Toyota Racing come up tops in WEC season-opener at Silverstone

  Toyota Racing scored a dramatic victory in the 6 Hours of Silverstone after a thrilling opening round of the 2017 World Endurance Championship (WEC).

In a race defined by several rain showers, the no.8 TS050 Hybrid of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima earned victory inside the final 15 minutes in front of 50,200 spectators.

The pole-sitting no.7 TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López set the fastest lap of the race but lost over an hour due to an accident and finished 23rd. Lopez visited the circuit medical centre and then travelled to hospital for a precautionary scan which confirmed he suffered no injuries.

Although the race started in cool, dry conditions and the two TS 050 Hybrids ran in first and second, the weather soon intervened; after 45 minutes a shower struck and light rain fell intermittently after that.

Close to the second pit stops, the no.7 suffered an anti-roll bar problem which created handling difficulties and caused Kobayashi to lose performance and drop to fourth. Davidson then took over the wheel of the no.8 and assumed the lead. A battle ensued with the no.2 Porsche 919 Hybrid. But with two hours completed, the weather worsened and created a very challenging situation.

Both TS050 Hybrids stayed on slick tyres throughout, unlike the Porsches which switched to hybrid intermediates. Kobayashi lost time in the gravel when the rain was at its heaviest, while Davidson initially slipped to second.

But as the conditions improved and the Porsches made an extra stop for slick tyres, Davidson reclaimed top spot. More rain came just after half distance, which caused the end of the no.7 car’s challenge. Lopez, fighting a car with difficult handling, crashed into a tyre barrier at speed, causing extensive damage to the front and rear. He brought the car back to the pits and the mechanics worked hard to repair the damage. After 66 minutes in the garage, Conway brought the car back on track in 26th.

That accident brought out a safety car and significantly reduced the #8 car’s advantage over the no.2 Porsche. The close fight continued throughout the final two hours, setting up a grandstand finish, with Buemi at the wheel for the last stint.

When the no.2 Porsche emerged from its final pit stop, with 30 minutes remaining, its lead was only eight seconds. Buemi hunted down the lead with a series of quick lap times, even as more drizzle fell, and eventually overtook with only 12 minutes remaining, taking the win by 6.173 seconds.

The team now prepares for the second round of the season, the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, the final race before the Le Mans 24 Hours. Spa will mark the first time Toyota has entered three hybrid-powered LMP1 cars, with Stéphane Sarrazin, Yuji Kunimoto and Nicolas Lapierre competing in the no.9 TS050 Hybrid.

2017 WEC Silverstone classification

  1. Davidson/Kobayashi/ Buemi Toyota Racing 197 laps
  2. Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley Porsche +6.173secs
  3.  ani/Lotterer/Tandy Porsche +46.956secs
  4. Tung/Jarvis/Laurent DC Racing  +13 laps
  5. Canal/Prost/Senna Rebellion +13 laps