UPDATE: The third-place-finishing No. 1 Rebellion Racing R-13 Gibson has been disqualified after failing post-race scrutineering.
Toyota Gazoo Racing took a dominant 1-2 finish in the 2018 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the team’s pair of TS050 HYBRIDs cruising to the finish in formation, both two laps ahead of its privateer competition, despite one of its cars starting the race from the pit lane, and a lap down.
The big headline was Fernando Alonso scoring his first WEC win on his series debut, alongside Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi in the No. 8. As a result, the Spaniard won his first significant race since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, and scored his first win at Spa since his season in Formula 3000 back in 2000.
It was, however, a lights-to-flag win for the No. 8 crew, which barely put a foot wrong for the entire six hours; the only issue came when the race still hung in the balance after Alonso’s first stint in hour three, when Nakajima had to make an unscheduled stop due to an issue with his seatbelt.
The big disappointment was a lack of real competition from the privateer runners in the LMP1 class, who were unable to go toe-to-toe with the leading Toyota at any point during the race.
The only contender was the sister No. 7 by the end of the race, which ended up climbing from 34th and a lap down after its post-qualifying penalty, all the way to second overall by the halfway mark. The TS050 HYBRID, driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, finished on the lead lap in the end, but understandably didn’t challenge the No. 8 in its pursuit for a headline victory for Alonso and Co., despite the fact that the Spaniard was dealing with an overheating gearbox toward the end.
“I think with the result and the whole weekend has been amazing in terms of team performance both during qualifying and the race,” Alonso said after the race.
“There has been a lot of preparation into this project with the testing and the simulator, a lot of people in the factory with these two cars. Then you have to come to the races and deliver the results. I think we executed the race the best way we could.
“I’m extremely happy to win my first endurance race. Seb and Kazuki did an amazing job made my life a little bit easier. Thanks to everyone in the team.”
The best privateer team by far was the Rebellion Racing crew, its pair of R-13 Gibsons running almost faultlessly all race and finishing third and fourth – a remarkable achievement for the long-standing Swiss team considering it’s the newest chassis in the field.
The only niggle was a problem with the data logger for the No. 1 of Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna, which looked to have cost it a podium toward the end of the race, though it regained second in the final hour after an enormous shunt at Eau Rouge by the No. 17 SMP Racing BR1 AER of Matevos Issakyan.
“It was a very tough race. A lot happening. We made the best out of it for sure,” Senna said after the race. “We could have had a straightforward race without some of the technical issues we had.
“But a podium in the first race of the car and when you look at it we have had such little time to test and develop the car.
“There is so much potential in the car so today was a test day. We got a podium out of the test day.
“I think at the end of the season we are up there with the top guys and fighting for the win.”
Issakyan’s crash happened as he was was battling for third at the end of the fifth hour, finally conceding the final podium spot to Thomas Laurent after being held up behind a Porsche GTE car going through Eau Rouge. Laurent got past in a three-wide moment on the exit of Raidillon.
Issakyan was then spotted by the TV cameras a handful of minutes later, climbing out of the car, which was on the barriers at the far pit exit, with its front and rear destroyed. There was no footage of the incident, nor was there confirmation on exactly what happened. But the car had damage to its roof though, in addition to the front and rear.
It capped off a tough weekend for the BR1 chassis, after the DragonSpeed team failed to make the start of the race due to the damage sustained in Pietro Fittipaldi’s enormous shunt in qualifying, which was also at Eau Rouge.
The sister No. 11 SMP Racing BR1 AER – which Jenson Button will drive for the rest of the season – did make the finish at least, though it crossed the line a lowly sixth overall, after an early puncture and a penalty later in the race.