The Belgian fans had plenty to cheer about on Friday as ART's Stoffel Vandoorne went comfortably to the top of the timesheets early, and then remained there throughout the GP2 practice session ahead of his home round of the feeder series.
CLICK: Full GP2 Friday morning practice times from Spa-Francorchamps.
Spa-Francorchamps might be known for its unpredictable Ardennes weather, but there were no surprises whatsoever for the 45-minute practice session with cloudless blue skies and sparkling sunshine very much the order of the day, even if the morning temperature was perhaps a little cooler than one might expect for mid-August.
Rapax's Sergey Sirotkin was the first man to set a flying lap time, clocking in at 1:58.154s on the 4.335-mile (7km) 19-turn circuit, but he was immediately ousted from the top by Racing Engineering's Alexander Rossi going 0.063s faster as he bid to get his championship campaign back on course after a mid-season slump. By comparison, runaway points leader Vandoorne was half a second off the top times and only good enough for seventh place in his first run in the ART putting him just ahead of DAMS' Alex Lynn fresh from his feature win in Hungary just before the summer break.
Rossi significantly improved on his next lap to post a time at 1.57.731s, but Lynn came close to matching that with a new effort of 1:57.833s. And then - with a certain sense of inevitability - it was Vandoorne who sprang fully into life by going top with a new benchmark of 1:57.499s. Also coming on strong with his second flying lap was Russian Time's Mitch Evans, whose time was good enough to move ahead of Rossi for second place and was just 0.141s off Vandoorne. While many drivers opted to head to pit lane at the 15-minute mark, Vandoorne stayed out for another lap to shave a further tenth off his time and drop the bar to 1:57.486s before joining the rest of the field in the pits next time by.
That was just before a yellow flag came out for newcomer Gustav Malja who had lost the backend of his Trident coming into the final chicane. He stalled the car in the process, which meant that he required marshall assistance to get pushed back to pit road. Malja - a late signing by the team as a replacement for the unwell Rene Binder who is laid up with a streptococcus infection - had already run off the road at Pouhon earlier in the session as the Swedish teen was seeking to learn the track in double-quick time.
Once the Trident had been retrieved, the rest of the field was able to come back out and get down to work once more, although Malja's team mate Rafaelle Marciello failed to get out of pit exit as his car also lost drive. He was forced to roll back into the GP2 paddock area just past La Source, where he was quickly refired and sent back out this time without incident.
The mid-part of the session was largely given over to race simulations rather than qualifying laps meaning that the timing screens showed little change. With less than ten minutes remaining, the drivers were back in one last time for final tweaks ahead of their last runs, but there was no more time to be found on the fast-wearing option tyres and when the chequered flag came out Vandoorne's first-half time had not been bettered and he finished the session top reasonably comfortably ahead of Evans, Rossi and Lynn.
Having made his GP2 début at Silverstone last month, Formula 3.5 Series frontrunner Oliver Rowland was fifth fastest on his return to action with MP Motorsport, putting him just ahead of DAMS' Pierre Gasly who just pipped Sirotkin for sixth place in his last run of the morning. Arthur Pic (Campos Racing) finished practice as eighth fastest but ended the session with light contact against the wall at Les Combes. Rounding out the top ten were Jordan King (Racing Engineering) and Rafaelle Marciello.
Arden's Norman Nato just missed out in 11th just ahead of GP2 veteran Sergio Canamasas in 12th. The Spaniard - who started the season at MP Motorsport and also had a one-off outing at Hilmer Motorsports last time out in Hungary - has been confirmed for the rest of the season at Lazarus in place of Zoel Amberg who continues to struggle to recovery from an undisclosed medical condition.
After his early spin, Trident's Malja was unable to rejoin the session and consequently ran only seven laps in total, meaning that he missed out on crucial track-learning experience and duly finished last in the times some 3.7s off Vandoorne's pace.
The GP2 drivers will be on track again this afternoon for qualifying at 3.55pm local time (2.55pm BST) following F1 Free Practice 2. The 25-lap feature race will get underway on Saturday afternoon 3.50pm (2.50pm BST) and the shorter 18-lap sprint race on Sunday morning at 10.35am (9.35am BST).
The GP3 Series is also in action this weekend at Spa, with practice kicking things off this afternoon at 4.45pm (3.45pm BST), qualifying on Saturday morning at 9.45am (8.45am BST) and the 17-lap race 1 set to get underway later the same day at 5.15pm (4.15pm BST). The second GP3 race will be comprised of 13 laps on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST).
See full GP2 Friday morning practice times from Spa-Francorchamps.