TOYOTA GAZOO Racing secures WEC 2018-2019 season
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing secured the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) teams' title in a dramatic and weather-affected Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the penultimate round of the 2018-2019 season.
Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso in the Number 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.
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 Kobayashi bringing the #7 TS050 HYBRID home in sixth, four laps behind after a valiant fight back from a sensor issue. The team now heads to France for the season-ending Le Mans 24 Hours on 15-16 June.
The Le Mans 24 Hours race will be Fernando’s last WEC for Toyota GAZOO Racing and he will be replaced for the next season starting 1 September by New Zealander, Brendon Hartley.
History was made in the opening laps at Spa-Francochamps when heavy snow hit the track 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 Conway leading having started from pole position in the #7.
After 25 minutes, and back 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 was allowed to 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 50 secs, 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.
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.
Toyota GAZOO Racing results at Spa-Francochamps, Belgium:
TS050 HYBRID #8
Race: 1st, 133 laps, 9 pit stops. Grid: 2nd. Fastest lap: 1min 58.056secs
TS050 HYBRID #7
Race: 6th, 129 laps, 8 pit stops. Grid: 1st. Fastest lap: 1min 57.394secs