Toyota Gazoo Racing has taken a hard-fought victory in Sunday’s rain-affected Six Hours of Silverstone, following an unexpected late-race strategic duel with Porsche in a dramatic FIA World Endurance Championship season-opener.
Sebastien Buemi drove his No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid to a 6.173-second win over the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Brendon Hartley, after a final fuel-only stop for Hartley that put the 2015 World Champion out front.
The Kiwi, however, lost the lead with 12 minutes remaining, to a hard-charging Buemi, in damp conditions, who made an inside move on the Porsche at The Loop to edge ahead and claim and he and Anthony Davidson’s first win since Fuji 2014.
Buemi and Davidson shared top honors with Kazuki Nakajima, marking the first victory for the drivers as a trio.
While Toyota, with its high-downforce package, headed into the race as favorites, it was anything but clear sailing for the Japanese manufacturer, which got caught out during the first two waves of rain showers.
The No. 1 Porsche of Nick Tandy took over the lead in the third hour during the initial rain, but lost out by having to make an additional stop to switch back from Michelin intermediates to slicks when conditions improved.
Tandy and co-drivers Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer, in his Porsche LMP1 debut, came home third, 40 seconds behind the sister entry, driven by Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber.
While ultimately losing out during the brief shower in the third hour, when the Toyotas remained on slicks and Porsches went to intermediates, the German manufacturer gained time in the pits, and were often 3-4 seconds quicker per stop, which also helped close the gap.
A heavy crash by Jose Maria Lopez in damp conditions with two-and-a-half hours to go knocked the No. 7 Toyota out of contention, after a suspected rear anti-roll bar issue and subsequent trip through the gravel by Kamui Kobayashi.
Lopez limped the heavily damaged car back to the pits, but was transported to a local hospital for precautionary scans. The incident brought out the race’s only safety car period.
The car, meanwhile, returned to action more than one hour of repairs to score fourth place points in LMP1, completing more laps than the No. 4 ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01 NISMO, which retired late due to an accident with the No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage V8.
Jackie Chan DC Racing scored top honors in LMP2, in the team’s debut with Jota Sport.
Oliver Jarvis took the No. 38 Oreca 07 Gibson to a 19.376-second class win over the No. 31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca of Nico Prost in second.
The Chinese-backed team held control of the race in the closing hour, retaining the lead following its final stop with 22 minutes to go.
It marked the first class victory for ex-Audi LMP1 factory driver Jarvis and co-drivers Ho-Pin Tung and 19-year-old Frenchman Thomas Laurent.
A late-race charge by Matthieu Vaxiviere, who climbed aboard the No. 28 TDS Racing Oreca on its final stop with 22 minutes to go, nearly saw the Frenchman get by Prost for second in class.
The No. 36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Alpine A470 Gibson came home fourth in class after dominating the first half of the race with Nico Lapierre and Gustavo Menezes at the wheel.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing has won the GTE-Pro battle, successfully holding back competition from Porsche GT Team and AF Corse.
A last-lap accident between the two leading GTE-Am cars, meanwhile, gave top class honors to Clearwater Racing in its series debut.
The pair of Ford GTs both led at various stages in the race, although Harry Tincknell was out front for the final stint, taking a home class victory alongside Andy Priaulx and Ford newcomer Pipo Derani.
The reigning European Le Mans Series champion pitted with 20 minutes on the clock for a front-left tire, briefly losing the lead, but Fred Makowiecki followed suit soon after, putting the Ford back ahead of the Porsche 911 RSR.
This came after Billy Johnson had led for a while during the middle part of the race, with his sister No. 66 Ford eventually dropping back to finish fourth with Olivier Pla at the wheel.
It wasn’t a completely smooth race for the eventual class winners however, as a loose door brought Priaulx into the pits after 30 minutes, putting the car on an alternative strategy as only the front-left tire was changed in the early stop.
Nevertheless, the three-time FIA World Touring Car Champion managed to make up time after the unscheduled stop, before handing over to Derani and Tincknell later in the race.
Tincknell also had to battle the same loose right-side door in the closing laps but managed to slam it shut to take top honors.
Ford had to hold off attempts all throughout the race from the No. 91 Porsche which ran strongly on its series debut with Makowiecki and Richard Lietz.
The Frenchman started seventh in class but had a strong opening stint, taking the car up to second and battling Priaulx for the lead early in the race.
He was back in the car for the final stint and was set for a second-place finish until he came into the pits with less than 15 minutes on the clock, dropping him to third.
The No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE was also fighting for the lead, and new-for-2017 Ferrari factory driver Alessandro Pier Guidi took advantage of the Porsche’s pit stop to take second position in the final few laps.
One of the race’s two Full Course Yellows was caused by Kevin Estre’s No. 92 Porsche going up in flames with an engine fire at the midway point, taking that car out of contention.
Sam Bird meanwhile was handed a 15-second penalty for contact with Mathias Beche’s LMP2 car at Abbey, dropping the No. 71 Ferrari to sixth.
Aston Martin Racing had a race to forget in the Pro category, with both Aston Martin Vantage GTEs off the pace and finishing at the back of the class.
Jonny Adam collided with the ByKolles car at pit entry in the final hour, damaging the No. 97 Aston Martin and further adding to the British marque’s troubles.
Matt Griffin took the GTE-Am class win on the last lap as Pedro Lamy and Miguel Molina, fighting for the lead in the No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE and Spirit of Race Ferrari, collided at Stowe.
This allowed the Irishman to come through to take the win in the Clearwater Ferrari 488 GTE alongside co-drivers Keita Sawa and Mok Weng Sun.
He took the class lead from Lamy on the pit straight with 24 minutes remaining but he had to pit soon after, dropping him back to third behind the Aston Martin and the-then second-place Spirit of Race car.
Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda had led most of the race in the Aston Martin, despite a couple of spins from the Canadian driver.
The Aston Martin finished ahead of Matteo Cairoli’s Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche. Molina’s Spirit of Race car didn’t make it to the checkered flag and so wasn’t classified.