SHANGHAI SUCCESS FOR TOYOTA GAZOO RACING
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López claimed their second successive win of the season with victory in the 6 Hours of Shanghai on Sunday. Following up their success in the previous round of the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship at Fuji in Japan, the trio in the No7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid have closed the gap in the driver’s title race to just five points, with three races remaining.
Their team-mates Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso held on to top spot in the table thanks to a second place finish, while Toyota Gazoo Racing heads the teams’ standing by 28 points.
The one-two result capped an excellent weekend for Toyota in international motorsport, with Toyota Gazoo Racing Team having clinched the FIA World Rally Championship with victory on Rally Australia. As with the rally, difficult weather conditions made it a challenging race.
Conway said: “It was not an easy race for me in those conditions; visibility was very difficult when it started raining at the end and the tyres were not up to temperature. I’m really happy with the result so big congratulations to the whole team, and thanks to my car crew and team-mates for another solid job. It’s great to win and continue the momentum from Fuji, especially as it’s the last race of the year. Now we will keep pushing over the winter so we can finish the season strongly.”
Heavy morning rain led to treacherous track conditions and a controlled start behind the safety car, with the No7 and No8 Toyotas leading the field from the front of the grid. Nonetheless, an accident caused an early race stoppage and it was 70 minutes before a short green flag period allowed racing to start in earnest. During this time, Buemi was able to claim the lead when López ran slightly wide.
The race was punctuated by further stoppages and safety car periods, during which time both Toyotas fell towards the back of the field when making scheduled pit stops. When the running order stabilised around half distance, Alonso held second with Kobayashi, delayed due to time lost in a congested pit lane, fourth. Alonso battled past GT cars to overtake the No1 Rebellion for the lead, while Kobayashi was similarly spectacular in passing Jenson Button’s No11 SMP for second.
Track conditions slowly improved and the Toyotas stretched their advantage at the front. The final driver change with around 70 minutes remaining saw Conway take over the leading No7 car with Nakajima in the No8 pushing hard to close the gap, setting the fastest lap of the race in the process.
The weather took a turn for the worse in the final 30 minutes, but despite another safety car closing up the field, Conway held on to win by 1.419 seconds.
The 2018-19 WEC season resumes after a long winter break with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring in Florida on 15 March, prior to a race at Spa and the season-finale at Le Mans in June.