No. 8 crew saves the day for Toyota at Portimao 6H

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No. 8 crew saves the day for Toyota at Portimao 6H

Le Mans/WEC

No. 8 crew saves the day for Toyota at Portimao 6H


Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No. 8 GR010 HYBRID scored its first win of the FIA World Endurance Championship season in dominant fashion after the team’s Sebring-winning No. 7 crew lost seven laps due to a driveshaft change being required on the car early in the race.

Sebastien Buemi, Ryo Hirakawa and Brendon Hartley finished a lap ahead of the field, although the race was more intriguing than the Sebring 1000 Miles. But ultimately the Japanese team, with its untroubled winning car, proved capable of keeping Ferrari and the other teams in the chasing pack at arm’s length.

“I felt for car 7 — they kept us honest,” Hartley admitted after the race. “They overtook us at the start before their issue. I’m still convinced the others are coming and will get their ducks in a row for Le Mans.

“It was a great race for us though. Today it was perfect — there were no mistakes from the drivers, pit stops, or on strategy. To take the championship lead is nice. We are still making steps. I am proud that the guys have put our experience to good use and optimized the package we have.”

Finishing second was the No. 50 Ferrari 499P of Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen, scoring the team its best result to date, improving on the third-place finish in Round 1.

It wasn’t in any way a perfect race for AF Corse, but there were so many encouraging signs. The team’s race pace, and performance in the garage and on the pit wall were much improved in this encounter. As a result, Ferrari was in contention for the opening hours and able to put pressure on the winning car, spending almost five hours on the lead lap.

“Second place represents an excellent performance and a further step forward over the third step of the podium on the debut,” said Antonello Coletta, head of Attività Sportive GT. “We know there’s still a long way to go, and our opponents are very strong. We had a problem with the 499P No. 51 that stopped us from finishing with a double podium, which would have been an outstanding result. We go away happy but aware that we must continue to work, especially on reliability.”

Completing the podium was the No. 6 Porsche Penske 963, on what was an extremely memorable weekend for the young LMDh program. After the IMSA arm of the team claimed the 963 model’s first win globally on Saturday in the IMSA Long Beach sprint race, a first WEC podium today will add to the team’s confidence going forward.

With the third-place finish the No. 6 of Andre Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor and Kevin Estre became the first LMDh car to finish on the podium in WEC history. It wasn’t a comfortable end to the race, though, as the team under-fueled the car at its last scheduled stop, forcing Lotterer in with 10 minutes to go, almost costing the team third.

Just off the podium, finishing a handful of seconds behind the Porsche, was the car from the only major factory team in Hypercar that didn’t suffer a mechanical drama or significant on-track incident: Cadillac Racing. Over one lap the V-Series.R couldn’t match the front-runners, but the car is significantly kinder to its tires than most of the other cars in the class, which gradually brought the team into play as the race wore on.

Richard Westbrook, Alex Lynn and Earl Bamber, who were out of sync for most of this one due to an additional tire change midway through a stint early in the race, will be thrilled with a second fourth-place finish, which was claimed when the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari suffered a right-front brake disc failure in the final 30 minutes.

The issue for Alessandro Pier Guidi occurred at Turn 1 after a late race restart for an incident for the Vanwall, which also suffered a brake failure that sent Jacques Villeneuve spinning into the barriers and into retirement at the end of the fifth hour. Pier Guidi went straight on at Turn 1, and then went straight on at the hairpin later in the lap.

He finished, but had to limp home at a reduced pace with the left-front brake disc doing the heavy lifting. This came after Antonio Giovanazzi suffered issues with the car’s brake-by-wire system early in the race while running in the top three. The Italian was forced to complete an ironman stint, lifting and coasting to control the brake temperature while the team worked to solve the issue. It was a stint which he described as the hardest of his career.

Meanwhile, the No. 7 Toyota had to come in for a rear corner change, to replace a driveshaft and the sensor which failed. By regulation the sensor needs to work, so Toyota was forced to bring the car in despite the fact that the issue didn’t affect its performance. It proved a major setback for Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, who held the championship lead going into the race and left Portugal with a ninth-place finish.

At Porsche, both its cars suffered power steering issues in the race. The No. 6’s was reported as persistent but not catastrophic, while the No. 5 had to spend time in the garage for repairs due to an electronics-focused issue for Michael Christensen late in the race. It came home last of the classified Hypercar runners.

Peugeot’s No. 93 9X8 also had steering issues, the team was forced to replace the steering rack in the build-up to the race. The car started from pit lane and a lap down, forcing its drivers into a recovery drive for the duration, eventually finishing a respectable seventh, behind the team’s No. 94.

The latter had a far more encouraging race, in the mix with the Cadillac and Porsches for a top-five finish throughout. This performance was by no means a complete turnaround for the Peugeot program, but it has clearly taken steps in the right direction since its woeful outing at Sebring.

There were no issues with the hybrid system or the new hydraulic gearbox. Peugeot will therefore have more confidence that it can take further strides at Spa next time out. With a surprise fifth-place finish due to the limping Ferrari falling back, the No. 94 also made it five manufacturers in the top five.

In LMP2, it was a thriller that went down to the wire, again. Winning the race after late drama was the No. 23 United Autosports ORECA of Oliver Jarvis, Giedo van der Garde and Josh Pierson. It was a welcome change in fortune after the team’s rotten luck in the season opener, when an issue with the in-car camera hit the kill switch on the car and they retired from the lead.

The car controlled most of the race, before a fumbled penultimate pit stop as a result of a radio failure dropped Oliver Jarvis to second behind the No. 63 Prema ORECA of Danill Kvyat.

“I had no radio for the whole stint. The battery died and I was on my own,” explained van der Garde, who filled IMSA full-season driver Tom Blomqvist’s seat this weekend, told RACER. “Then suddenly they decided to put Olly in the car as they thought it was an issue with my helmet. We were only supposed to swap the left-side tires at that stop before I took the car to the end. But then suddenly Olly was in the car and I had to unbuckle and sort the drinks system. It was a strange situation, but we did a good job.”

But the final round of stops after the restart wasn’t kind to Prema, as the car dropped to third behind the two United ORECAs, the No. 23 reclaiming the lead, with the No. 22 of Phil Hanson at the end of the race close behind, following Jarvis home

To add insult to injury for Prema, Kvyat lost third in the closing laps to a hard-charging Louis Deletraz in the No. 41 WRT ORECA and came home fourth, the former F1 driver struggling for grip.

The No. 48 Hertz Team JOTA ORECA, in its final outing before the team begins campaigning a Porsche 963 in Hypercar, ended up completing the top five after struggling to feature in the race for the win, and getting involved in multiple lengthy tussles with the cars around it.

Meanwhile, it was a tough day for Vector Sport. After the high of missing out on pole by the smallest margin in WEC history yesterday, today the team suffered a fly-by-wire throttle issue that forced the team in for a lengthy stint in the garage for repairs.

GTE Am came down to a duel in the final hour. Corvette Racing’s pole-sitting No. 33 C8.R and the No. 83 Richard Mille Racing Ferrari ended up in a battle for the lead in the final minutes, with Nicky Catsburg putting on a defensive masterclass to keep Alessio Rovera at bay.

“It takes two drivers to put on a show like that,” Catsburg said after the race, “but I have to say hats off to Alessio for driving fair. He was so much faster at the end, but catching is one thing, passing is another.”

Catsburg’s teammate Nico Varrone described the atmosphere in the Corvette garage during the final hour as “stressful.”

“We are so lucky that our team helped us at every stop,” Varrone told RACER. “We were gaining six or seven seconds each time, they kept us in it. Those guys hit the gym multiple times a week and practice every day — hard work pays off.”

In the end, Rovera was unable to make the move and Corvette held on for the win, taking a commanding championship lead in the process with its second straight win to start the season. It was nevertheless a great bounce-back result for Richard Mille Racing, after crashing out of the race in Sebring.

Completing the podium was the No. 85 Iron Dames Porsche, which was in the mix throughout and came home just 25 seconds off the lead.

Just off the podium was a pair of AF Corse Ferraris that finished fourth and fifth, the No. 54 leading the No. 21. The No. 21 crew of Diego Alessi, Simon Mann and Ulysse De Pauw will leave Portugal scratching their heads and wanting more. The car led much of the early portion of the race, Alessi proving to be the class of the field in the opening stints up against the other Bronze drivers.

Next on the schedule for the FIA WEC teams is the 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps on April 29.