Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima claimed the first win of the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Hypercar era at Spa.
Buemi steered the No. 8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid past the checkered flag a minute and 7 seconds clear of Andre Negrao in the second-placed Alpine A480 Gibson non-hybrid LMP1 car that was also driven by Nicolas Lapierre and Matthieu Vaxiviere.
After a troubled race involving several issues and a trip into the Bruxelles gravel, Toyota’s pole-sitting No. 7 Le Mans Hypercar of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez finished the six-hour race one lap off the winning entry in third position.
All three of the Hypercar entries took turns at the head of the overall field at Spa, which marked the debut of the LMH formula that has been introduced to replace LMP1.
Buemi led at the end of the opening hour but dropped behind his Hypercar competitors during the second round of pit stops when his No. 8 Toyota served a penalty for undercutting its minimum refueling time requirement during its first service.
A slower stop for the No. 7 car meant Lapierre emerged in the lead for Alpine, which was running stints that were typically three laps shorter than the hybrid Toyotas’ 25-lappers.
Lapierre led through the halfway mark but the Toyotas put up a determined chase.
Kobayashi cycled into the lead when the Alpine stopped during a fourth-hour Full Course Yellow period that was caused by debris from an earlier clash at Bus Stop between Lopez and one of the GTE-Pro Porsches.
Kobayashi then doubled his 15-second lead at the resumption of green flag running, only to lock up massively at Bruxelles which sent the Japanese driver deep into the gravel.
This early fifth-hour excursion for the No. 7 Toyota prompted a second FCY, and handed the lead back to Vaxiviere who had swapped in for Lapierre.
There was more to come for Kobayashi’s car as a drive-through penalty was imposed later in hour five for Lopez’s part in the Porsche collision.
During the second FCY, Toyota brought its No. 8 car in after a short 12-lap stint, which enabled Nakajima to make his car’s final stop right in the window for a 24-lap closer.
On the other hand, the Alpine ran for around 20 minutes after the FCY with Vaxiviere in front, which meant the Signatech-run car ended up making an extra pit stop compared with the leading Toyota which saved a stop through its short stint.
Vaxiviere made the car’s penultimate stop midway through hour five to hand over to Negrao. Once the Brazilian came in with 40 minutes to go, amid reports of a puncture on his A480, Buemi charged through to earn the first win of the 2021 season for Toyota.
A late FCY period for a GTE-Am Porsche stranded at Bruxelles eased any potential fuel-saving concerns for Buemi, who along with Nakajima took his fourth Spa victory in five years.
A systems reset for Kobayashi’s beleaguered No. 7 at Les Combes contributed to that car finishing on the same lap as the LMP2-winning United Autosports Oreca 07 Gibson which ranked fourth overall.
Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and their new co-driver Fabio Scherer were the standout trio in the second-tier prototype class and delivered the victory from pole position.
Despite a drive-through for Scherer speeding under an 80 km/h FCY slow-down, Albuquerque crossed the line just over a minute ahead of the No. 38 JOTA Oreca driven by Anthony Davidson, Roberto Gonzalez and Antonio Felix da Costa.
JOTA got both of its cars on the LMP2 podium as Tom Blomqvist, Sean Gelael and Stoffel Vandoorne placed third.
Racing Team Nederland’s Job van Uitert, Giedo van der Garde and Frits van Eerd were fourth in class and seventh overall, and also became the first winners of the WEC’s new Pro-Am subcategory for LMP2.
Jani, Estre Kick Off New Partnership with Victory
World title-winning LMP1 racer Neel Jani and Kevin Estre opened their new co-driver partnership with a dominant GTE-Pro class victory in the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR-19.
Estre crossed the line 35 seconds ahead of Alessandro Pier Guidi in the No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo after leading almost the whole contest with Jani, who was taking part in only his second GTE race with Porsche after last year’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Pier Guidi and James Calado ran solidly in second and reached the flag over a minute ahead of their teammates Miguel Molina and Daniel Serra, whose Ferrari picked up two penalties for over-speeding during a Full Course Yellow.
The guesting factory Chevrolet Corvette C8.R finished fourth as Antonio Garcia and Oliver Gavin – in his final professional race – struggled to challenge the full-season pairings.
A late track limits drive-through taken by Garcia brought the fifth-placed No. 91 Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz to within 20 seconds of the Corvette at the line.
Bruni and Lietz battled right-rear punctures on their Porsche, with one caused by the Lopez clash.
In GTE-Am, Emmanuel Collard and Nicklas Nielsen got their title defense off to a strong start with a clear win alongside their new full-time co-driver Alessio Rovera.
After a tight first couple of hours between the leading Am crews, the No. 83 Ferrari emerged as the top runner in part due to a strong middle stint from Rovera on his maiden WEC outing.
TF Sport’s No. 33 Aston Martin Vantage GTE and Cetilar Racing’s Ferrari, on the Italian team’s GT racing debut, completed the class podium.
RESULTS: Total 6 Hours of Spa