Toyota claimed a victory in its 100th World Endurance Championship race at Algarve in the inaugural FIA WEC 8 Hours of Portimao, after a topsy-turvy race-long fight with Signatech Alpine.
The No. 8 GR010 HYBRID of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley took the win over the No. 7 sister car, after team orders played a huge part in the closing laps.
The race, up and down the field, was all about fuel mileage and tire degradation in the heat. Up front in the Le Mans Hypercar category, the No. 8 Toyota was on a fuel-saving strategy throughout the race, allowing it to hold an advantage into the final stint, saving a stop.
The No. 7 was expected to finish second long before the final stint, but a late full-course yellow for the High Class LMP2 ORECA stopping out on track in the final hour put the result into doubt as it allowed the No. 7 to take a splash under the caution period. This turned what should have been a simple end to the race, into a complex one. Instead of the No. 8 taking a comfortable victory, it was a messy finish with multiple interventions from the pit wall proving to be the deciding factor.
Initially Buemi took the lead after Jose Maria Lopez’s fuel stop, but the Toyota pit wall allowed the No. 7 to retake the top spot and according to a team source, “prove it was faster.” Lopez was unable to gap Buemi though, so the team reversed its decision and then allowed the No. 8 to retake the lead and therefore the win with 10 minutes remaining. As a result the No. 8 now holds a commanding championship lead heading into the third round of the season at Monza next month.
“It was a tough race. We had a different strategy to car 7 — we saved a lot more fuel and avoided the splash,” related Buemi. “They got lucky with the full-course yellow. But we had internal rules which fell in our favor. I had a tough end, though, with a lot of cramp in my arms. It’s a long story, but I’m happy with how it turned out,” Buemi said after the race.
Where was the competition? This strange finale came after Signatech Alpine spent a large portion of the race in the lead during each pit cycle, before fading away at the end.
The Alpine was faster over a single lap than the Toyotas, but was unable to convert pole into a win as it couldn’t run as long on fuel. The team knew it had to make at least one additional stop going in, and needed to create a lead large enough to allow it to win with extra time in the pits. Failing that, Alpine needed to benefit from a very lengthy safety car or FCY period, which ultimately didn’t quite come.
Despite the best efforts from Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Matthieu Vaxiviere, Alpine’s A480 came home third after 300 laps of racing, a minute off the winners in the No. 8. They did, however, finish far ahead of Glickenhaus’ new 007, which had a troubled WEC debut but did at least make the finish. The American-flagged machine suffered a clutch issue that forced it into the garage after Ryan Briscoe was involved in a collision at the Turn 5 hairpin at the end of Hour 2. It came home 30th overall.
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The Team PR summed it up neatly. “We crashed once, touched once, and accidentally burned through and changed one clutch, yet we still finished our first WEC race.”
Glickenhaus has a lot to learn, and a lot more running to complete with its new chassis. But this was a strong effort with a car still in its early development phase, which according to Richard Westbrook during the race, was strong on pace for a few laps, but really struggled on tire life.