World Champions! TOYOTA GAZOO secure WEC drivers’ championship after one-two in Bahrain

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s #7 TS050 HYBRID, sponsored by DENSO and driven by Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi, has won the 2020 FIA World Endurance Drivers’ Championship. By winning the final event of the season in Bahrain, they narrowly beat their teammates Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima to the top spot.

Wec 2019 2020 Rd 224

The championship win will be an especially emotional one for the #7 team, for a number of reasons – not just the unusual season, which started way back in 2019 before being prolonged and postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also be remembered for the closeness of the result – just five points separated the two TOYOTA GAZOO cars on the final leaderboard – and for being the last outing of the Toyota TS050 HYBRID, which will go down in legend as one of the WEC’s most successful cars.

Title on the line

As the teams prepared for the 8 Hours of Bahrain race on 14 November, it wasn’t Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez who sat on top of the rankings. Instead, it was their teammates in the #8 car, whose victory at Le Mans propelled them into first place. But everything was still on the line. There were only seven points separating the two cars – reduced to six when the #7 car took pole position for the season’s final race – and with 50% more points on offer than a regular race, the margin between the two was razor-thin.

In practice, all the permutations came down to a simple reality: whoever won the race, won the championship. The drivers of car #7 knew they had to capitalize on their pole and hold off their stablemates’ challenge. Of course, doing this for eight straight hours is no mean feat.

Wec 2019 2020 Rd 144 1

Things went to plan for them until the halfway point in the race – when a safety car all but eliminated the #7 car’s 75-second lead. Buemi threatened to mount a serious challenge in the #8 but he couldn’t make it stick, and the car dropped back after the next pit. Still, all three #8 drivers raced superbly against a 0.54-second success handicap, keeping just 30 seconds behind the leaders at the three-quarter mark.

It stayed this way for another 60 minutes, until in the final hour, #7 picked up the pace and grew its lead once again. Kobayashi crossed the finish line with just over a minute’s lead after 263 laps of racing. It had been a virtually error-free race, and it catapulted the three drivers into the history books.

New beginning on the horizon

Wec 2019 2020 Rd 206

This has been a WEC season like no other – and there are still more changes on the horizon. The TS050 Hybrid car retires after a four-year stint in the championship that saw it win 19 stages, including three times at Le Mans.

In fact, the entire LMP1 class is evolving into a new LMH category. Toyota’s new hypercar to race in this class, dubbed the GR Super Sport, is already undergoing testing ahead of a racing debut when the WEC returns in March 2021.

All of which means that, after all the unexpected events of the 2020 season, there may be a few surprises in store yet.