Toyota Gazoo Racing’s #7 GR010 HYBRID scored its first win of the season in the first ever FIA WEC 6 Hours of Monza today, outlasting the competition in what turned out to be a real race of attrition in front of a modest number of passionate fans trackside for what was the first WEC race with a crowd since CoTA last year.
It was a well deserved outcome for Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez in the #7. The trio were clearly the fastest in the class throughout the entire meeting. They were unable to cruise to victory though, as what looked to be a lights-to-flag performance turned into a rather chaotic outing after a puncture and technical error forced Kobayashi to stop on track and undergo a power cycle which cost the team a minute and the lead with just under two hours to go.
The #7 crew had to spend the final third of the race battling back to win, helped by a late-race full-course yellow which allowed the No. 7 to serve its final stop in neutralised conditions, causing it to leapfrog the Alpine which had inherited the lead earlier after the aforementioned issues for the GR010. Even then the win was thrown into doubt once again, when the team received a warning from the stewards for a pit stop infringement – a mechanic leaving a tyre over the white line in front of the pit box during the stop.
“The car just shut down, I couldn’t find a safe place to stop to be safe,” Kobayashi explained when asked about the car’s issues.
“We had to shut it down completely which cost us time. It’s a shame because we had a reasonable margin in the lead. But we pushed, we had to push again and we took risks. We did a great job, and in the end we managed to win, so I am thankful for the team, we did a great job.
“We are lucky it happened before Le Mans so we can investigate.”
It was a disappointing end for Signatech Alpine, which fought hard all race and managed to keep it clean, coming home without any issues. But the pace wasn’t quite there, and the team being forced to take a longer final stop earlier than Toyota cost Matthieu Vaxiviere and the entire team dearly their bid to take the win.
However, a reliable run and a second place finish is a strong result, and provides us with the tantalising prospect of a tight battle at Le Mans next month for the overall win.
For Toyota and Glickenhaus it was anything but a showcase of reliability, as all four cars in question hit trouble and made the race impossible to predict throughout.
The hardest hit from the bunch was the #708 Glickenhaus, which started its maiden WEC race with just 7 cylinders which meant the team were down on power and forced to pit the car during the first FCY to get it back up to speed. From then on it wasn’t a clean run, it turned into a battle just to keep the car circulating, with Gustavo Menezes, Pipo Derani and Olivier Pla managing just 90 laps before retiring.
Toyota’s #8 meanwhile, had its chances of a strong finish ruined when the car suffered a series of issues. Brendon Hartley was given a fright when a part failed on the front end into the braking zone for Turn 1 in the second hour, causing him to go straight on and forcing him to avoid a slower GTE car. The car then stopped due to a fuel pressure issue.
“It’s not their day, we are looking at fuel pressure,” Explained Rob Leupen from the Toyota pit box. “We changed the fuel collector and taken everything apart around the fuel tank. Two issues, the first was related to fuel pressure, created by settings, the second is something we need to investigate.”
The car then ran short stints as a result of the issue and finished 43 laps down.
Glickenhaus’ sister car finished in the top 5, but a brake change after fighting all the way to the lead in the closing stages following the #7’s woes scuppered any chance of a podium for Richard Westbrook, Franck Mailleux and Romain Dumas. It was however a strong and encouraging showing for the #709 in its second WEC outing, and Richard Westbrook fighting to get fourth overall late in the race served as somewhat of a consolation prize.
The winning car in LMP2 took the final spot on the overall podium. United Autosports’ #22 ORECA was the car in question, Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Fabio Scherer had a faultless outing and dominated the category. It was a real champions performance, which saw them finish a minute ahead of the competition in the hotly-contested class.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these boys. It’s Phil and I’s first overall podium. The car was just amazing. We were in the top two all weekend, the car was so nice to drive. Phil did well to take the lead early, it was a perfect race after that,” Albuquerque told WEC TV after the race.
The WRT ORECA took second, losing fourth overall to the surviving Glickenhaus in the final hour at Turn 1. The Belgian team will be satisfied with a strong run to the podium which saw them finish half a minute clear of the LMP2 Pro-Am winning Racing Team Nederland ORECA would surely have finished higher had it not been handed a penalty for speeding in pit lane.
Inter Europol’s ORECA took fourth in class, after it too was penalised, though for a collision at Turn 1. JOTA’s #28 07 Gibson completed the top five after starting dead last in the class. A decent result salvaged for the British team after its other ORECA, the #38 suffered multiple issues which dropped it out of contention, 77 laps off the lead lap.
GTE Pro was tight throughout, with almost nothing to separate the two factory Porsche and Ferraris around the ‘Temple of Speed’. On this occasion, it was the #92 Porsche of Kevin Estre and Neel Jani that would take the victory, the duo’s second of the season.
The #92 started from pole and almost the entire race.The #51 AF Corse 488 GTE Evo of Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado briefly led after the safety car period in the first half of the race for the TF Sport puncture, but the No. 92 leapfrogged the #51 at the next round of stops quick pit work and held station from there.
It wasn’t a comfortable victory, however, as the #92 struggled to create a big lead at any point. Pier Guidi was right behind Estre in the final minutes, keeping the pressure on until a last-minute splash solidified the result and ensured it wouldn’t be two wins in a row for the #51 crew. It wasn’t meant to be this time.
“It was full-gas, it hasn’t been this close in years. It was cool to race in Monza, we had just enough performance. We did a splash at the final full-course yellow, they didn’t, so we thought they would make the end but they couldn’t. I was prepared to make the car a lot wider!” Estre said after the race. He and Jani now lead the GTE driver’s title race.
The No. 91 Porsche outlasted the #52 Ferrari to take third place in the category, the pair coming how separated by just 3 seconds.
AF Corse won GTE Am though, the #83 putting on a masterclass from the back of the grid to take a commanding victory. Francois Perrodo, Nicklas Nielsen and Alessio Rovera all running faultlessly in pursuit of victory.
Behind, the final podium places were decided on the very final lap, when Augusto Farfus in the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage muscled past Tomonobu Fuji’s D’Station Vantage for second after multiple sequences which saw the pair run side-by-side.
Behind, the #56 Project 1 Porsche finished fourth just off the podium, and the #77 Dempsey Porsche completed the top five.
There were a few teams in Am that will leave Monza disappointed. TF Sport fought hard to take the lead in the race, but a puncture for Ben Keating while running flat out in the run down to Ascari forced the team to pit the Vantage for lengthy repairs to the front-left corner.
Cetilar Racing and Iron Lynx’s #60 Ferrari were also in the wars. Cetilar’s chances of a second win in a row ended early in the race, when Roberto Lacorte lost control of the rear end of the car on the exit of the second Lesmo, the Italian pitched into a spin that sent him backwards into the barriers on driver’s right. Due to the results elsewhere, remarkably, Cetilar still leads the Am title race despite having a disastrous run on home soil.
Iron Lnyx meanwhile, barely made the start of the race after its #60 488 failed to set a qualifying time after a heavy incident in practice, then promptly ended up in the garage with overheating issues. The car managed just 36 laps. Cetilar Racing and TF Sport meanwhile, limped home 11th and 13th respectively.
Next up on the calendar is the Le Mans 24 Hours on August 21/22, where the full-season WEC cars will be joined by guest cars from IMSA, the ELMS and Asian Le Mans Series for the 89th edition of sportscar racing’s premier event.
Image courtesy of FIA WEC