Toyota Gazoo Racing endured a tough weekend at the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, with their two cars battling to finish in the top eight in the second round of the 2015 World Endurance Championship.
The disappointing results for the world champions were compounded by an accident in Thursday’s practice session at the Belgian circuit in which Kazuki Nakajima, one of the No1 Toyota TS040 Hybrid drivers, suffered a cracked vertebra. Nakajima was treated in hospital and was unable to take further part in the race; his condition is being assessed prior to a decision being made on his fitness to resume his driving duties.
Practice and qualifying revealed a larger than expected performance gap between the Toyotas and their Audi and Porsche rivals. The No2 car of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway claimed fifth place on the grid, with the No1 car, with a reduced two-man squad of Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi, lining up one place further back after suffering technical issues.
Incidents throughout the LMP1 field shook up the order regularly in the early part of the race and helped both TS040 Hybrids remain in the top six after the first driver changes. The No2 car, with Sarrazin now at the wheel, ran fifth with Davidson running directly behind him at half distance.
Davidson’s car was struck by electrical problems, requiring two pit stops for repairs. Twenty minutes were lost, leaving Buemi 14 laps off the lead in 14th place when he returned to the action. Meanwhile Sarrazin, then Conway, held on to a hard-fought fifth.
Davidson and Wurz took over their respective cars for the run to the chequered flag, with the British world champion continuing to claw back positions from the slower LMP2 cars. Wurz completed a trouble-free run in fifth, three laps behind the race-winning Audi, with Davidson eighth.
Conway said: “We did the best job we could and fifth was the maximum we could do. It’s a few more points for us but the next race is Le Mans, which is the big one. We just have to get our heads down and keep working away to prepare the most competitive package we can for Le Mans.”
The result increases Toyota’s points tally to 47 for third place in the manufacturers’ standings. Wurz, Sarrazin and Conway are equal third in the drivers’ championship.
Toyota Gazoo Racing are focusing on a significant improvement in their next race, the Le Mans 24 Hours on 13 – 14 June. Preparations begin at the Circuit de la Sarthe with the official testing on 31 May.