TOYOTA Gazoo racing earns world championship

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. World Endurance Championship. 6 Hours of Spa 1st to 4th May 2019 Spa Francorchamps Circuit, Spa, Belgium

Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso in the #8 TS050 HYBRID extended their lead in the drivers’ standings to 31 points with one race and 39 points remaining after their fourth win of a season which began with victory at Spa 12 months ago.

The #7 TS050 HYBRID crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López had controlled the race until just before half distance, setting the fastest lap as well, but then lost 11 minutes due to a sensor issue which dropped them to sixth at the end.

History was made in the opening laps when heavy snow hit Spa just a few minutes after the start; the first time that snow has affected a WEC race. Remarkably, racing continued for almost 30 minutes until conditions forced a safety car with Mike leading having started from pole position in the #7.

After 25 minutes, and now in bright sunshine, the race resumed with Mike leading from the #3 Rebellion. Sébastien, who had lost time in his pit stop, immediately took second place for the #8 and then moved into the lead at the end of lap 19.

Another safety car due to an accident a few moments later triggered drama for both cars. Sébastien was forced to make a fuel stop while the pit lane was closed and WEC regulations meant the team could add only five seconds of fuel.

Mike, who had used less fuel in the opening stint, was able to refuel normally and switch to slick tyres when the pit lane opened, while Sébastien made his regular fuel stop soon after, costing him around a minute and dropping him to 10th.

But an exciting race saw further action, with Sébastien using his slick tyres to great effect and battling up to second place by the time both cars pitted under a full course yellow around the two-hour mark, with Kamui taking over the #7 and Fernando the #8.

With almost three hours completed, the race took another dramatic turn when Kamui, who had been leading by around 50secs, experienced a sensor issue on the #7. He brought the car back to the pits where the pit crew worked quickly to rectify the issue and allow José to resume, now four laps behind and in 19th position.

Kazuki inherited the lead in the #8 but another snow flurry soon after saw both cars switch to wet tyres, which were ideally suited to conditions when a heavy hail storm struck with just under two hours remaining, bringing out the safety car again for around 25 minutes.

Entering the last hour, José had fought his way into the top six while Fernando stretched the #8 car’s advantage to over a lap at the front as more bad weather and another safety car arrived. The race finished a few minutes early when the red flags were waved due to the treacherous conditions.

Fernando was at the wheel of the #8 at the end to win by one lap from the #3 Rebellion and #11 SMP Racing, with Kamui bringing the #7 home in sixth, four laps behind after a valiant fight back. The team now heads to France for the season-ending Le Mans 24 Hours on 15-16 June.

Hisatake Murata, Team President, said: “Congratulations to everyone in the team on winning the World Championship; it is the reward for a lot of hard work over the past year. We faced a challenging race today. I am sorry for the #7 drivers; they all drove well and it’s a pity they lost the chance to fight for the win due to the sensor issue. The #8 drivers also performed well despite misfortune; congratulations to them. Although such a dramatic race is not easy for the team, I hope the many fans as well as our colleagues from Cologne enjoyed the race despite the weather. Now we look forward to the climax of the season and a race we have been preparing for ever since June last year; Le Mans.”