TOYOTA GAZOO Racing started the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season with a one-two victory in the Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima won the race for the second successive year in the #8 TS050 HYBRID they share with newcomer Fernando Alonso, who enjoyed victory at Spa for the first time since an International Formula 3000 triumph 18 years ago.
The #7 TS050 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López completed a remarkable comeback by finishing second, just 1.444secs behind, despite starting one lap behind from the pit lane due to a qualifying penalty.
That result was TOYOTA’s 17th win from 49 WEC races, its fourth consecutive victory and its third at Spa. TOYOTA therefore leads both the teams’ and drivers’ World Championships going into the Le Mans 24 Hours on 16-17 June.
The race began under blue skies and Sébastien made a clean getaway from pole position in the #8, gradually extending his advantage over the chasing Rebellions while Mike took the #7 car to sixth by the time of the first pit stops. By then Sébastien had extended his lead to over 30 seconds but that evaporated shortly after the hour mark due to a safety car.
During the 30-minute delay, Kamui replaced Mike in the #7 while Fernando took over the #8 for his first WEC race laps. His first task when the race resumed was to defend the lead from Rebellion #1, which he did via a spectacular passing move on several GT cars on the Kemmel Straight.
Fernando’s stint was interrupted by a full course yellow but when the track was green he took advantage and built a substantial lead before handing over to Kazuki just before half distance. The #8 made an immediate return to pit lane to adjust Kazuki’s seat belts and lost more time soon after with a harmless spin at turn one.
Meanwhile, the #7 was continuing its impressive progress through the field and started the second half of the race in second position, around a minute behind the leading #8 when José María took over from Kamui at the next pit stop.
The two TS050 HYBRIDs tightened their grip on the race as the last hour approached, with Fernando preparing to take the #8 to the chequered flag with a lead of around one minute over the #7, with Mike at the wheel. But another safety car closed the gap to just six seconds with 50 minutes remaining.
Fernando and Mike stayed at the wheel through a final fuel stop with 25 minutes to go, after which the team chose to hold positions and avoid any unnecessary risks after over 1,100km of flat-out racing.