In Sunday’s (Sep. 1) FIA World Endurance Championship season-opening 4 Hours of Silverstone, Toyota GAZOO Racing claimed their sixth consecutive win when Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez emerged victorious. The No. 8 Toyota was close behind to give Toyota a one-two finish.
The Toyotas were up front early and often, combining to lead 118 of the 129 laps. Conway led from the start with Sebastien Buemi in the No. 8 Toyota in tow. An early full course caution allowed the Toyotas to make their first pit stop, putting the No. 1 Rebellion R13 of Bruno Senna into the overall lead. Once the green came back out, it did not take long for Buemi to run down Senna and take the lead for himself.
From this point on, the Toyotas led all but five of the remaining laps, only relinquishing the advantage to pit. The Rebellions were hampered by technical issues during the race. The No. 1 Rebellion R13 was running third overall before having to go to the garage in the closing 30 minutes of the race for a brief stay.
The Toyotas did swap the lead back and forth a couple of times during the race. Brendon Hartley was leading when he stopped with 68 minutes to go. Kazuki Nakajima got into the No. 8 for his stint, but Kobayashi in the No. 7 was able to beat Nakajima out of the pits. From there, Kobayashi pulled out to a decent lead before backing off in the final 20 minutes.
The final margin of victory was 1.901 seconds over the No. 8 Toyota of Buemi, Hartley and Nakajima. The No. 3 Rebellion R13 of Pipo Derani, Loic Duval and Nathanael Berthon finished third, one lap down after three fuel flow infractions resulted in a 30-second stop and hold penalty. Team LNT’s No. 5 Ginetta with Ben Hanley, Egor Orudzhev and Charlie Robertson was fourth, but had to make a charge over the final few laps to get in front of the fastest LMP2 cars.
In LMP2, it was COOL Racing that took the class victory with the two-driver pairing of Antonin Borga and Nicolas Lapierre. The team was supposed to have Alexandre Coigny join in for the race as well, but he suffered an injury during Saturday’s European Le Mans Series race and was forced to sit out.
For Racing Team Nederland, Silverstone will go down as the team’s best-ever race in the WEC. Giedo van der Garde started from the pole and maintained the advantage early on. Job van Uitert was also on his game. However, the team was one of many hit with penalties due to full course caution infringements late in the race. This allowed COOL Racing to get out in front.
COOL Racing ended up with a massive lead late in the race, but was forced to pit for a splash of fuel in the closing laps. Despite the late stop, COOL Racing still managed to win by 49.311 seconds over Signatech Alpine Elf’s Thomas Laurent, Andre Negrao and Pierre Ragues. Racing Team Nederland’s van der Gande van Uitert and Frits van Eerd ended up third after van Uitert ended up losing second gear in the closing laps of the race. Jackie Chan DC Racing’s Gabriel Aubry, Will Stevens and Ho-Pin Tung were fourth while Antonio Felix da Costa and Roberto Gonzalez were fifth.
With the departures of Ford and BMW, only six cars contested the GTE-Pro class at Silverstone. AF Corse dominated the early portion of the race and was more or less in control until it started raining near the halfway point. A move to the pits to switch to Michelin rain tires allowed Porsche to overtake the Ferraris and assume the advantage with their No. 92 entry shared by Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre.
Alessandro Pier Guidi challenged Christensen for the lead, but ended up being penalized for passing under the safety car. The drive-through penalty dropped the No. 51 out of the hunt. The No. 71 Ferrari was eliminated in a crash with the No. 6 Team LNT Ginetta.
After Pier Guidi served his penalty, it was the No. 91 Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz that assumed the class lead. From there, Bruni was able to hold on to take victory on debut for Porsche’s new 911 RSR-19.
Bruni and Lietz finished 3.802 seconds ahead of teammates Christensen and Estre. Aston Martin Racing’s Alexander Lynn and Maxime Martin were third, while Pier Guidi and James Calado had to settle for fourth.
Finally, GTE-Am was an Aston Martin show early on. TF Sport led from pole in their No. 90, then Aston Martin Racing’s No. 98 took control after the first pit stop.
As time went by, the Dempsey-Proton Racing No. 77 Porsche shared by Christian Ried, Matt Campbell and Riccardo Pera came to the front. They shared the advantage with MR Racing’s Ferrari for much of the second half of the race. However, the Dempsey-Proton Porsche was on an alternate pit strategy. Campbell was forced to pit with 22 minutes remaining for fuel and tires.
Campbell’s pit stop elevated the AF Corse No. 83 Ferrari shared by Francois Perrodo, Nicklas Nielsen and veteran Emmanuel Collard to the class lead. From there, Collard was able to hold off the pack to take the class victory.
Due to the positioning of the overall leaders, Collard was the only one of the top GTE-Am cars in front of the No. 7 Toyota at the finish. As a result, AF Corse ended up on a lap of their own, despite it not being representative of the race at hand. Aston Martin Racing’s Paul Dalla Lana, Ross Gunn and Darren Turner were second, followed by MR Racing’s Olivier Beretta, Kei Cozzolino and Motoaki Ishikawa. The Dempsey-Proton No. 77 Porsche ended up fifth after their late stop.
WEC teams are off for the next few weeks. The second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship is the 6 Hours of Fuji, scheduled for Oct. 6.
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