Toyota delighted an enthusiastic home crowd by earning a one-two victory in the 6 Hours of Fuji, the fourth round of the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
A compelling race saw the #7 TS050 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López cross the line in front, just 11.440secs ahead of team-mates Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso in the #8 car, for their first win of the season despite starting eighth.
That marked Toyota’s sixth win from seven WEC races at its home circuit, while for Mike and Kamui it is their first victory since a memorable triumph at Fuji in 2016
It was a particularly special race for José, who set the fastest lap and earned his first-ever WEC win, having joined the team last season.
The result extends Toyota’s lead in the teams’ World Championship to 14 points over Rebellion Racing. Sébastien, Kazuki and Fernando stretched their advantage in the drivers’ standings, with Mike, Kamui and José moving up to second, 13 points behind.
An action-packed start on a wet track saw Kazuki in the pole position #8 hold the advantage while Kamui put on an overtaking show in the #7, exploiting the advantage of four-wheel drive in the difficult conditions to move from eighth on the grid to second by lap two.
The excitement continued throughout a fascinating first hour. Kamui pitted early to switch to heavy wet tyres before a safety car period eliminated Kazuki’s lead of over one minute. Soon after, the #8 switched to hybrid intermediate tyres, leaving the #11 SMP in the lead.
Changing weather added to the drama, with bright sunshine drying the track towards the end of the safety car period
That left Kamui on inappropriate tyres for the conditions so he was the first to pit for slick tyres after the 30-minute interruption and he took advantage by immediately setting very quick lap times.
Kazuki and the other LMP1 cars did likewise soon after and when the running order stabilised early in the second hour, Kamui led in the #7 with Kazuki close behind and both TS050 HYBRIDs steadily building a gap to the third-placed #1 Rebellion.
When Kazuki handed over to Sébastien after two intense hours, the #8 was around 10 seconds behind its sister car, but with newer tyres Sébastien began to close the gap on a fully dry track. The #8 took over the lead when Kamui brought his epic two-and-a-half-hour stint to an end, with Mike taking the wheel.
The momentum swung between the two cars, depending on who had the newer tyres
After a full course yellow with two hours remaining, José in the #7 led by around 20 seconds from Fernando in the #8 and the pair pushed each other hard.
José set what turned out to be the fastest lap of the race on lap 153 and he kept a stable gap at the front until handing the lead to Kamui with just over 30 minutes remaining. Kamui had the honour of taking the chequered flag in the #7, with Kazuki bring the #8 home second for a perfect team result.
The team is determined to repeat that result when WEC heads to China for the final race in 2018 and the fifth of eight races this season, the 6 Hours of Shanghai on Sunday 18 November.
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7):
“I am really pleased with this result; to get a one-two in Toyota’s home race is a nice feeling. It was not an easy race, especially starting from eighth but our car performed really well and my team-mates did a fantastic job as usual; they were solid and consistent which was exactly what we needed. It’s great to get another win after coming so close for the last two years and to get it now at the home race is obviously great.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7):
“It’s amazing to win my home race for the second time. The team has done a great job all weekend and they really deserve this. We were disappointed after qualifying but we came back in the best way possible with a victory. We have waited a long time on car #7 for this; finally we are in the centre of the podium again. I think this can be a turning point for us for the rest of the season but now we need to celebrate this moment.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7):
“After the disappointment from qualifying it feels so good to achieve the first win with Toyota. It’s also a fantastic feeling to win for the first time in WEC. The most important thing is to thank everyone in Higashi-Fuji and Cologne who make it all possible as well as Mike and Kamui; it is a privilege to share a car with these guys. Together we have bounced back in a very important race for us and I cannot describe how happy I am.”
?? at @FIAWEC #6hFuji. A perfect end to our home race and a well-deserved win ?? for @Mikeconway26, @kamui_kobayashi and @pechito37. We really enjoyed that.#TOYOTA #TS050 #PushingTheLimitsForBetter pic.twitter.com/BdL0921sJd
— TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WEC (@Toyota_Hybrid) October 14, 2018