Spa-Francorchamps is a legendary track at which Porsche has earned truckloads of history and race victory trophies. Adding to that total this weekend, Works drivers Kevin Estre and Neel Jani paired to take a commanding victory in the number 92 Porsche 911 RSR at the first round of the FIA WEC's 2021 season. The GTE Pro class is packed with heavy hitters, and you can bet that both Ferrari and Corvette came to the Ardennes dreaming of victory. Despite one of the factory Porsches being taken out by a hit from the leading Toyota Hypercar, the other 911 RSR bullet in the proverbial gun managed to speed out to a fast victory after six hours of hard racing.
Estre dazzled the field with a qualifying lap record for a GTE car. The race was warm and sunny from start to finish, which is a rarity sometimes at Spa, which allowed Estre to put his head down and click off some quick lap times from the drop of the green flag. After two laps, he'd opened up a 15 second gap to second! An early stop for a flat tire slowed Estre's pace slightly, but the team managed to recover quite well. Neel Jani — in his first race in the GTE after a season running Porsche's Formula E team — put in a powerful showing in the middle stint, giving the car back to Estre for the finish still in the lead. At the end of the race, the #92 car had a 35 second lead as he crossed under the checkers.
While everything went perfectly for the 92 car, the sister team of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz in the 91 car suffered from the worst of luck. At the start the car was plagued with heavy traffic and difficult passing, then the car was further slowed by a tire puncture. About halfway through the race the 91 car was shuffled off the track into the gravel when it was hit by a Hypercar competitor. A trip to the garage to replace the rear section of the car's bodywork, plus another flat tire, meant that the car could finish no better than a lap down to the class leaders. Not great.
Porsche's customer teams in the GTE Am class did no better in the luck department. The #88 Dempsey Proton car was on track for a podium, but was handed a time penalty with just minutes left in the six-hour race. The sister #77 car retired after five and a half-hours of running with an electrical fault. Meanwhile GR Racing and Project 1 withdrew their three collective entries before the race with crash damage in practice and qualifying. Even less good.
Drivers’ comments on the race
Kévin Estre (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “This race wasn’t nearly as easy as it might have seemed from the outside. Both cars got punctures. The early wheel change meant we lost our pit stop rhythm, which may have resulted in an additional stop. So, it really hung by a thread. Everything worked out in the end and we crossed the finish line as the winners. Neel did a terrific job at his first stints in the Porsche 911 RSR in the WEC and maintained the lead. That was fantastic.”
Neel Jani (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “Victory at my GT debut in the FIA WEC — that’s awesome. It couldn’t have gone better. When Kévin had to pit earlier than planned due to the puncture, we were a bit concerned at first because I had to save some fuel during my stints for tactical reasons. But a caution phase helped us at the right moment, so it was no longer an issue. It went well for me.”
Gianmaria Bruni (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “A lot of negative things happened today for us. We had several punctures, bad luck overtaking traffic and finally an accident that destroyed the rear of our car. It simply wasn’t our day. Obviously, our sister car’s win is great. I’m pleased for our colleagues. All in all, we scored a lot of points for Porsche — that’s great.”
Result GTE-Pro class
1. Estre/Jani (F/CH), Porsche 911 RSR #92, 153 laps
2. Pier Guidi/Calado (I/GB), Ferrari 488 GTE #51, 153 laps
3. Serra/Molina (BR/E), Ferrari 488 GTE #71, 153 laps
4. Garcia/Gavin (E/GB), Corvette C8. R #63, 152 laps
5. Bruni/Lietz (I/A), Porsche 911 RSR #91, 152 laps
Result GTE-Am class
1. Perrodo/Nielsen/Rovera (F/DK/I), Ferrari 488 GTE #83, 152 laps
2. Keating/Pereira/Fraga (USA/L/BR), Aston Martin Vantage #33, 152 laps
3. Lacorte/Sernagiotto/Fuoco (I/I/I), Ferrari 488 GTE #47, 151 laps
5. Haryanto/Seefried/Picariello (RI/D/B), Porsche 911 RSR #88, 151 laps
DNF. Ried/Evans/Campbell (D/NZ/AUS), Porsche 911 RSR #77, 138 laps
DNS. Wainwright/Barker/Gamble (GB/GB/GB), Porsche 911 RSR #86, 0 laps