Super GT driver Kazuki Nakajima, and his champion co-drivers Sébastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson, scored first for Toyota Gazoo Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship by winning the season-opening 6 Hours of Silverstone on Sunday.
The #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid prototype completed 197 laps over the six hours, winning the race by six seconds over the second-placed Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, and Earl Bamber.
It’s the first WEC victory for the trio of Nakajima, Buemi, and Davidson – who join the list of winners of the famous RAC (Royal Automobile Club) Tourist Trophy, which has been awarded to some of the greatest drivers in motor racing since 1905.
In a race of variable conditions, with intermittent showers of rain throughout, Toyota and Porsche – running two very different downforce configurations at the event for their respective prototypes – battled til the final minutes of the six hour enduro.
The race came down to the final stints from Buemi and Hartley, with the former World Endurance Drivers’ Champion and Formula E champion Buemi chasing down the Porsche of 2015 World Endurance Champion Hartley, and passing him with 12 minutes to go, to eventually take the win for the #8 Toyota team by six seconds.
Nakajima drove a total of 58 laps in the #8 Toyota TS050 during the fourth and fifth hours of the race, driving consistent, fast laps throughout to put his team in position to win, despite the rapidly changing conditions and the intervention of a safety car for a heavy crash involving José Maria López in the #7 Toyota.
“I am very happy to get this win with Anthony and Sébastien because it is our first win together, even though we have been on the same car since 2015,” says Nakajima. “I am very happy to achieve that.”
“The race was a lot more difficult than we expected; we were a bit unlucky with the safety car and it was difficult with the rain. I was happy with the car but Porsche also had good pace and made it very difficult for us. Séb did a great job in the end; we believed in him but it was exhausting to watch.”
It’s a big win for Toyota, who score the first win of the season over the defending LMP1 champions Porsche – giving them momentum going into the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. And for Nakajima, it’s a great result coming off a fifth place finish in the Super GT season opener at Okayama, with the Super Formula season opener to come at Suzuka Circuit this weekend.
Former two-time GT500 champion André Lotterer joined his new Porsche co-drivers Neel Jani and Nick Tandy for a third-place effort in the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid, finishing on the lead lap in Lotterer’s first WEC race as a Porsche driver.
“It was good to have my first race with the team,” said Lotterer after the race. “I had no major issues but I’m still obviously in a learning process. The car requires a completely different driving style. Overall it was a positive race and better than expected as we thought we would be a lot weaker against the Toyotas.”
Nakajima’s Lexus Team au TOM’s co-driver James Rossiter was a last-minute appointment for the #4 ByKolles Racing CLM ENSO P1/01 in LMP1, but the team labored through a difficult race that ended just after the final hour, when Rossiter collided with the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage in his closing stint. The Brit drove 62 laps in the Nissan-powered prototype, the final remaining privateer entry in LMP1.
The 6 Hours of Silverstone ushered in the new era of LMP2 for the WEC, and it was a Super GT alumni, former Lexus Team TOM’s and SARD driver Oliver Jarvis, who helped drive Jackie Chan DC Racing to the first LMP2 victory of this new era in their #38 Oreca 07, with co-drivers Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent.
Jarvis had to hold off the #31 Valliante Rebellion Racing and #28 TDS Racing teams in his closing stint to secure the class victory by 19 seconds over the Rebellion Oreca, with the top three covered by just 21 seconds. The result was good enough for fourth in the overall standings, with Jarvis driving 74 laps, and setting fastest LMP2 lap of the race.
“For me, it’s the first time winning at Silverstone for a long time,” said Jarvis, “but more importantly it’s a great result for the team. It’s so important to get points on the board early on in the year. I can’t thank David [Cheng], Jackie Chan DC Racing and Jota Sport enough. We’re going to have a very successful year. The team’s done a superb job and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season.”
With Laurent’s share of the victory, the 18-year-old Frenchman made history as the youngest-ever class winner in the young history of the WEC.
In GTE Pro, former Honda GT500 driver Frédéric Makowiecki drove a race-high 129 laps in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR to take third place in the GTE Pro category, joined by co-driver Richard Lietz, fighting back from a dismal result in qualifying that saw both Porsche 911s occupy the back row in the category.
They finished just 26 seconds back of the race-winning #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT of Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell, and friend of Super GT World, Luis Felipe Derani.
And in GTE-Am, former GT300 driver Keita Sawa, joined by Clearwater Racing co-drivers Weng Sun Mok and Matt Griffin took a dramatic last-lap class victory following a collision between race leaders Pedro Lamy (Aston Martin Racing) and Miguel Molina (Spirit of Race) at the first corner of the final lap, which allowed Griffin to drive his Ferrari 488 GT3 to the class victory.
Sawa did more than his fair share in the effort, putting in 54 laps in the opening stint, and again in the fourth and fifth hours of the race.
The next round of the championship will be the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on May 6, which will see the WEC debut of Super GT star and reigning Super Formula champion, Yuji Kunimoto, in a third Toyota TS050 Hybrid.