Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima gave the No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid its first victory of the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship season with a dominant performance in the 6 Hours of Fuji.
The winning crew never gave up the net lead to their sister No. 7 car, which finished second in the hands of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez.
Toyota’s two cars dominated all but the first half-hour of their home race, which started with a surprise attack from Bruno Senna who split the TS050 Hybrids with the No. 1 Rebellion R13 Gibson in the opening stint.
But when Kobayashi worked his way past the Brazilian driver 20 minutes in, the Toyotas assumed a 1-2 order that would not be challenged for the rest of the race.
The No. 8 car’s course to victory was cast in doubt when it picked up a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane during the fourth hour.
However, this turned out to be a mere dent in the narrative as Nakajima, who originally had a 50-second advantage over Lopez, came out with 24 seconds still at hand.
This set the No. 8 Toyota on track for a comfortable win, with Nakajima handing over to Buemi who went on to take the checkered flag by a margin of 34 seconds from Kobayashi.
The gap between the two Toyotas created by the WEC’s success handicap system – in action for the first time this weekend – was evident as the No. 8 consistently posted quicker lap times than the No. 7 across the six hours.
Equally evident early on was the No. 1 Rebellion’s much smaller handicap, based on championship positions after the Silverstone season-opener, which Senna used to get past Kobayashi.
But the Rebellion faded over the course of the race, with Senna, Gustavo Menezes and Norman Nato completing the podium two laps adrift of the winner.
Team LNT’s two Ginetta G60-LT-P1 AERs rounded out the LMP1 class order, but were listed behind the LMP2 leaders in the overall classification after encountering issues.
The No. 5 Ginetta, which finished 16 laps down, made a trip to the garage for repairs after its left-front brake burst on approach to the Turn 1 hairpin.
Its sister No. 6 car, meanwhile, experienced a right-rear puncture before being handed a six-minute stop and hold penalty for a technical infringement late in the race.
Racing Team Nederland Scores First LMP2 Win
The Racing Team Nederland squad became a WEC LMP2 class winner for the first time as Nyck de Vries, Giedo van der Garde and Frits van Eerd won a four-way scrap for the top step of the podium.
The LMP2 race featured multiple lead changes between the Oreca 07 Gibsons from Nederland, Jackie Chan DC Racing, JOTA and High Class Racing.
Utilizing an alternative strategy, the Nederland car took the lead in the final hour when the Jackie Chan and JOTA cars pitted for the final time.
De Vries had one more stop to make later than his rivals, but the recently-crowned FIA Formula 2 champion managed to perform this service quickly to maintain a six-second gap to Anthony Davidson in the No. 38 JOTA car.
The 24-year-old then set off to take a clear win by 25 seconds from Davidson, who shared driving duties with Antonio Felix da Costa and Roberto Gonzalez.
Jackie Chan DC Racing’s Oreca, also run by the Jota Sport operation, finished third in the hands of Will Stevens, Gabriel Aubry and Ho-Pin Tung.
This car led going into the final hour, but Tung was overtaken by Davidson in the pits.
Tung himself had set the Jackie Chan car out front with a well-executed move on High Class driver Mark Patterson, who had taken over from Toyota junior Kenta Yamashita.
Patterson, Yamashita and Anders Fjordbach finished fourth, ahead of the No. 22 United Autosports Oreca.
The Danish-entered High Class machine led on various occasions, most lately in the fifth hour when Yamashita out-braked Tung into Turn 1, but the order reversed when the Japanese driver handed over to Patterson at the final driver change.
RESULTS: 6H Fuji