Toyota GAZOO Racing took its second consecutive victory of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season with a one-two in the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. Silverstone winners Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima, in the #8 TS050 Hybrid, again took top step of the podium to extend their lead in the drivers’ World Championship to 17 points.
In a dramatic race, the #7 of Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi finished just 1.992 seconds behind in second place, for the team’s first one-two since Shanghai in 2014. That moves Toyota into a lead of 8.5 points in the manufacturers’ World Championship.
The #9 crew of Stéphane Sarrazin, Yuji Kunimoto and Nicolas Lapierre, competing together for the first time, completed a trouble-free race to finish fifth and gather valuable experience with the low-downforce TS050 Hybrid.
Takayuki Yoshitsugu, Chief Representative, Middle East and North Africa Representative Office, Toyota Motor Corporation, said, “I congratulate the teams on this superb performance, which gives Toyota the lead in both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships. For Toyota, one of the goals of our participation in motorsports activities is to refine our cars and people under various types of extremely challenging road conditions and feedback the results to mass-production vehicles that will help us create ‘ever-better cars’. The FIA World Endurance Championship provides an excellent platform for us to put this strategy into action. As always, the fan support was amazing and I extend my thanks to all those who cheered our team on.”
On this occasion, Toshio Sato, Team President, said, “This was a dramatic race; I hope the fans enjoyed it. The #7 was unlucky with the two full-course yellows. These things can happen in endurance racing but it’s really frustrating for Mike, Kamui and the car crew. They had the quickest car in the race and didn’t make any mistakes. Well done to the #8 car; they never gave up and got their reward. It’s also been a very productive weekend from a technical point of view; having the chance to get data on the low-downforce package with the #9 is helpful for our Le Mans preparations. Le Mans is our big target and we will now make the final push to be ready.”
Right from the start, the Toyota vehicles were challenging for the win, with first Sébastien then Mike putting the pole-position competitor car under pressure. On the 10th lap, Mike took the lead, while Sébastien took second three laps later. At the first driver changes, Yuji took over the #9 in fifth for his first-ever racing laps at Spa. He showed consistency and maturity throughout his two stints to navigate safely through the lapped traffic – a key stage in his acclimatization to WEC racing.
Kamui was consistently building a lead for the #7 as the race passed the halfway point, with Anthony in the #8 in second. But the race soon took a significant turn with two full-course yellow periods. The #7 was unlucky to be already in the pits on both occasions. Other cars pitted after the yellow flags and therefore conceded far less time due to the 80 km/h limit around the lap. Mike, whose stops were made when the competitors were driving at racing speeds, lost around one minute.
Kazuki initially took the lead during the first full-course yellow then extended it significantly during the second. Mike, meanwhile, found himself dropping to third. Accident repairs to a competitor car meant Sébastien held a half-minute lead going into the final hour over Kamui, now second in the #7.
Kamui closed the gap but held position in the last laps, crossing the line just behind Sébastien, who took Toyota’s 13th win since its WEC debut in 2012. Nicolas completed a clean run for the #9 car, taking the flag in fifth, two laps behind.
The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps this season was the first time that Toyota GAZOO Racing fielded three TS050 Hybrid cars in a race. To enhance its preparations for Le Mans, the #9 TS050 Hybrid – featuring Stéphane Sarrazin, Yuji Kunimoto and Nicolas Lapierre – used a low-downforce configuration which is optimized for the long straights which characterize the Circuit de la Sarthe. Both the #7 and #8 crews, meanwhile, drove their TS050 Hybrid cars with a high-downforce configuration, which concedes top speed in favor of more grip around corners.
Toyota GAZOO Racing now makes the short journey back to Cologne to accelerate preparations for the Le Mans 24 Hours on 17-18 June. Before that, all teams participate in the official Le Mans test day on 4 June.