TOYOTA Gazoo Racing won for the fifth time in the 6 Hours of Bahrain, ending the nine-race 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season with a victory. It was bittersweet because Porsche had clinched both the manufacturers’ and drivers’ title at the penultimate race of the season in Shanghai and is withdrawing from LMP1. Shanghaied! Porsche Takes Third Straight Endurance Driver’s Title
“As a team, we have stuck together through thick and thin over the years, said Andreas Seidl of Porsche fame. “This last run-out in competitive conditions was indeed depressing; yet at the same time, I felt a deep gratitude. Gratitude for the fact that I have been able to be part of this chapter of Porsche motorsport history, for the successes and, above all, for the fact that we got through four years without any accidents that resulted in injuries.”
Toyota will return to LMP1 next year to compete against the new generation of non-hybrid LMP1s. New Technical and Sporting regulations covering this top category will be announced soon.
At Bahrain, the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima won by more than a lap in a race which marked Porsche’s final LMP1 appearance in WEC. Nonetheless, Victory for the #8 drivers was the first time since 1990 that a car crew has won five races during a season of WEC or its predecessor, the World Sportscar Championship.
The Bahrain race began in daylight and Sébastien led the Toyota challenge after moving into third on the first lap in the #8, with Mike running fourth in the #7 and both cars putting pressure on the Porsches. After 30 minutes, Sébastien took the lead from the #1 Porsche and Mike also got past to establish a Toyota one-two.
At the first pit stops, the two TS050 Hybrids took different strategies; José took the wheel of the #7 on new tires while Sébastien stayed in the cockpit of the #8 and only refueled, retaining his lead. After an hour, darkness came, and the differing tire strategies became a factor. Just before one-third distance, Kazuki took over the #8 with fresh tires and dropped to second, although within a few laps he overtook José, who was on wearing out rubber, for the lead.
The team was pushing for a one-two finish until the #7 car, with Kamui at the wheel, crashed out of contention with three hours completed. Kamui and the #92 Porsche GT car made contact at turn one, causing a right rear puncture and bodywork damage to the #7.
During the, yawn, resulting safety car, mechanics worked to repair the #7 and return it to the race, having lost six minutes. It dropped to fourth place, two laps off the lead held by Kazuki. Ultimately, unfortunate contact with a GT car took the #7 TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López out of the victory fight and they finished fourth.
With the four-hour mark approaching, an alternative pit strategy gave Porsche #1 a temporary advantage but Anthony, now at the wheel of the #8, was in pursuit and his pressure paid off when the leader hit a GT car and pitted for repairs. That left the #8 car with a lead of more than one minute going into the final two hours and Anthony recorded fast racing times to extend the advantage, lapping both Porsches in the process.
At the final driver change, the #8 car was comfortably in the lead so Sébastien took over with a predictable no-risk approach and safely took the chequered flag for Toyota’s 16th win in its 48th WEC race. Mike brought the #7 home, after a stop-go penalty for the earlier collision, in fourth, three laps behind.
“I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all those who supported TOYOTA GAZOO Racing in the World Endurance Championship this season,” said Akio Toyoda, President, Toyota Motor Corporation. “Going to Le Mans to be together with our team in our fight there this June resulted in a personally and truly frustrating experience. And I am aware that our performance in that race brought frustration to our fans, as well. Other grueling races followed, and, amid it all, we learned of Porsche’s planned withdrawal from the WEC. After last year’s Le Mans, Porsche recognized us as a rival. By battling it out with such rivals as Porsche, I think we were able to heighten our technical prowess, making us faster and stronger. As we went up against Porsche, all our team members, including me, had the same thought in our hearts: we hate to lose.”