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Toyota Finishes 1-2 In Thrilling Season Opener

Wins for Cool Racing, Porsche's new 911 and AF Corse in the other classes

Toyota Gazoo Racing has taken a 1-2 in a dramatic, four-hour season opener at Silverstone, with the #7 TS050 Hybrid of Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway taking the spoils and the Tourist Trophy, for the first time.

“We’ve been trying to win this race for a long time,” said Conway. “Great to do this. Great job by everyone. Big thank you to the team, after rebuilding this car on Friday. Let’s keep it going.”

It was Conway who took the start and the early lead in what would prove to be a dramatic opening half of the race, ahead of Sebastien Buemi in the sister car.

In just the third lap, a Safety Car halted proceedings momentarily. Once green flag action resumed, the Toyotas fully unwound, with Conway setting a new lap record on the eighth lap of the race; a 1:37.289.

A Full-Course Yellow with half an hour in the books would hamper progress for the Japanese outfit, however. The #6 Team LNT Ginetta shed a wheel with Charlie Robertson behind the wheel, which triggered the pause in high-speed running.

Both Rebellions were positioned to make a pitstop under the FCY, however, by the time the pair of TS050s were trundling down the pitlane, the green flags were waving once again.

This left the pair of R-13s in a momentary 1-2, with Bruno Senna heading the way in the #1 entry. It didn’t take long for the Toyotas, now lead by Buemi, to flash back past.

With an hour and 15 minutes in the books, another round of stops came. Buemi handed over the leading car to Brendon Hartley, while Kobayashi took over the #7.

Within 15 minutes of the stops, the track was declared wet, and the rain soon started to fall. A majority of the field, including the Rebellions, made the change to wet tyres. Toyota believed that the shower would be short. But it soon became clear that the weather conditions were not improving at the rate that Toyota had hoped for.

Rebellion would not have it easy in its stops, however; the #1 skidded on its slicks on entry, taking out two crew members in the process. Toyota would still head the order despite their extended stay on the wet tyres.

The rain would cease as the race approached half distance, and as some teams started to ready their slicks, contact at Maggotts between the #6 Team LNT Ginetta of Oliver Jarvis, and the #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Miguel Molina. Both cars ended up on the grass, and while the Ferrari would move no further, the G60-LT-P1 lived to fight on another day.

The stranded car triggered a second Safety Car of the day.

The race would have a full field of runners on slick tyres when racing resumed with an hour and 40 minutes to go. Rebellion performed a great pitstop for the #3, putting new driver Pipo Derani at the head of the order. This would last just six corners, however, as Kobayashi powered by in the #7 Toyota on the approach to Brooklands. Hartley soon followed suit in the sister car.

The order between the two Toyotas would then remain the same until the one hour and 15 minutes to go mark. Hartley received a call to allow Kobayashi by, and the Kiwi obliged at Brooklands. This order would remain as the two cars pitted for the final driver change, which saw Jose Maria Lopez take the wheel of the #7, and Kazuki Nakajima receiving the #8.

The pair would retain this order in a controlled fashion until the checkered flag, finishing the race with a 1.901-second gap.

The Japanese outfit certainly had the superior pace throughout the race, but Rebellion was notably closer during the race then they had been for the most part in the previous season. The Swiss operation would ultimately the third step of the podium with the #3 R13. The #1, the outfit’s full-season entry, had a late power steering failure 10 minutes from home that saw the car spend time in the garage.

This late misfortune, combined with a puncture mid-race, resulted in a 10th place finish.

Fourth overall went the way of Team LNT’s #5 Ginetta G60-LT-P1, which saw some dramas during the race, including a visit to the gravel for Ben Hanley with just over an hour to go.

Hanley finished five laps off the lead, having passed the LMP2 leader in the closing moments of the race; regardless, it will be a satisfying result for the Team LNT squad and boss Lawrence Tomlinson.

Meanwhile, the #6 Ginetta of Guy Smith, Oliver Jarvis and Michael Simpson saw the flag despite various garage visits and its already noted dramas.

Cool Racing wins on WEC debut

LMP2 honours went to championship debutants Cool Racing and its #42 ORECA 07. With Alexandre Coigny sitting out the race following a heavy shunt in Saturday’s ELMS race, the duo of Nicolas Lapierre and Antonin Borga would start fourth, but stay in the hunt through all of the dramas in the race’s first half. This would prove critical during the Safety car triggered by Molina and Jarvis, as the #42 was the only other entry on the lead lap, behind the pole-sitting #29 Racing Team Nederland ORECA.

“This race was very particular for all of us, as it was not nice to leave Alex on the side,” explained Lappierre.

“We started this great adventure altogether, and not having him in the car was strange, nevertheless it was important to do well for the team. The race was really hectic, first Antonin had a puncture at the start, which changed completely our strategy, but we managed the tire choice very well as well as the new decisions we had to take with the rain coming. The team was great, fast, and performant.

“After that, we had a drive through because of a small misunderstanding from me under safety car, and then another puncture at the end… Even though we had all this, we win our first WEC race, and this is truly motivating for the season to come.”

For the Dutch outfit, the opening stanza of the race would prove to be just as fruitful as qualifying, with Giedo van der Garde maintaining the lead and even getting in amongst the LMP1 Ginettas in the early going. The team were also one of the very few LMP2 cars to take advantage of the early Full-Course Yellow with a pitstop, which would see them close to a minute ahead until the two-hour mark Safety Car.

The pause in proceedings saw a wonderful wet weather stint from Job van Uitert, on cut slicks, invalidated. Nicolas Lapierre would then pounce when green flag action resumed, and once the Frenchman handed over to Antonin Borga once more, the Swiss racer managed a good gap to take the win, despite a puncture and single tyre change in the last ten minutes.

The #36 Signatech Alpine moved up to second place late in the race in the hands of Thomas Laurent, thanks in part to a missing gear for Frits van Eerd in the #29 ORECA in the closing laps. However, van Eerd will walk away from Silverstone happy, achieving his previously-declared ‘dream’ of taking a podium in world championship-level motor racing.

The #37 Jackie Chan DC ORECA came home fourth in the hands of Will Stevens, just half a second clear of Antonio Felix da Costa in the sister #38 JOTA entry. A decisive late move at The Loop from Stevens, which included some slight contact, would be the deciding factor in the intra-team scrap.

Porsche’s new 911 delivers the goods

Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz headed a Porsche 1-2 in a typically close race to give the Porsche GT Team its best possible start to the new WEC LMGTE Pro series.

But the result was no pushover; the new-for-2019 Porsche 911 RSRs were strong but had the qualifying and early race pace of the AF Corse Ferraris not been stymied by incidents their result would have likely been different. Aston Martin Racing took third with their #97 entry, Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn showing strong pace that might have delivered more had earlier tyre calls worked in their favour.

AF Corse’s front row grid lock-out maintained itself early in the four-hour race, James Calado leading from Davide Rigon, who set a new GTE Pro lap record, 1:56.402 as Kevin Estre’s #92 car gained places to spearhead the Porsches’ challenge in third. Calado’s pit stop for a left front puncture meant the #51 car would drop to the back, 55 seconds to make up.

The field closely grouped, Alex Lynn’s Aston Martin took fuel only at the first of several Full Course Cautions to resume in the lead – a gamble on further developments. Thiim made it a 1-2 for Aston Martin, getting past Rigon’s #71 Ferrari, trailed by the Porsche pair.

The rain came at a quarter distance and the Aston Martin garage elected to tough it out on slicks, which might have worked had the conditions not prevailed for longer than expected. Yielding to wet tyres dropped the Vantage AMRs to the back of the ‘Pro order.

Miguel Molina led briefly in his first race for Ferrari in a GTE Pro car before the Porsches started to assert themselves, Christensen leading the charge from Bruni. An incident with one of the LMP1 Ginettas, however, was to pitch the #51 Ferrari hard into the wall at Becketts, Davide Rigon’s comments justifiably blunt in terms of his disappointment at an unnecessary passing attempt taking their car out of strong contention for a result.

“I’m very disappointed with Jarvis and this crash, it’s slippery with slick tires; why would you overtake there?” he said. “I did two hours today and it’s not possible to overtake there.

“We were looking good to win this race or get a podium. We don’t deserve this. I’m disappointed in Jarvis, I’m not going to talk to him anymore now.”

Crucially, Gianmaria Bruni had been backing up the recovering #51 Ferrari, his teammate Christensen having been ordered to double stint his leading car’s tyres to preserve any semblance of advantage over the advancing AF Corse machine. Just into the final hour, Alessandro Pier Guidi made it by the #91 car and set about the lead.
Christensen couldn’t defend from the Ferrari, a fierce move through Maggots and into Becketts stealing the lead for the #51 car.

Bruni was slipping back in the #91 Porsche, tyres struggling and pitting. The Porsches and Aston Martins had elected to use harder compound tyres though, meaning they were taking left hand sets only, the Ferrari squad on Mediums and Softs meant they had to change all four. The #97 Aston Martin recovered steadily in the hands of Maxime Martin and was now placed third.

The leading Ferrari was handed a drive-through for overtaking under a Safety Car, putting the Porsches back 1-2. The order had changed through the pit stops however, Bruni and Richard Lietz now ahead to take the win.

What could have been for Calado and Pier Guidi who lose 30 seconds to the incorrect penalty and finished under 20 seconds off the lead?

Perrodo and Collard return to GTE Am in style

Ferrari victory came in GTE-Am, which provided no less excitement. With drive-through penalties for safety car infringements seemingly ‘de riguer’ in the Am class, the #83 AF Corse 488 GTE EVO nevertheless ran the best of a turbulent race, its crew of Niklas Nielsen, Emmanuel Collard and Francois Perrodo solid from the outset.

Emmanuel Collard delivered a typically, and crucially, quick middle stint after sturdy Bronze driver Perrodo held it together from fourth on the grid, Nielsen precise and aggressive in his assertion of the lead inside the final hour.

Aston Martin’s first race in this category with its new Vantage AMR delivered second place for the #98 entry of Paul Dalla Lana, Darren Turner and Ross Gunn, this new driver combination delivering after the team’s earlier tyre gamble in wet conditions looked to threaten a good result.

The weekend had been good for the new car, the TF Sport entry in its distinctive new red livery starring in qualifying, Salih Yoluc leading from pole position early on before the car dropped into the midfield after a Full Course Yellow infringement. A new class lap record of 1:56.520 from Jonny Adam would be some compensation in a promising first outing.

For Porsche, Dempsey-Proton Racing showed well early on, but the #77 911 RSR provided the best chance of a result, Matt Campbell capitalising on Christian Ried and Riccardo Pera’s solid performance to lead from a charging Ben Barker’s #86 Gulf Racing, both having elected to change fuel strategy, meaning a late splash would end their contention. The #88 Dempsey-Proton was never quite in touch, early safety car-related infringements and a late-race drive-through penalty for stopping at the wrong pit box adding up to disappointment.

Gulf Racing’s late fuel stop, caused by a fuel pick up issues meant MR Racing’s #70 Ferrari made the third step of the podium. A really great result for the team, this was a solid run for the crew of Motoaki Ishikawa, Olivier Beretta and Kei Cozzolino, who started from the back row and avoided too much trouble in the prevailing circumstances.

On the other side of this, finishing off the podium was a bitter pill to swallow for the Gulf Racing crew, after such a strong run that could easily have ended with a victory.


Featured image courtesy of Toyota Gazoo Racing, other images courtesy of WEC