TOYOTA GAZOO Racing started the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season in perfect style with a one-two victory in an eventful 4 Hours of Silverstone.
Home favourite Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López took victory from pole position in the #7 TS050 HYBRID to register the sixth consecutive win for reigning World Champions TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, despite its cars now carrying 99kg more weight than their nearest rivals under updated regulations.
The #8 TS050 HYBRID of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley fought all the way to the flag and earned second place, less than two seconds behind its sister car, in front of a weekend crowd of 49,600 who saw an action-packed race in changing weather conditions.
Mike started the race from pole in the #7, holding that advantage from Sébastien during the early stages until an unfortunately-timed full course yellow saw the Rebellions briefly lead. Sébastien, now ahead of the sister car after the pit stops, soon closed the gap and took the lead with Mike bringing the #7 up to second a few laps later.
As the race approached the 90-minute mark, an intense rain shower hit Silverstone. Both cars initially attempted to avoid a costly unplanned pit stop but track conditions deteriorated and both eventually changed to wet weather tyres.
Pit stops proved to be an influential factor, with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing earning precious seconds at tyre changes. That is even more significant this season due to regulation changes which increase the refuelling time for the TS050 HYBRID to make sure that Ginetta and Rebellion are able to fill up within the same time, despite adding 50% and 61% more fuel to their tanks respectively.
Brendon held the lead on his #8 race debut despite losing a few seconds in the pits due to a windscreen wiper repair, but Kamui was directly behind and overtook soon after as half distance approached. The race entered its final two hours under a safety car, which brought the top three close together.
When racing resumed after a 23-minute safety car period, the two TS050 HYBRIDs led the way and soon their margin over the #3 Rebellion was increased to almost a minute when it served a stop-and-go penalty for a technical infringement.
That left the two TS050 HYBRIDs, with Kamui at the wheel of the #7 and Brendon driving the #8, to fight it out for victory and the pair swapped places several times before handing over to José and Kazuki respectively for the final hour.
José held the advantage as the pendulum swung between the two cars through the challenging Silverstone traffic and took the chequered flag, winning the race for the #7 car just 1.901secs ahead of Kazuki in the #8.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will therefore take an early World Championship lead to the second round of the season, its home race at Fuji Speedway on 6 October when the race length will revert to the more traditional six-hour format.
However, the challenge of winning again on home ground will be even tougher due to new rules which impose performance penalties on cars depending on championship position. The TS050 HYBRIDs will be slowed compared to their non-hybrid rivals, with the #7 suffering more than its sister car on account of today’s victory.
Hisatake Murata (Team President): “This was a perfect way to start the new season; a one-two victory and an eventful race for the fans to enjoy. Thanks to everyone in the team for a great job today, particularly the pit crews who made up a lot of time on our rivals with their very fast tyre changes, and the drivers who stayed cool in the changing conditions. We have seen that the competition is much tougher this season and our rivals will be even closer in Fuji when we experience the success handicap system for the first time. So I hope the fans will continue to enjoy an exciting battle among the LMP1 teams throughout the season.”
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7): “It’s great to win my home race here at Silverstone. I’ve been trying to win this race for a while now; it took me long enough! Big thanks to my team-mates who did a really solid job in tricky conditions. We were being hounded all the time by our sister car; it was a very tight race so it feels great to come away with the win. Thanks as well to the team for giving us the car to achieve this, especially after having to change the monocoque on Friday. This win is for those guys.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “I’m very happy with this result; it’s a perfect start to our season. I think I had the hardest stint due to the rain. We expected a short shower and tried to survive on the slick tyres but it was heavier and longer than we expected so we had to pit. It was a close and fair fight with car #8; everyone in the team did a great job. All week the car was strong and we had good pace so now we are looking forward to Fuji.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7): “That was a really good way to start the season for the whole team. It was a very tough race and really close with our sister car, as well as our LMP1 competitors. The conditions were tricky but Mike and Kamui did a great job and I had to manage the final stint, fighting with Kazuki. I managed to keep the car in front so I’m really happy for this because Silverstone is a special track and it’s also Mike’s home race. So there are a few factors which make this victory particularly special.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8): “A one-two is the perfect result for the team, so it was a good day for us. Of course I am always aiming to be first but we had a strong race and Brendon did a good job in his first race in the TS050 HYBRID. We made no mistakes and were right there with car #7. Congratulations to them for the win. Unfortunately we were just a little bit behind but we had the right pace and that makes me optimistic for Fuji.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “Congratulations to all the team and especially to car #7 for the win; also compliments to Brendon and Kamui who raced in extremely difficult conditions and did a really good job to keep the car on the track. That was very impressive. We also had strong race pace but unfortunately I lost a little time in my first stint. Now we look forward to our home race in Japan and aim to get back on the middle step of the podium there.”
Brendon Hartley (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It was a fantastic race for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing; the pit stops were good, the cars were well-prepared and there were no mistakes from any of the drivers. There’s a little disappointment not being first, but as we all know only one car can win so I am happy with my first weekend with TOYOTA and how I integrated with Kazuki, Sébastien and the team. I had an interesting first stint driving with slicks in the wet without a windscreen wiper but I am happy with my performance.”