Toyota Gazoo Racing’s reign of dominance is over. Its seven-race winning streak, which dates back to the 6 Hours of Silverstone during the 2018/19 season, was snapped in the 4 Hours of Shanghai. Instead, it was Rebellion Racing’s day, the No. 1 R-13 Gibson of Gustavo Menezes, Norman Nato and Bruno Senna taking the win after a hard-fought race in China.
The victory came after a recovery drive by the team following a messy start to the race which saw the car drop to sixth from pole. Nato took the start and struggled for tire temperature, which caused him to get swallowed up by the pack.
After that, though, the team used strategy — taking fresh rubber early on instead of double stinting in the opening hours like its rivals — and speed. All three drivers contributed to the gradual climb up the order and into the lead, taking a comfortable win over the handicapped Toyotas.
“We were helped by the late full-course yellow, which meant everyone had to make a splash rather than just us,” Menezes told RACER. “But this was great, the best racing in the WEC for a long time — it’s what the series has needed. Everyone in the team worked so hard, we had a perfect race really, and had the pace here to win.”
Behind the Rebellion, the two Toyota TS050 HYBRIDs completed the podium. The No. 8 beat the No. 7 to second place here, after the No. 7 suffered a drive-through for jumping the start.
Despite their advantage through traffic with hybrid boost, in fuel consumption and tire wear, they simply couldn’t better the R-13 which had far more straight-line speed and was consistently able to generate faster lap times. The tire degradation on the Rebellion wasn’t as severe as many expected, in a race defined by tire management across the board.
Strategy helped here for Rebellion too, it must be said, the Swiss team recovering well from Nato’s struggles at the start. In the end the No. 1 crossed the line a minute ahead of the No. 8 Toyota, which had a trouble-free race and a lap ahead of the delayed No. 7 Toyota.
Opinions on the new LMP1 ‘success handicap’ system aside, it was undeniably an entertaining and unpredictable race, featuring a level of wheel-to-wheel action that has been missing from the class since Porsche’s exit from the LMP1 ranks at the end of 2017.
Rebellion really had to push for this one and Toyota had to push too in order to stay in contention for the win. Not everyone was sold, though — even within the same driving crews there were disagreements on how the race panned out.
Sebastien Buemi wasn’t a fan of the advantage Rebellion was handed in this race by the new system.
“The advantage was too much,” he told RACER. “They were so fast down the straights and we were as slow as the LMP2s, sometimes slower. Maybe in Bahrain it will be a little closer because the Rebellion will suffer a penalty, but the Ginettas will still have the speed. We didn’t have the pace to win.
Hartley, Buemi’s teammate, disagrees. ”The way we generate the lap times is different; it made for a great race. It’s tricky for us in the traffic, but I had fun out there. We had to push hard, which is what you want in racing.”
Interestingly, Menezes actually agreed with Buemi that Rebellion’s advantage was a little bit too much.
Off the podium were the two Team LNT Ginetta G60-LT-P1s, finishing fourth and fifth. It was a race which showed much promise early on, but left everyone in the garage feeling disappointed. Both cars were rapid, particularly early on, when Charlie Robertson set the fastest lap while leading the race in the No. 6, ahead of Ben Hanley in the No. 5 that also got the better of the pole-sitting R-13 at the start and fended off the Toyotas. Both cars sped away but faded after the first hour, due to multiple factors.
Both cars served a drive-through, like the No. 7 Toyota, for jumping the start, and lost time a number of times the pits, the No. 6, most notably, lost a whole minute when it missed its pit box on one occasion and couldn’t get out of gear to be pushed back.
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