TOYOTA GAZOO Racing celebrated its 100th World Championship sportscar race with a one-two victory for its new GR010 HYBRID Hypercar in the 8 Hours of Portimao following a flawless performance in Portugal.
After missing pole position on Saturday, the team responded in style to win the second round of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) and earn its 32nd victory from 100 races in the series.
Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, in the #8 GR010 HYBRID, won a race-long battle with their team-mates to take victory by 1.8secs from World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López in the #7 sister car.
With a second win from two races in 2021, following victory in the season-opening 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing has extended its teams’ World Championship lead to 22 points. In the drivers’ standings, the #8 crew hold a 20-point advantage over #7 with four races remaining.
Following an exciting Hypercar battle at Spa last month, WEC’s first visit to Portugal witnessed another close battle. Every second counted from the moment Sébastien took the start behind the pole position Alpine with José in third.
Only 10 seconds separated the top three at the first fuel stops. Sébastien then briefly lead when the #36 stopped earlier. The Alpine requires additional pit stops over the eight hours due to a smaller fuel tank, but consequently benefits from a lighter fuel load and shorter stops.
When Mike and Brendon took over their respective cars at the first driver changes, shortly before the two-hour mark, an incredibly close race developed at the front. Only 10 seconds separated the top three, led by the Alpine from the #7 and #8 GR010 HYBRIDs, after 75 laps.
Early in his stint, Brendon was delayed badly behind an LMP2 car, just as Sébastien had been earlier, and this cost the #8 car second place. Mike was able to pass but during the next fuel stops, Brendon reclaimed the advantage by pitting a lap earlier. Then he again lost out to Mike due to heavy traffic.
As half distance approached, Kamui and Kazuki took over driving duties with a full pit stop advantage over the Alpine. That meant Kamui lead by 10secs from Kazuki.
The team therefore appeared to have the race under control until an LMP2 car got stuck in the gravel with just under three hours remaining. As a consequence the safety car closed up the field and brought the Alpine back into contention.
When racing resumed with two-and-a-half hours remaining, the Alpine soon took second from Kazuki and pressured leader Kamui before pitting. The GR010 HYBRIDs responded and rebuilt their advantage. The #7, in Jose’s hands, emerged as the leader ahead of Sébastien, who was saving fuel.
A full course yellow slowed the race with 30 minutes to go and José brought the #7 in for a short fuel stop. He returned to the track just three seconds behind Sébastien in the #8, setting up a tense finish. When José closed up to the #8 car, team policy allowed him the opportunity to take the lead and pull away. However, Sébastien was able to stay directly behind so José was asked to reverse the order as per protocol.
Sébastien therefore crossed the line to take the #8 GR010 HYBRID’s second win of the season and maintain its 100% winning record, with José following directly behind and the #36 Alpine 1min 8.597secs further back after 300 laps. Hypercar battle will resume in Monza, Italy on 18 July.
Hisatake Murata, Team President :
“A one-two victory is the perfect way to celebrate our 100th World Championship race. Thank you to the drivers, engineers and mechanics for doing a great job. We had to fight for this win and it was exciting to see the top three Hypercars battling for every tenth of a second. There was no room for mistakes from anyone; I was pleased to see us work as one team, giving our maximum without error. Well done to Alpine as well, who followed up their impressive qualifying with a big challenge in the race. We enjoyed competing against Glickenhaus for the first time as well and we look forward to the battles to come. The Hypercar class is really coming to life and I expect the fans can enjoy many close fights in the next races. After all our testing at Portimao, this was actually the first WEC race in Portugal. Thanks to everyone there for making the teams welcome and delivering a safe event. Now we look forward to Monza, where we won our first World Championship race in 1992. We hope to put on another good race and repeat that result.”
Mike Conway (GR010 HYBRID #7):
“I think we all drove really well today. It could have gone a few different ways depending on race circumstances. Car #8 did a good fuel saving at the start of the race and went a little longer than us; they did well to open up their strategy. When the full course yellow came at the end that allowed us take our fuel stop and lose less time than normal, which was a lucky break. I thought our car was a tiny bit quicker all day but that’s the way it works out sometimes, unfortunately. It’s a one-two for the team which is the priority.”
Kamui Kobayashi (GR010 HYBRID #7):
“My stint were good and we had good pace. It was tough in the traffic and I got a bit aggressive on the pit lane entry for my fuel stop which gave the team a scare but luckily I managed to slow down in time. We had been struggling a bit in practice and worked hard to find the pace in the race so I am happy with the speed we showed today. It was a pity that we needed the splash of fuel in the final minutes because this is what lost us the race in the end. The team did a great job and our car crew performed really well, just we weren’t able to win the race but a one-two for the team is a good result.”
José María López (GR010 HYBRID #7):
“Eight hours here with the traffic is a tough race and I did over four hours in the car so it was a hard day. I am happy with the job that we did as a team to get the one-two. We didn’t have the one-lap pace this week because Alpine was quicker, but with teamwork and efficiency we bounced back and took an important result for the team. On our car I am very happy with the job of the engineers, pit crew, Mike, Kamui and myself. We were leading comfortably before the safety car, but that changed things. We had the pace today but it wasn’t to be.”
Sébastien Buemi (GR010 HYBRID #8):
“I am thrilled that we managed to win the race today after a big fight. We were on a different strategy to car #7 and that made the difference. From the first stint onwards I was able to do a lap longer and still be in the fight. When the safety car came out, that helped us to avoid the splash of fuel later in the race and this was a key moment. I was trying to stretch the fuel and stay on the pace. Then we were unlucky with the full course yellow because otherwise car #7 would have been further behind after the splash, but that’s racing sometimes.”
Kazuki Nakajima (GR010 HYBRID #8):
“As our 100th race in the World Championship it is great to finish with a one-two. It was a very tight race and everyone pushed as hard as possible; neither car could do more to get the win. Congratulations to the team for this one-two. It is always nice to win the race after such a big effort. It is too early to speak about the World Championship but it’s nice to have a small advantage. I am happy with the result and the team performance.”
Brendon Hartley (GR010 HYBRID #8):
“We definitely had to work for this win. Traffic played a big part. The LMP2s were very difficult to pass – we needed them to help us out, which they generally did. I think we played a really nice strategic race because we could keep up the pace despite the longer stints. It was a nice team effort. Even with all those different strategies, you saw the two cars were separated by nothing in the last 20mins. We fought the whole way with #7 but in the end only one car can win and it was a one-two which is great for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing.”