TOYOTA GAZOO one-two as the WEC returns after lockdown

As the FIA World Endurance Championship returned after an enforced absence during the COVID-19 outbreak, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing were back to their winning ways at the Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on 15 August. The team occupied the top two spots on the podium, with the #7 TS050 HYBRID crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López taking the gold.

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Just 34.170 seconds behind – a minuscule margin after a six-hour race – were Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley in the #8 TS050 HYBRID, completing TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s fourth one-two finish in six races this season.

Challenging conditions

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Spa-Francorchamps is known for throwing up unpredictable racing conditions, and this race proved no exception. The weather had been hot and dry in the previous week, but barely an hour before the race, it turned into a constant downpour that led to a safety-car start.

When normal racing conditions resumed, Buemi in car #8 had come from second on the grid to lead the race – a lead he held until the first pit stop just before the hour mark. At this point, the teams made decisions that would prove race-defining: the #8 kept wet tyres on, while the #7 car, with Conway behind the wheel, switched to dry tyres.

The safety car was soon out again after an incident, and at the same time, the rain eased off for around an hour. This meant pitting for dry tyres was desirable, and car #8 did so, relinquishing the lead in the process while #7 was able to stay out.

Wet and dry

However, it wasn’t long before both cars were back in for wet tyres. That was the story of the following four hours: long periods of rain punctuated by the occasional dry spell in which both cars would pit and change tyres for a high-speed stint. All this time, the gap between the front two was never much more than a minute, with the #4 Bykolles a further minute behind in third. Two further appearances by the safety car – the second with just an hour to go – stopped #7 from increasing the gap, meaning it would face sustained pressure throughout the final hour, including having to negotiate one more pit stop in the knowledge that a single mistake could decide the race.

López went into the final pit with 40 minutes to go, with the team doing its job expertly allowing Conway to come in for the final stretch. Mike held his nerve to stay ahead of Sébastien Buemi, who had to relinquish his challenge after a late stop for fuel. The #1 Rebellion car managed to climb into third.

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Tight at the top

Heading into the Le Mans 24h Championships on 19-20 September, car #7 holds a 12-point advantage over its stablemate at the top of the overall championship. Le Mans is worth double points, however, and there has been little to separate the two cars so far – so there is still everything to race for.

In the teams’ World Championship, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing now holds a 42-point lead in the number-one spot.

The WEC season then concludes in Bahrain on 21 November. All signs point to a thrilling finish!