Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No. 8 TS050 HYBRID of Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi outlasted weather chaos at Spa-Francorchamps to earn its fourth victory of the 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’.
What turned out to be one of the more remarkable and memorable contests in WEC history, ran without a red flag stoppage until the final 8 minutes despite the constant change in weather conditions.
The six hours of racing featured bouts of sunshine, broken up by heavy snow, hail and rain, which shook up the running order continuously as teams took risks on strategy.
Tire choice was key here, with all four classes featuring tight battles for podium spots right until the end. The driving standards were outstanding, with no major incidents, and the cars all held up. As a result, there were no retirements.
Behind the winning Toyota, the podium was completed by two privateer LMP1s. The No. 3 Rebellion Racing R-13 of Gustavo Menezes, Thomas Laurent and Nathanael Berthon beat the No. 11 SMP Racing BR1 of Mikhail Aleshin, Vitaly Petrov and WEC debutant Stoffel Vandoorne to second.
Both cars were close throughout the race, and finished just six seconds apart, despite Aleshin telling RACER after the podium ceremony that the No. 11 had just four gears for the final two hours.
Both driver crews all performed masterfully through traffic in the tricky conditions, with Vandoorne, in particular, standing out, the ex-McLaren F1 driver in his LMP1 debut, leading the race early on in the confusion caused by the first ‘blizzard’.
The sister No. 7 Toyota was unable to challenge and convert pole into a win. Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez ended up finishing sixth overall, after losing four laps to an electrical sensor issue at the halfway mark while it was leading.
“It was a crazy day, with crazy weather. We didn’t expect snow in May! It was lucky for us, we feel sorry for the sister car. We secured the Team’s Title, so it’s an important result. Now we head to Le Mans,” said race winner Nakajima.
The only titles settled this afternoon was the LMP1 team’s title, which went the way of Toyota, and the GT Manufacturers’ FIA World Endurance Championship, which went to Porsche.
Porsche’s two 911 RSRs scored enough points in Pro to make it mathematically impossible for Ferrari to stay in the fight at Le Mans week. All the other titles across the four classes though are going down to the wire.
Winning the Pro class though, was Aston Martin Racing, with its No. 97 Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn, who both took their first ever class wins in the process.
GTE Pro was spectacular in the changing conditions, and again provided viewers trackside and at home with an unpredictable race, full of drama and door-to-door action.
No manufacturer really took control, as the safety cars and full-course yellows throughout kept the field bunched up and on the same lap.
With each car performing wildly different as the conditions changed, it was near-impossible to see which way the race was going until the final hour, when the final weather front caused one last flurry of pit stops under the safety car and set the order for one final dash before the red flag.
The No. 97 led the way at the final restart, Maxime Martin aboard after an ironman-like stint from Alex Lynn, who thrived in the middle portion of the race in the tough conditions. The Belgian, on home turf, had to defend hard until the race was called against James Calado in the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari. The two battled hard, with Calado unable to get through.
“It was a crazy race,” Lynn, whose only other sports car victory came at Sebring in 2017, told RACER. “It was far worse being in the garage and watching Max than it was being out there in that weather.
“The team was awesome, every strategy call was spot on, but it was a mentally tough race, probably worse because we knew we could be strong here and the conditions just kept throwing more pressure to deal with, at us.
“Every team was in with a chance at some point, and I’m just delighted that we’ll got to Le Mans with a win in the bag for Max and I and can focus now on getting the next one.”