Toyota Gazoo Racing took a 1-2 victory to kick off the eighth FIA WEC season today at Silverstone, with the No. 7 TS050 HYBRID of Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway claiming their first win at the English circuit.
The trio fought hard through the race, which was affected by a rain shower, and took the lead late on to ultimately finish 1.9 seconds ahead of the sister car of Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and team newcomer Brendon Hartley.
“We’ve been trying to win this race for a long time,” said Conway. “Great to do this. Great job by everyone. Big thank you to the team after rebuilding this car on Friday. Let’s keep it going.”
Behind the Toyotas it was a frustrating race for the LMP1 privateers, which were able to stay closer than ever before to the hybrid-powered TS050 HYBRIDs, yet still all finished off the lead lap due to various issues and penalties.
There was a moment where Rebellion held a 1-2 up front, and when the rain came down the Swiss team opted to change to wets while Toyota stayed out on slicks. Toyota’s TS050 HYBRIDs struggled mightily and eventually came in, losing so much time that they slipped back to third and fourth. But it wasn’t long before the Japanese marque’s drivers were able to fight back and resume their position at the front of the field.
The No. 3 Rebellion R-13 took third after a relatively quiet outing, which was spoiled by a 30-second stop-go for a technical infringement in the closing stages that dropped Pipo Derani, Nathanael Berthon and Loic Duval off the lead lap.
The No. 5 Team LNT Ginetta took fourth place, recovering from struggles for pace early in the race and an off into the gravel by Ben Hanley in the third hour.
Both team’s sister cars hit trouble . The No. 6 Team LNT Ginetta had a problem shortly after the start of the race when Mike Simpson had the right-rear wheel fly off. Later, an ambitious move on Miguel Molina in the No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari by Oliver Jarvis resulted in ontact, sending both off the circuit. Two trips to the garage dropped the car to the very back of the field.
Rebellion’s No. 1 R-13, meanwhile, had a puncture in the second half of the race and then went into the garage in the final minutes with ECU issues, dropping it from fourth to fifth behind the first of the Ginettas. It was a disappointing race for the full-season No. 1 crew, which never recovered from a moment during the rain shower in the second hour when Norman Nato came piling into his pit box, hitting two of the team mechanics and the fuel rig.
LMP2 was won by WEC debutant Cool Racing with its Michelin-shod ORECA 07 Gibson. The team was down to two drivers after Alex Coigny was injured in an accident in Saturday’s European Le Mans Series race at the same circuit. Without Coigny, Nicolas Lapierre and Antonin Borga double-teamed the race, kept it clean, and survived both a late drive-through for a safety car infection and a slow left-rear puncture to win.
“The two guys did a fantastic job in our first race in WEC,” said Coigny. “I missed being with them today, but the next one I’ll be with them.”
Behind, Signatech Alpine stole second late in the race after a spirited drive from Thomas Laurent. The Frenchman caught and passed a struggling Frits van Eerd just before the end after the Dutchman lost second gear in the Racing Team Nederland ORECA.
Nevertheless the all-Dutch squad scored its first ever WEC podium on its ORECA debut after superb performances from Giedo van Der Garde and Job van Uitert in the opening three hours set up the team for a big result.
The Cool Racing and RTN ORECA broke away from the pack early in the race, ending up a lap ahead after making the right strategy calls in the rain and benefiting from the two safety car periods.
In the second half of the race though, the efforts of the pro drivers in the chasing cars while Bronze drivers van Eerd and Borga were aboard the leading cars meant the top five finished on the lead lap.
Just off the podium, the No. 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA represented the first of the three Goodyear runners. The sister car, under the Jota Sport banner, completed the top five.
The only retirement in the class was the No. 22 United Autosports ORECA, which had a hugely disappointing debut in the championship. Paul Di Resta was forced to retire the car in the opening laps after the team suffered an electrical issue. This followed the team’s leading new ORECA in the European Le Mans Series race yesterday also retiring with electrical problems.
“I made a good start and was comfortably tucked in behind the class leader but on the exit of Stowe I heard a popping sound and then the car immediately lost all drive,” said Di Resta. “I did a power cycle but the engine wouldn’t fire up, and there was also a little smoke in the cockpit. It’s disappointing, as having been in the top two of every session, we were looking very strong to win, or be on the podium at the very least.”
GTE Pro was a real rollercoaster, but in the end, Porsche’s new 911 RSR 19 won on its global race debut in a 1-2 finish for the German marque. Tire strategy and a penalty for the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari proved pivotal. The No. 91 of Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni led home the No. 92. After the race, it was revealed that the No. 51’s drive-through was cancelled by the stewards, but the call came too late as the Ferrari was already running down the pit lane. A case of what might have been for James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi who lost 30 seconds to the incorrect penalty and finished under 20 seconds off the lead?
“Great call for wet tires during the rain set us up,” Bruni said. “We were one of the first to do it. I made a mistake through traffic which dropped us back, but after it was a good call in pit strategy. I had a free track, came out first and pulled away. It was a tough win, good to win in the first race for the new 911 RSR.”
Porsche and Aston Martin Racing selected medium and hard Michelin compounds, while AF Corse chose soft and mediums. This meant that during the race the Porsches and Astons were able to double-stint tires, while the Ferraris had to change at each stop. This evened out the race and meant the AF Corse Ferraris spent much of the race catching and passing the Porsches and contending No. 97 Aston during various stints as the double-stinted rubber dropped off.
The race was arguably the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi’s to lose, but an early puncture and a penalty late on for overtaking under Safety Car cost them, and the duo finished fourth. The No. 97 Aston Martin was in contention all the way until the end, but had to settle for third, crossing the line six seconds behind the winning Porsche.
AF Corse’s sister No. 71 488 GTE EVO was also in contention until its collision with the No. 6 Ginetta, which Davide Rigon felt cost them a podium and or win.
“I’m very disappointed with Jarvis and this crash, it’s slippery with slick tires; why would you overtake there?” he said. “I did two hours today and it’s not possible to overtake there. We were looking good to win this race or get a podium. We don’t deserve this. I’m disappointed in Jarvis, I’m not going to talk to him anymore now.”
In AM, AF Corse took a commanding victory on Francois Perrodo and Manu Collard’s return to the category. The duo, along with Nicklas Nielsen, combined for a near-faultless performance, which was almost scuppered by a penalty for a Full-Course Yellow infringement.
The No. 98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage AMR of Paul Dalla Lana, Ross Gunn and Darren Turner recovered to second in class after the team made the call to stay out on slicks in the rain which led to Turner plummeting down the order from the lead. They climbed back through the field during the second half with Gunn behind the wheel, but a penalty for overtaking under Safety Car meant they finished a lap down on the winning Ferrari.
This was a race in which all the amateur drivers took the start and stayed close together due to safety cars and full-course yellows, which meant that pro drivers and penalties determined the outcome.
For a time it appeared that Gulf Racing and the No. 77 Dempsey Proton Porsches looked on for podium finishes, but both fell away with late pit stops for fuel; the Gulf car’s coming as a result of a fuel pickup issue. It left the door open for MR Racing’s Ferrari, which was handed a penalty of its own, to take a surprise third. Kei Cozzolino, Olivier Berretta and Motoaki Ishikawa all drove well.
Gulf Racing will feel disappointed in finishing fourth after a valiant effort from Andrew Watson in his WEC debut and Ben Barker to keep the car in the running for silverware. The No. 90 TF Sport Aston Martin also had a disheartening result, finishing fifth after taking pole position.
The first ever four-hour WEC race was ultimately a success, with drama in all classes, in part caused by the weather and in part because of the condensed format. The newly-relaid surface also played a part, throwing up surprises in tire strategy and providing teams with record-breaking pace, resulting in all four class lap records being shattered.
Next up is Round 2 of Season 8 at Fuji Speedway on October 14th.