Sebastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima, drivers of the No. 8 Toyota TS050 HYBRID, edged closer to claiming the 2018/19 FIA WEC Drivers’ World Championship tonight, with a comfortable win in the series’ return to Sebring.
The trio were able to cruise to victory in the heavy rain that arrived during the final half hour, ahead of their title rivals in the sister Toyota, which lost valuable time in the pits to repair damage following an off for Jose Maria Lopez midway through the race.
“It was interesting but tough for me in the end. We knew we had a gap so I didn’t take any risks,” said Nakajima. “The track was so slippy, like ice! On the start straight I couldn’t even go flat. I’m so happy to finish without damage on the car.”
Unfortunately, the sixth round of the ‘Super Season’ was another race with very little competition in the LMP1 ranks, with fans forced to look elsewhere for excitement. Luckily, on a night where both prototype classes left a lot to be desired, the GTE categories delivered the goods, especially at the end when the conditions threw a spanner in the works.
Behind the two Toyotas, was the No. 11 SMP Racing BR1, which crossed the line 10 laps back from the winning car after recovering from an early mechanical issue. The No. 3 Rebellion Racing crew looked set to finish third, but faded late in the race with its own mechanical issues.
While there was a clear gap between the privateer and factory cars in LMP1 on pace, the nature of the grueling Sebring circuit played a huge part in making it a relatively forgettable race; it was a real war of attrition in the non-hybrid ranks.
Only four cars finished in LMP1, and two of those were heavily delayed. The other four retired, the No. 17 SMP Racing BR1 crashed out at Turn 1 early in the race after a light shower caught out Igor Orudzhev, and the No. 1 Rebellion R-13 and DragonSpeed BR1’s days came to an end with mechanical issues.
While it wasn’t an inspiring run for the non-hybrid runners, it was at the very least a valuable endurance test for the privateers ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours.
In LMP2, Jackie Chan DC Racing scored its fifth win of the season, and a crucial win for Dunlop over Michelin in the LMP2 tire war. However, the team will be slightly disappointed that the No. 38 crew of Stephane Richelmi, Gabriel Aubry and Ho-Pin Tung didn’t finish first here.
It was a disastrous outing for the LMP2 points leaders, leaving the new-look crew of Jordan King, Will Stevens and David Heinemeier Hansson in the No. 37 sister car to fly the flag for the team up front and continue its near-perfect form.
“I can retire now with a 100% record in sports car racing!” LMP2 newcomer King said. “Everyone did so well — it was stressful at the end, but we gave Will enough of a buffer.”
The aforementioned No. 38 ORECA suffered a major title blow, after having to overcome electrical and transmission issues early in the race, and later a stop to have its driver door replaced. The car finished, but last in the class.
While the No. 38’s title rivals in the Signatech Alpine A470 didn’t win, Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet did collect a strong haul of points by finishing second, and are now leading the standings with two races to go.
Completing the podium was the DragonSpeed ORECA, which recovered well after a tough outing. The crew was in the wars throughout, suffering tire issues and losing time due to offs into barriers, but still earned silverware thanks to other runners in the class falling even further back from the winning car.
Racing Team Nederland’s Dallara looked likely to take a podium during the first half of the race, but it all unravelled for the Dutch squad after losing 12 minutes in the pits in the final third.
GTE Pro on the other hand, provided plenty of action all the way to the end, especially when the rain came down hard…