April 18, 2017
TOYOTA POSTS THRILLING VICTORY IN DRAMATIC WEC OPENER
Toyota overcame a persistent challenge from Porsche to post a thrilling victory in the opening round of the World Endurance Championship at Silverstone, UK.
Sébastien Buemi, in the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid shared with Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima, emerged from the final pit stop eight seconds behind the leading Porsche with 30 minutes to go.
Buemi, with the advantage of fresh rubber, chased down the race leader before unleashing a daring move, diving up the inside on a tight bend to take the lead with just 12 minutes remaining in the six-hour race.
He crossed the line with a margin of 6.173 seconds to claim the victory, the historic RAC Tourist Trophy for the three drivers and a win for Davidson on home soil.
The pole-sitting #7 TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López had led in stages during the first two hours, setting the fastest lap of the race.
But an anti-roll bar problem created handling difficulties and the #7 car dropped to fourth with Davidson taking the lead in the #8 car.
Intermittent wet weather created a challenging situation as both TS050 Hybrids remained on slick tyres, losing ground as their rivals switched to hybrid intermediates.
Davidson slipped to second, but reclaimed top spot as the Porsches made an extra stop for slick tyres when conditions improved.
More rain in the fourth hour ended the #7 car's challenge when three-time world touring car champion López, fighting a car with difficult handling, crashed into a tyre barrier at speed, causing extensive damage to the front and rear.
Incredibly, he was able to drive the car back to the pits where mechanics took just 66 minutes to repair the damage. The car returned to the track and finished 23rd.
The accident brought out a safety car which significantly reduced the #8 car's advantage, resulting in a close fight for the final two hours and setting up a grandstand finish.
Buemi said it was great to start the season with a victory after a tough race and an exciting finish.
"When I caught the Porsche, I knew it was my only opportunity as they were faster on the straights due to their low downforce package, so I had to try something and happily it worked out well," Buemi said.
The victory was the first for Buemi and Davidson in the WEC since Shanghai 2014 and the #8 crew's first as a trio.
López received treatment at the track's medical centre and was taken to hospital for a precautionary scan which confirmed he suffered no injuries.
The team now prepares for the second round of the season, the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on May 6, 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 #9 TS050 Hybrid.
Toyota motorsport: In 2017, Toyota marks the 60th anniversary of its first international motorsport entry (and the first by a Japanese car manufacturer), when it contested the 1957 Round Australia Trial. This is why many people consider Australia to be the birthplace of Toyota motorsport. Today, Toyota contests the FIA-sanctioned World Rally Championship (WRC), World Endurance Championship (WEC) which features the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the gruelling Dakar Rally. Closer to home, the Toyota 86 Racing Series seeks to develop the talent of tomorrow as Australia's premier grassroots circuit-racing category.