Toyota Gazoo Racing has taken a hard-fought victory in Sunday’s rain-affected Six Hours of Silverstone, following an unexpected late-race strategic duel with Porsche in a dramatic FIA World Endurance Championship season-opener.
Sebastien Buemi drove his No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid to a 6.173-second win over the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Brendon Hartley, after a final fuel-only stop for Hartley that put the 2015 World Champion out front.
The Kiwi, however, lost the lead with 12 minutes remaining, to a hard-charging Buemi, in damp conditions, who made an inside move on the Porsche at The Loop to edge ahead and claim and he and Anthony Davidson’s first win since Fuji 2014.
Buemi and Davidson shared top honors with Kazuki Nakajima, marking the first victory for the drivers as a trio.
While Toyota, with its high-downforce package, headed into the race as favorites, it was anything but clear sailing for the Japanese manufacturer, which got caught out during the first two waves of rain showers.
The No. 1 Porsche of Nick Tandy took over the lead in the third hour during the initial rain, but lost out by having to make an additional stop to switch back from Michelin intermediates to slicks when conditions improved.
Tandy and co-drivers Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer, in his Porsche LMP1 debut, came home third, 40 seconds behind the sister entry, driven by Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber.
While ultimately losing out during the brief shower in the third hour, when the Toyotas remained on slicks and Porsches went to intermediates, the German manufacturer gained time in the pits, and were often 3-4 seconds quicker per stop, which also helped close the gap.
A heavy crash by Jose Maria Lopez in damp conditions with two-and-a-half hours to go knocked the No. 7 Toyota out of contention, after a suspected rear anti-roll bar issue and subsequent trip through the gravel by Kamui Kobayashi.
Lopez limped the heavily damaged car back to the pits, but was transported to a local hospital for precautionary scans. The incident brought out the race’s only safety car period.
The car, meanwhile, returned to action more than one hour of repairs to score fourth place points in LMP1, completing more laps than the No. 4 ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01 NISMO, which retired late due to an accident with the No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage V8.
Jackie Chan DC Racing scored top honors in LMP2, in the team’s debut with Jota Sport.
Oliver Jarvis took the No. 38 Oreca 07 Gibson to a 19.376-second class win over the No. 31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca of Nico Prost in second.
The Chinese-backed team held control of the race in the closing hour, retaining the lead following its final stop with 22 minutes to go.
It marked the first class victory for ex-Audi LMP1 factory driver Jarvis and co-drivers Ho-Pin Tung and 19-year-old Frenchman Thomas Laurent.
A late-race charge by Matthieu Vaxiviere, who climbed aboard the No. 28 TDS Racing Oreca on its final stop with 22 minutes to go, nearly saw the Frenchman get by Prost for second in class.
The No. 36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Alpine A470 Gibson came home fourth in class after dominating the first half of the race with Nico Lapierre and Gustavo Menezes at the wheel.
RESULTS: 6H Silverstone