The No. 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing crew were in “survival mode” according to Sebastien Buemi following an incident-filled race for the championship-leading trio heading into Saturday’s 8 Hours of Bahrain.
Buemi and co-drivers Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley salvaged a second place finish after contact dashed hopes of mounting a fight to the sister No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, which scored a dominant win.
Damage from an opening-lap incident when Buemi went off-course to avoid Bruno Senna’s spinning Rebellion R13 Gibson and rejoined alongside LMP2 cars resulted in a nose change in the first pit stop.
It was compounded later in the race when Nakajima made contact with a Ferrari 488 GTE car, damaging the Toyota’s floor and rear deck, which cost the car “quite a bit” of downforce according to Hartley.
“On top of the success ballast, I think it was always going to be hard to beat our sister car,” Hartley told Sportscar365.
“They did a very good job today. They didn’t have any mistakes or any extra time spent in the pits.
“Second was probably the maximum. Obviously we were hoping to put them under a bit of pressure, even with the success ballast.
“But with the way our race went after Turn 1 it wasn’t possible.”
The No. 8 Toyota capitalized on a double retirement for Team LNT’s Ginetta G60-LT-P1 AERs, as well as a trip to the garage for the Rebellion to change the e-shift motor on the gearbox in the third hour.
“On outright pace we were never going to be quicker than the Rebellion or Ginettas,” Hartley said.
“I think coming away with a 1-2 for the team was a job well done.”
Buemi added: “In the end it was a survival mode for us. We’re happy just to finish second. It’s not ideal but at least we have a big advantage to Car 7 in the next race.”
Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon admitted that a 1-2 finish on paper was “not real easy” to achieve but they benefitted from the LMP1 non-hybrid’s misfortunes.
“We were expecting to be slower but it was within a margin we felt we could recover if we had a perfect race,” Vasselon said.
Vasselon explained that changing the floor after Nakajima’s incident was not an option as it would have potentially cost the car the second place finish.
“There was quite a significant aero loss but obviously the floor change was much longer was the rear end or front end,” he explained.
“We do [rear or front end changes] even if the damage is not that big because it’s 13-14 seconds. A floor change is much longer so we had to survive with some damage.”
The win for the No. 7 crew of Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi has seen the trio take over the lead in the World Drivers’ Championship heading into the next round of the season at Circuit of The Americas in February.
Slade Perrins contributed to this report