Sebring WEC: #8 Toyota Crew Takes First Win Since Le Mans
Toyota drivers Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi took their first FIA World Endurance Championship race win since last year’s Le Mans 24 Hours with victory in the Sebring 1000 Miles.
The #8 Toyota crew was handed a clear path to victory when Jose Maria Lopez made a crucial slip-up in the sister #7 TS050 Hybrid in the fifth hour of the race.
Lopez made contact with the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin of Jonathan Adam at Turn 15, picking up floor damage that necessitated a trip to the pits that cost the #7 almost two laps.
The car shared by Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi had been right in the hunt at half-distance, with Lopez trailing Buemi by just a few seconds at the time of his incident.
Heavy rain in the final 30 minutes prompted both Toyotas to change to wet tyres, and then again to extreme wets, as a crash for Loic Duval in the #28 TDS Racing Oreca with only 12 minutes left on the clock brought out the safety car that remained out until the finish.
Despite a late spin for Nakajima, the #8 crew hung on in the treacherous conditions to score their third win of the 2018/19 superseason by a lap over the #7.
With the Sebring race offering 32 points for a win instead of the usual 25, it means Alonso, Nakajima and Buemi lead by 15 points heading into the last two rounds of the campaign.
Completing the podium was the #11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1, which recovered from an early puncture to finish best of the rest, 11 laps down on the winning Toyota.
The #3 Rebellion R-13 Gibson looked well set for the final podium place after both SMP cars hit trouble, the #17 BR1 dropping out when Egor Orudzhev crashed in the second hour.
But late issues for the #3 dropped it behind the leading LMP2 cars, giving the #11 car shared by ex-IndyCar driver Mikhail Aleshin and ex-Formula 1 drivers Brendon Hartley and Vitaly Petrov a spot on the podium.
The #1 Rebellion dropped out when Mathias Beche crashed while trying to lap a backmarker in hour five, while the #10 DragonSpeed BR1 was ruled out with gearbox problems.
LMP2: DC Racing newcomers victorious
Jackie Chan DC Racing trio David Heinemeier Hansson, Jordan King and Will Stevens took a dominant victory in LMP2, finishing fourth overall.
The new drivers of the #37 Oreca took control of the secondary class early on and established a big lead over their only real rival, the #36 Signatech Alpine Oreca, ultimately beating Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and Andre Negrao by 27 seconds.
DragonSpeed drivers Anthony Davidson, Pastor Maldonado and Roberto Gonzalez recovered from an early brush with the barrier to take third in class, a lap down.
Points leaders Ho-Pin Tung, Stephane Richelmi and Gabriel Aubry ended up bottom of the order, 30 laps down on the class-winning sister car, after suffering early electrical issues.
GTE: Rain shower hands Porsche win
Porsche took an unlikely victory in the GTE Pro class as Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz took full advantage of the late rain.
BMW had looked on course for its first WEC race victory after Martin Tomczyk passed the Ford of Jonathan Bomarito to snatch the advantage in hour six, with Tomczyk’s teammate Alexander Sims at one point leading by more than 10 seconds.
But that advantage was lost in the pits when the rain arrived as Porsche turned around the #91 car 10 seconds faster than BMW to change to wet tyres.
Tomczyk, Sims and Nicky Catsburg had to be content with second place, ahead of the #67 Ford GT of Harry Tincknell, Andy Priaulx and Bomarito, which had commanded much of the race.
Priaulx had led by more than 20 seconds before the first safety car period, and once the pack had been bunched up the Ford appeared to struggle for pace after the sun set.
The two AF Corse-run Ferraris sandwiched the #92 Porsche of championship leaders Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, which had to serve a stop-and-go penalty when Estre made contact with the Aston Martin of Darren Turner.
Corvette Racing’s sole C7.R finished eighth ahead of the two Aston Martins, while the #66 Ford GT was 11th and last in class after an early alternator problem.
GTE Am victory went to the Dempsey-Proton Porsche trio Matt Campbell, Julien Andlauer and Christian Ried, which bested the Spirit of Race Ferrari by 12 seconds.
Project 1 Racing, racing with a spare Porsche that was hastily shipped over to Sebring following the squad’s dramatic testing fire, completed the class podium in third place.
A puncture for the #98 Aston Martin that led at half-distance consigned the car to eighth.