.
In the Hypercar class, the Toyota GR010 Hybrids and Penske Motorsport Porsche 963s all opted for MICHELIN Pilot Sport slicks, whereas the Ferrari 499Ps and Peugeot 9x8s chose Michelin's new rain tire. Cadillac Racing split its options with its #3 and #2 cars on slicks and wet-weather rubber respectively.
Meanwhile, all of the four different types of Michelin available to the LMGTE Am runners could be seen on the grid, from the Wet and Drying Wet, to the Soft and even Medium compound slick for the boldest of them...
In spite of the mist and cold (10°C), the track dried out reasonably quickly, prompting those Hypercar prototypes lapping on rain tires to pit for slicks just before the half-hour mark, while the Toyotas stayed out for a second stint on their slicks, having survived the delicate early conditions. The Japanese firm went on to celebrate its seventh straight win at Spa with another one-two finish.
"The weather is frequently unsettled at Spa-Francorchamps and we believed it was impossible to select the two slick compounds for the week, as the regulations require," said Pierre Alves, the manager of Michelin Motorsport's endurance-racing programs. "So, after consultation with the ACO and FIA, a third possibility - our Cold Weather Soft - was authorized on sporting and safety grounds. As predicted, the weather turned out to be extremely fickle, with low temperatures, drizzle and a damp track marking the early part of the race and making tire calls crucial. In both the Hypercar and LMGTE Am classes, all our options and compounds were raced in the end, which was a perfect way to prepare for Le Mans."
The #3 Cadillac was one the cars to crash out (through Raidillon following power-steering failure) and the #6 Porsche was among those affected by a variety of incidents as the Ferrari 499Ps fought their way back up through the field. The #50 499P had effectively just moved into third spot when it hit a wall through Eau Rouge with an hour-and-a-half remaining.
The closing stages saw three different carmakers - Cadillac, Ferrari and Porsche - scrap for third place which was eventually secured by the #51 Ferrari/Michelin when James Calado passed Frédéric Makowiecki (#5 Porsche/Michelin) on the final lap. The #2 Cadillac/Michelin was fifth.
The afternoon's LMGTE Am victor was the #83 Richard Mille Racing AF Corse Ferrari/Michelin of Perez-Companc/Wadoux/Rovera whose performance took them clear of the hard-battling #33 Corvette/Michelin and pole-winning #25 Aston Martin/Michelin.
The next round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship is the centenary Le Mans 24 Hours on June 10-11.
2023 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps - Final Positions:
Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez (Toyota GR010 Hybrid/Michelin), 148 laps
Buemi/Hartley/Hirakawa (Toyota GR010 Hybrid/Michelin), +16.637s
Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi (Ferrari 499P/Michelin), +1m14.439s
Cameron/Christensen/Makowiecki (Porsche 963/Michelin), +1m17.264s
Bamber/Lynn/Westbrook (Cadillac V-Series.R/Michelin), +1 lap