Toyota Gazoo Racing conquered the 1000 Miles of Sebring to extend its advantage in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) with a one-two victory in the sixth round of the 2018-2019 season.
Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso in the #8 TS050 HYBRID took the chequered flag after eight hours to win their third race of the season in front a large and enthusiastic Florida crowd to stretch their World Championship lead to 15 points.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López overcame a mid-race delay for accident repairs to earn second in the #7 TS050 HYBRID, one lap behind, achieving the team’s fifth one-two of the season. Kamui’s fastest lap of 1min 41.800secs set a new race record and wrote another chapter in Sebring’s history, following Fernando’s all-time fastest-ever lap in Thursday’s qualifying.
The team’s first race at Sebring began in bright sunshine and with air temperature of 28°C as Sébastien, in the pole-sitting #8, established himself as race leader from the beginning, with José putting pressure on just behind in the second-placed #7.
That pattern continued until a brief rain shower just before the two-hour mark. Soon after that the #17 SMP car crashed heavily, causing a full course yellow and then a safety car to repair barrier damage. That closed the field, bringing Kamui in the #7 closer to Fernando in the #8 and the battle resumed after 15 minutes.
Despite adverse forecasts, heavy rain in the local area missed the track and the TS050 HYBRIDs kept up a close fight as darkness fell. At half distance, Kazuki in the #8 was holding off a charging Mike just a few seconds behind, with both cars three laps clear of the third-placed #3 Rebellion.
But a titanic duel between the two TOYOTAs was brought to an early end after four-and-a-half hours when José, at the wheel of the #7, suffered a minor contact with the #90 Aston Martin. That required a change of engine cover and rear bodywork, which cost four minutes in the pits, putting the car a lap down.
With that clear margin, Sébastien in the #8 took a no-risk approach through the famously-difficult Sebring traffic, taking care to protect his lead. The #7 crew showed strong spirit to come back from the disappointment of losing a lap and set competitive times to comfortably extend their advantage over third place.
The final three hours of the race looked to be passing without major incident as the TS050 HYBRIDs once again demonstrated remarkable reliability on a circuit famed for being tough on cars and drivers. However, the Florida weather intervened and rain began to fall around half an hour from the end.
With the chequered flag approaching, the intensity of the rain increased and both cars pitted with 20 minutes remaining to change to wet Michelin tyres. But as conditions worsened, both cars returned to pit lane to switch to extreme wet tyres with the target of simply avoiding any incident and reaching the flag safely.
That became slightly easier when a safety car was called with only 12 minutes remaining due to an accident for an LMP2 car. With heavy rain continuing, even driving behind the safety car was challenging but Kazuki stayed calm and brought the #8 home for victory, followed by Mike in the #7.
That means, with two races remaining in the 2018-2019 season, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing leads the teams’ World Championship by 53 points going into the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on 4 May, when its target will be to seal the teams’ World Championship with a race to spare.
SOURCE: Toyota Gazoo Racing