TOYOTA GAZOO Racing returned to winning ways in the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) with a one-two victory in a dramatic and rain-affected Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the sixth round of the season.
The #7 TS050 HYBRID crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López overcame maximum success handicap to extend their World Championship lead to 12 points with two races remaining, winning TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s first WEC race since Bahrain in December last year.
They were pushed hard by Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, in the #8 TS050 HYBRID, who finished 34.170secs behind as the team earned its fourth one-two of the season, stretching its lead in the teams’ World Championship to 42 points over Rebellion, whose #1 car finished a lap behind in third.
After days of sunshine and high temperatures, the famously variable Spa weather struck just over an hour before the start, with a heavy rain storm causing the race to begin behind the safety car.
When racing resumed on lap five, both TS050 HYBRIDs used their four-wheel-drive capabilities, instantly overwhelming the pole position Rebellion #1, with Sébastien in the #8 leading from Mike in the #7.
Conditions were constantly evolving and at the first pit stops, close to the one-hour mark, the #8 crew pitted a lap earlier and kept the Michelin wet tyres, whereas Mike in the #7 opted for dry tyres. When the safety car was called soon after due to an incident for a GT car, it became clear that conditions favoured the dry rubber.
Sébastien relinquished the lead to change tyres and the green flags waved with the #7 leading a TOYOTA GAZOO Racing one-two. More rain was to come, however, as the second hour came to a close and both cars pitted simultaneously for wets; the #7, with Kamui at the wheel, led Brendon in the #8 by a minute, with the #4 Bykolles a further minute behind in third.
When the rain worsened, another safety car was called which eliminated the #7 TS050 HYBRID’s advantage. Fortune soon returned the favour when Brendon lost around half a minute leaving the pits due to an issue which had affected both cars intermittently during the race. That restored the #7 car’s advantage.
As the final third approached the sun made a rare appearance, allowing José and Kazuki to take their stints on dry tyres. The race entered its final hour under the safety car, bringing Kazuki on to the tail of José and setting up a tense duel heading into the final pit stop.
José held the lead under heavy pressure and both pit crews serviced the cars in near identical times, with the #7 pitting a lap after its sister car. Mike took the wheel and saw out the remaining 40 minutes, with Sébastien holding station in second until a brief late stop for fuel, crossing the line 34.170secs behind at the flag.
The WEC season now gears up for the biggest race of the year, the Le Mans 24 Hours, when TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will aim for a third successive victory in the TS050 HYBRID’s final appearance in the historic French event, which will take place on 19-20 September.
Hisatake Murata, Team President:
“It was a dramatic race and a fantastic result for our team. We didn’t expect a one-two here so credit to the drivers, mechanics and engineers for their great job in difficult conditions. Thank you also to the WEC and the FIA for their hard work to allow us to race again in a safe environment; everyone has made a big effort to put on a show today. Of course, it’s a pity we could not share such an exciting race with fans at the track, but I hope they nevertheless enjoyed it on TV; we appreciate their support. Now we all look forward to Le Mans, which is even more special for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing this year. We are all pushing to win this race for the third consecutive time with the TS050 HYBRID.”
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7):
“Big congratulations to the team. Our car crew, as well as José and Kamui, all did a great job in conditions that were not easy at all with heavy rain coming and going. It was a really challenging race because car #8 was really quick in sectors one and three, but we kept it together and it worked out well for us. With the success handicap we had, we just assumed we would finish third, maybe second if things went really well. But it’s been a great day and it’s a fantastic result.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7):
“I am very happy with this result. All the team did a great job this week, without any mistakes. During my stint the conditions were extremely difficult due to the rain; I couldn’t see anything and it was really hard to just stay on the track. But we were fighting with car #8 so I needed to push. On our car it was a perfect weekend which comes at the right time, just before Le Mans. We have some real momentum now.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7):
“Today everything went in our favour; without the rain I think it would have been very tough to challenge Rebellion because they were very fast in dry conditions. So the weather gave us a chance to fight and we really took it; all the strategy calls we made on our car were the right ones. It has been a fantastic effort from the whole team, and particularly my team-mates. Now we are ready for Le Mans, our biggest race; even without spectators we will give everything to finally get the win that’s been missing for the #7 car over the past couple of years.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8):
“I am a bit disappointed because we had a good chance to win the race today but unfortunately we did a few mistakes as a team on our car. We made a wrong tyre choice at the first pit stop and then we had a small issue which cost us time. It was a difficult race but we still came second and we helped TOYOTA GAZOO Racing to another one-two finish. Now we look forward to Le Mans and try to have a better race there.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8):
“It was a difficult race in tricky conditions, not exactly what you want after such a long break, so we are happy to secure a 1-2 for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. When I was driving, we had a safety car period and afterwards were very close to car #7. But we only had eight laps to catch them before the last pit stop when we always freeze the positions and this was not enough. The #7 crew did an excellent job today and they truly deserve the victory.”
Brendon Hartley (TS050 HYBRID #8):
“Spa certainly delivered an exciting race with all the combinations of weather. It was a great day for the team to score a one-two in very tricky conditions. I was out there during the very challenging heavy rain before the safety car. My eyes were wide open but I still couldn’t see much; it was not easy. On our side of the garage maybe we didn’t execute everything perfectly. Car #7 performed well and they deserved the victory so congratulations to them. We have some areas to improve on our car so this was a good dress rehearsal for Le Mans.”