Toyota rung in the new era of the FIA World Endurance Championship with a dominant 1-2 victory in Sunday’s rain-shortened Six Hours of Silverstone.
A downpour in the final hour saw the second safety car period of the race, which turned into a red flag with 26 minutes to go.
The race did not resume due excess standing water around the 3.6-mile circuit, giving the win to the No. 8 Toyota TS040 Hybrid of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre.
Despite the early end, it was clearly Toyota’s day, which dominated from the onset.
Pole-sitter Alex Wurz led from the green but briefly lost the top spot to the No. 2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Andre Lotterer, prior to the first spout of rain halfway through the opening hour.
The decisive move of the race came shortly after, when Toyota split its strategy, putting Wurz on wets and Buemi on intermediates during the changing conditions.
Buemi’s Toyota shined on the drying track, with the former Torro Rosso F1 driver managing to gain more than 20 seconds on a single lap over a struggling Lotterer to take the lead late in the opening hour
With a one minute-plus gap over the sister Toyota, largely due to the different tire strategy, it was clear sailing for the No. 8 crew, which cruised to a one-lap victory over the No. 7 TS040 of Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin and Kaz Nakajima.
Defending FIA WEC champions Audi had a race to forget, with both of its new R18 e-tron quattros crashing out, marking the first time since Petit Le Mans in 2011 that the German manufacturer didn’t get a car to the finish.
Lucas Di Grassi slammed into the barriers in the opening hour under the tricky conditions. The Brazilian driver eventually got the No. 1 Audi back to the pits, but was later retired due to tub damage.
The No. 2 Audi was retired just past the halfway mark when Benoit Treluyer also suffered an accident and was unable to get the heavily damaged machine back to the pits for repairs.
Audi’s double DNF opened the door for Porsche, making its return to top-level prototype racing, to secure a podium finish in the debut of its 919 Hybrid.
The No. 20 car of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber finished two laps back from the winning Toyota, having struggled in the wet conditions with its low-downforce, Le Mans-style aero package.
Porsche’s sister No. 14 entry retired in the second hour with hydraulic issues after an early trip to the garage for suspension repairs due to losing its left-front wheel.
While the No. 13 Rebellion Racing Lola B12/60 Toyota also retired early with gearbox issues, the Anglo-Swiss squad’s No. 12 entry of Nick Heidfeld, Nicolas Prost and Mathias Beche came home a surprise fourth overall in the attrition-filled LMP1 race.
LMP2 class honors went to the No. 26 G-Drive Racing Morgan-Nissan of Olivier Pla, Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal, which enjoyed a late-race duel with the No. 47 KCMG Oreca 03 Nissan, after the Hong Kong-based entry led much of the race.
However, a stop-and-go penalty for a pit lane speeding infraction in the fourth hour took the Matt Howson, Tsugio Matsuda and Richard Bradley-driven entry out of the lead and gave clear sailing to the OAK Racing-run entry.
The two SMP Racing Oreca-Nissans, the only other two entries in this weekend’s depleted LMP2 field, suffered a series of issues, with the all-Russian-driven No. 37 car retiring in the third hour with fuel pump failure.
Next up for the FIA WEC is the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, set for May 3-4.
RESULTS: Six Hours of Silverstone