Toyota took victory in the 6 Hours of Silverstone on Easter Sunday, the opening round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship, the WEC.
For the first time in 18 years the WEC series, which includes the world-famous Le Mans 24 Hours, arrived at Silverstone without Audi in its leading LMP1 class. But the battle at the front of the field between the two car teams of Porsche and Toyota was still expected to be intense.
Initially the pole-position winning No7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López led the race ahead of team-mates Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in the No8 car, keeping the Porsche 919 hybrids behind them.
After 45 minutes, however, the cool, dry conditions turned showery. Close to the second round of pit stops, the No7 car developed handling problems, dropping to fourth. Davidson in the No8 took over the lead, locked in a battle with the No2 Porsche of Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard.
Rain adds drama
Despite worsening weather with two hours down, the Toyotas stayed on slick tyres while the Porsches pitted for intermediate rubber. An off into a gravel trap during the heaviest weather delayed Kobayashi, while Davidson initially fell back to second, reclaiming the lead as conditions improved and the Porsches made an extra stop to change back to slick tyres.
Rain fell again around half-distance and Lopez lost control of the No7 car at speed, hitting a tyre barrier, causing heavy damage to the front and rear of the car and sending its driver to the circuit medical centre for a precautionary scan.
The resultant safety-car wiped out Davidson’s advantage over the Porsche, setting up a close battle over the closing two hours. With 30 minutes of the race left the Porsche took fuel only at its final stop, Hartley emerging eight seconds ahead of Buemi in the Toyota which opted to also take tyres.
The Toyota closed the gap even as more drizzle fell, and took the lead with 12 minutes of the six hours left to run, crossing the finish line 6.173 seconds ahead.
The win was the first since the three drivers had been named together and for Davidson at his home circuit. “It’s amazing to finally get our first win together – we hard to work really hard for it though, but did a great job both individually and as a team,” he said.
“We read the conditions correctly and made the right call on strategy in difficult conditions. We couldn’t be prouder to win this one.”
Round two of the WEC will be the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on 6th May . Toyota Gazoo Racing will extend its entry to three LMP1 cars, as the series builds up to the Le Mans 24 Hours on 17th-18th June.