Toyota Gazoo Racing earned a double podium finish in the six-hour Lone Star Le Mans race in Austin, Texas, the fifth round of the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
A flawless race saw the No8 TS050 Hybrid of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley take second place, 51.524secs behind the race-winning No1 Rebellion, to close the gap at the top of the drivers’ World Championship.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in the No7 TS050 Hybrid, had no realistic chance to challenge their LMP1 rivals due to their maximum success handicap but completed a consistent race to earn third place and preserve a five-point lead in the World Championship.
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s lead in the teams’ standings has been reduced to 33 points over Rebellion Racing, with three races remaining this season.
The race began under grey skies and with a strong wind, with José lining the No7 up in second at the rolling start, one place ahead of Sébastien in the No8, although the pair swapped positions on the opening lap as the effect of the different success handicaps became instantly apparent.
Sébastien pushed hard to stay within striking distance of the Rebellion No1, which made a fast start from pole position and soon established a cushion at the front. When Sébastien pitted to hand over to Brendon at the 90-minute mark, the second-placed No8 was around half a minute adrift. José, a further 40secs behind in third, brought the No7 into the pits soon after for Mike’s stint.
A strong opening stint from Brendon stabilised the gap to the leader and quick work in the pits reduced the deficit to around 20secs, keeping the pressure on. After a fuel stop, Brendon, who has previously won three times in Austin, continued to set impressive lap times to keep alive the No8 car’s challenge.
Soon after half distance, the next round of driver changes saw Kazuki take over the No8 and continue the pursuit while Kamui took the wheel of the third-placed No7 as the pattern of the race continued largely as before.
With a substantial success handicap to overcome, the No8 TS050 Hybrid had little opportunity to close the gap but Kazuki pushed to minimise the time loss prior to Brendon’s final 75-minute stint. Now a lap down, Kamui handed over the No7 to José for the run to the flag shortly after.
Brendon took the chequered flag in second place to equal Toyota’s best result at the Circuit of the Americas, with José completing the podium in the No7, two laps adrift.
The two TS050 Hybrids will stay in the US prior to the next round of the season, the 1000 Miles of Sebring in Florida on 20 March, the final flyaway race before WEC returns to Europe for the historic races at Spa and Le Mans.
Hisatake Murata (Team President): “Congratulations to Rebellion on their victory. We had a clean race, everyone in the team did a good job and got the best performance out of our package, but we were not able to challenge today. We pushed as hard as we could and we limited the damage so the World Championship situation is still looking good. Thanks to all the fans who supported us in Texas; we are looking forward to another warm welcome when we visit Sebring next month. Our target will clearly be to return to the centre of the podium.”
Mike Conway (TS050 Hybrid No7):“It was a tough race and throughout my stint it was difficult to set competitive times because we were effectively in a race on our own. I had some hope at the beginning because José was not that far from car #8 but then the gap got bigger and bigger. We can only keep fighting to get the best results available to us for the championship; we are still in the lead so that is a consolation.”
Kamui Kobayashi(TS050 Hybrid No7): “I had fun and I enjoyed driving the car today. The team has done a great job since the beginning of the week; everyone performed well and we had great pit stops but third was the best we could hope for considering the success handicap. It is frustrating because we did our best but didn’t have much chance. But congratulations to Rebellion who had a very strong race with no mistakes.”
José María López (TS050 Hybrid No7): “To arrive this weekend knowing that on paper we will be the slowest LMP1 car is not easy but we kept focused to score as many points as possible. We always want to win but third was the best we could get. There were a number of positives from the race. I felt very comfortable in the car and had some good laps so I am happy with my performance, and we still lead the World Championship.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 Hybrid No8):“We did the best we could today and there was really not much more we could do. Well done to Rebellion on their victory; we just didn’t have enough pace to beat them. It was a lonely race unfortunately for our car because there was no fight with car #7 due to their bigger success handicap. We did our race on our own so it felt a bit strange.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 Hybrid No8): “It was a tough race for us. We were not too far away from Rebellion but they had the pace to win. So congratulations to them because they did a really strong race, with no mistakes. I don’t think we had a chance to win in terms of pure speed so as a team we focused on maximising our performance and the whole team did a good job this week.”
Brendon Hartley (TS050 Hybrid No8): “We had a good race, with no mistakes from any of the drivers, some nice stints and strong pit stops. We knew that was needed to have any chance of victory but Rebellion also delivered a flawless race. They were very competitive and clearly had more pace than us. I had a fun time, slicing through the traffic and the car felt amazing on this track but it’s a pity we didn’t have more wheel-to-wheel fights.”
Lone Star Le Mans results:
1st #1 Rebellion (Senna/Menezes/Nato) 189 laps
2nd #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +51.524secs
3rd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +2 laps
4th #22 United Autosports (Hanson/Albuquerque/Di Resta) +7 laps
5th #37 Jackie Chan (Tung/Aubry/Stevens) +7 laps
6th #38 JOTA (Gonzalez/Da Costa/Davidson) +8 laps