A one-two finish gave Toyota Gazoo Racing a perfect start to their 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship campaign at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday.
It was a debut victory with the team for new recruit Fernando Alonso, and a second successive WEC win at the Belgian circuit for Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in the No8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid.
This was Toyota’s 17th win from 49 WEC races, its fourth consecutive victory and its third at Spa. Toyota leads both the teams’ and drivers’ World Championships going into the Le Mans 24 Hours on 16-17 June.
Reflecting on his first WEC outing, Alonso said: “I am delighted to get this result. The whole weekend has been amazing in terms of team performance. We executed the race in the best way we could and I am extremely happy to win my first endurance race. Sébastien and Kazuki made my life a little bit easier, so thanks to them.”
The No7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López completed a remarkable comeback in the race, finishing second by just 1.444 seconds after having had to start from the pit lane due to a qualifying penalty.
Racing under clear skies, Buemi made a clean get-away from pole position, gradually pulling out an advantage over the Rebellion LMP1 cars. Conway had brought the No8 car through the field to sixth place by the first pit stops. Buemi’s advantage extended to 30 seconds before a safety car period around the one-hour mark brought the field back together.
During the 30-minute delay, Kobayashi replaced Conway in the No7 while Alonso took over the No8 car for his first WEC race laps. His immediate task when the race resumed was to defend the lead, which he accomplished with a spectacular passing move on several GT cars.
Alonso’s stint was interrupted by a full course yellow but once the track was clear he was able to build a substantial lead before handing over to Nakajima.
Meanwhile, the No7 car continued its impressive progress through the field and held second position as the race moved past half-distance, running around a minute behind the leader when López took over from Kobayashi at the next pit stop.
The two Toyotas tightened their grip on the race as the last hour approached, with Alonso preparing to take the No8 to the chequered flag with a lead of around one minute over Conway. A further safety car session closed the gap to just six seconds with 50 minutes remaining. Following a final refuelling, the team decided the cars should hold position to avoid any unnecessary risks in the closing 25 minutes.
6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps results:
1st #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing (Buemi/Nakajima/Alonso) 163 laps
2nd #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing (Conway/Kobayashi/López) +1.444secs
3rd #1 Rebellion (Jani/Lotterer/Senna) +2 laps
4th #3 Rebellion (Beche/Laurent/Menezes) +2 laps
5th #6 ByKolles (Webb/Kraihamer/Dillmann) +5 laps
6th #11 SMP (Aleshin/Petrov) +5 laps