Hypercar era begins with victory for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, partnered by Acronis, began the Hypercar era in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) with a stunning victory in the prestigious Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

When the chequered flag fell after six hours of exciting racing at the iconic circuit, it was the #8 car of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley who earned a place in the record books, leading home the #36 Alpine and Toyota teammates Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López in the #7 machine.

“It feels great to win the first race of the Hypercar era,” commented Buemi after he crossed the line in first place. “Obviously there was a lot of pressure on our shoulders. Car #7 had pole position and it is amazing that we managed to get the win with car #8; I am really happy that we managed that.

“It was a big challenge and the team has worked really hard in the last few weeks with lots of testing. It was a well-earned victory from everyone. But we also know that we need to improve on a lot of different aspects and this is just the start. Now is time to celebrate a little bit before we quickly go back to working hard because there is lots to do.”

It had looked like it would be a close-run battle for victory between the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing teams after the reigning world champions started from pole position. And it was Conway who led from Buemi at the start, before a series of unfortunate events scuppered their challenge.

With half of the race run, the #8 GR010 HYBRID was running third, having served a 35s penalty for a refuelling breach. Then drama, Lopez clipping a slower GT car and damaging bodywork before Kobayashi slid off track and requiring assistance to get back on track. A further penalty for the on-track contact effectively put the #7 out of contention.

“I locked the tyres but managed to avoid hitting anything,” reflected the Japanese. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t reverse because I got stuck in the gravel so I had to wait for the rescue car to get me back on track. It was a pity because we had the pace and were in a good position to win.”

A podium was no disaster for the world champions, but it was left for Buemi to bring home the race win for the #8 machine, taking the chequered flag by 1min 7.196secs from the #36 Alpine.

“Despite the challenges this week, the team never gave up and Kamui really showed this spirit when he overtook the race leader just a few laps after being stuck in the gravel,” commented Hisatake Murata, Team President. “Today was a strong start for our next generation of Racing Hybrid technology but we are still learning and improving with our GR010 HYBRID. It has not been the smoothest week for the team at Spa but this has highlighted areas to improve so we will work hard to do this before the next race, and particularly before Le Mans.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.