TOYOTA GAZOO Racing scored a dramatic victory in the 6 Hours of Silverstone after a thrilling opening round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
In a race defined by several rain showers, the #8 TS050 HYBRID of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima earned victory inside the final 15 minutes in front of 50,200 spectators (weekend figure).
As well as the usual winners’ trophies, the #8 crew also claimed the Royal Automobile Club International Tourist Trophy, first awarded in 1905 and won by motorsport legends such as Tazio Nuvolari, Graham Hill and Stirling Moss.
The pole-sitting #7 TS050 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López set the fastest lap of the race but lost over an hour due to an accident and finished 23rd. José María visited the circuit medical centre and then travelled to hospital for a precautionary scan which confirmed he suffered no injuries.
Although the race started in cool, dry conditions and the two TOYOTAs ran in first and second, the weather soon intervened; after 45 minutes a shower struck and light rain fell intermittently after that.
Close to the second pit stops, the #7 suffered an anti-roll bar problem which created handling difficulties and caused Kamui to lose performance and drop to fourth.
Anthony, now at the wheel of the #8, took over the lead and a battle with the #2 Porsche. But with two hours completed, the weather worsened and created a very challenging situation.
Both TS050 HYBRIDs stayed on slick tyres throughout, unlike the Porsches which switched to hybrid intermediates. Kamui lost time in the gravel when the rain was at its heaviest, while Anthony in the #8 initially slipped to second.
But as the conditions improved and the Porsches made an extra stop for slick tyres, Anthony reclaimed top spot. More rain came just after half distance, which caused the end of the #7 car’s challenge. José María, fighting a car with difficult handling, crashed into a tyre barrier at speed, causing extensive damage to the front and rear.
He brought the car back to the pits and the mechanics worked hard to repair the damage. After 66 minutes in the garage, Mike brought the car back on track in 26th.
That accident brought out a safety car and significantly reduced the #8 car’s advantage over the #2 Porsche. The close fight continued throughout the final two hours, setting up a grandstand finish, with Sébastien at the wheel for the last stint.
When the #2 Porsche emerged from its final pit stop, with 30 minutes remaining, its lead was only eight seconds. Sébastien hunted down the lead with a series of quick lap times, even as more drizzle fell, and eventually overtook with only 12 minutes remaining, taking the win by 6.173 seconds.
The team now prepares for the second round of the season, the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, the final race before the Le Mans 24 Hours. Spa will mark the first time TOYOTA has entered three hybrid-powered LMP1 cars, with Stéphane Sarrazin, Yuji Kunimoto and Nicolas Lapierre competing in the #9 TS050 HYBRID.