Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez moved into the lead of the FIA World Endurance Championship courtesy of a dominant victory in the 8 Hours of Bahrain.
The No. 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing trio beat their teammates in the No. 8 car – Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima – by over a lap in a 1-2 finish for the Japanese manufacturer.
With extra points on offer for the first ‘longer’ endurance race of the season, Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez moved onto 97 points compared to their sister crew’s haul of 89.
Saturday’s contest turned into a trial of durability as Toyota overcame its performance restrictions dealt in the pre-event Success Handicap update to run clear of the non-hybrid entries from Rebellion Racing and Team LNT.
The winning Toyota, which grasped the lead on a dramatic opening lap, ran trouble-free for the duration while the Rebellion and the two Ginetta G60-LT-P1 AERs all hit trouble.
Rebellion was running second in the third hour when Gustavo Menezes brought the car into the garage with a gearbox actuator issue, the repairs for which cost three laps.
The time lost then presented too much of a mountain climb for the Swiss-flagged outfit as the Toyotas ran away at the front.
But the competition between the two Toyotas was essentially ended at the six-hour mark when Conway found a way past Buemi to put the No. 8 car a lap down.
From there it was a clear run to the finish for the No. 7 crew which became the fourth Toyota team to win the Bahrain WEC race.
The Rebellion, which Menezes shared with Norman Nato and Bruno Senna, ran a drama-free second half after its early trip to the garage and came through to complete the overall podium three laps behind the No. 7 Toyota and five laps ahead of the LMP2 winner.
Neither of the Ginettas reached the checkered flag on a challenging day for the Team LNT squad.
Charlie Robertson’s opening-lap contact with Senna, which enabled the winning Toyota to squeeze through and take an early permanent lead, resulted in a trip to the garage for immediate repairs.
While the car managed to get back out, it was then forced to serve a drive-through penalty for pitting before the end of the Safety Car period that its incident caused before it later ground to a half with a mechanical problem in the fifth hour.
It did, however, set the fastest lap of the race with Jordan King behind the wheel.
LNT’s No. 6 Ginetta had a more reliable run initially but was forced into its garage for a lengthy period in the second half of the race to solve a suspected gearbox problem.
United Claims Maiden WEC LMP2 Win
United Autosports notched up its first WEC class victory with a dominant performance from Paul di Resta, Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque.
The British squad’s Oreca 07 Gibson led the majority of the race and was 21 seconds ahead of the second-placed JOTA car of Antonio Felix da Costa, Roberto Gonzalez and Anthony Davidson at the finish.
A fortuiously-timed Full Course Yellow with 40 minutes remaining helped some of the leading cars to reach the end without needing an extra fuel splash.
A key beneficiary was the No. 26 G-Drive Racing Aurus-badged Oreca which held onto its fourth position behind the Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca driven by Ho-Pin Tung, Will Stevens and Gabriel Aubry.
Rounding out the top five was the No. 36 Signatech Alpine Oreca-base A470 Gibson of Andre Negrao, Pierre Ragues and Thomas Laurent.
RESULTS: 8H Bahrain