TOYOTA GAZOO Racing celebrated its 100th World Championship sportscar race with a one-two victory for its new GR010 HYBRID Hypercar in the 8 Hours of Portimao following a flawless performance in Portugal.
After missing pole position on Saturday, the team responded in style to win the second round of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) and earn its 32nd victory from 100 races in the series.
Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, in the #8 GR010 HYBRID, won a race-long battle with their team-mates to take victory by 1.8secs from World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López in the #7 sister car.
With a second win from two races in 2021, following victory in the season-opening 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing has extended its teams’ World Championship lead to 22 points. In the drivers’ standings, the #8 crew hold a 20-point advantage over #7 with four races remaining.
Following an exciting Hypercar battle at Spa last month, WEC’s first visit to Portugal witnessed another close battle. Every second counted from the moment Sébastien took the start behind the pole position Alpine with José in third.
Only 10 seconds separated the top three at the first fuel stops. Sébastien then briefly lead when the #36 stopped earlier. The Alpine requires additional pit stops over the eight hours due to a smaller fuel tank, but consequently benefits from a lighter fuel load and shorter stops.
When Mike and Brendon took over their respective cars at the first driver changes, shortly before the two-hour mark, an incredibly close race developed at the front. Only 10 seconds separated the top three, led by the Alpine from the #7 and #8 GR010 HYBRIDs, after 75 laps.
Early in his stint, Brendon was delayed badly behind an LMP2 car, just as Sébastien had been earlier, and this cost the #8 car second place. Mike was able to pass but during the next fuel stops, Brendon reclaimed the advantage by pitting a lap earlier. Then he again lost out to Mike due to heavy traffic.
As half distance approached, Kamui and Kazuki took over driving duties with a full pit stop advantage over the Alpine. That meant Kamui lead by 10secs from Kazuki.
The team therefore appeared to have the race under control until an LMP2 car got stuck in the gravel with just under three hours remaining. As a consequence the safety car closed up the field and brought the Alpine back into contention.
When racing resumed with two-and-a-half hours remaining, the Alpine soon took second from Kazuki and pressured leader Kamui before pitting. The GR010 HYBRIDs responded and rebuilt their advantage. The #7, in Jose’s hands, emerged as the leader ahead of Sébastien, who was saving fuel.
A full course yellow slowed the race with 30 minutes to go and José brought the #7 in for a short fuel stop. He returned to the track just three seconds behind Sébastien in the #8, setting up a tense finish. When José closed up to the #8 car, team policy allowed him the opportunity to take the lead and pull away. However, Sébastien was able to stay directly behind so José was asked to reverse the order as per protocol.
Sébastien therefore crossed the line to take the #8 GR010 HYBRID’s second win of the season and maintain its 100% winning record, with José following directly behind and the #36 Alpine 1min 8.597secs further back after 300 laps. Hypercar battle will resume in Monza, Italy on 18 July.