The event got off to a bad start on Thursday when Kazuki Nakajima suffered a fractured vertebra during a heavy practice accident in wet conditions and a difficult race day did little to improve the team’s mood.
With a larger-than-expected gap to Audi and Porsche at Spa, the race was an exercise in damage limitation with the World Championship fight in mind, but that too ended in frustration.
Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway, in the #2, were the lead TS040 HYBRID in fifth position. World Champions Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi suffered technical problems and finished eighth.
Hopes were certainly higher at the start, when Sébastien lined up sixth with Alex one spot behind. Alex battled ahead of the sister car, briefly taking fourth with a fighting performance into turn one before slipping back.
Incidents throughout the LMP1 field shook up the order regularly and helped both TS040 HYBRIDs into the top six after the first driver changes. The #2, with Stéphane now at the wheel, ran fifth with Anthony directly behind in the #1 at half distance.
Unfortunately the #1 also became a victim of the LMP1 troubles. Electrical problems caused two pit stops for repairs, costing more than 20 minutes which left Sébastien 14 laps off the lead in 14th when he returned to the action.
All the while, Stéphane then Mike pressed on with the #2 in fifth. With two hours remaining, Sébastien set about making up positions, with the top 10 in sight.
Anthony and Alex took over their respective cars for the run to the chequered flag, with the #1 continuing to claw back positions against the slower LMP2 cars. Alex completed a trouble-free run in fifth, three laps behind, with Anthony eighth.
That result leaves reigning World Champions TOYOTA with 47 points and in third place in the manufacturers’ standings. Alex, Stéphane and Mike are the leading TOYOTA drivers in the standings, in third.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is fully focused on a significant improvement in its next race, the Le Mans 24 Hours on 13-14 June. Preparations begin at the Circuit de la Sarthe with the official test day on 31 May.
Toshio Sato, Team President: “This has been a tough event for us. We wanted to get a much better result, particularly for Kazuki. Like in Silverstone, we have shown a lap time improvement compared to last year but it has not been enough to challenge Audi and Porsche who have done an impressive job. Congratulations to Audi on a hard-fought victory. We will conduct a detailed investigation into the technical problems as well as the gap to our competitors. We will work flat-out and concentrate on the development of our Le Mans-spec car.”
TS040 HYBRID #1 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi)
Race: 8th, 162 laps, 9 pit stops. Grid: 6th. Fastest lap: 1min 59.528secs
Anthony Davidson: “It was a disappointing day to cap a rough week for car #1 which started with Kazuki’s crash. We had some technical problems and a weekend to forget. The next race is the most important one of the year so we will stay focused and look for more performance.”
Sébastien Buemi: “It has been one of our worst weekends to be honest; it’s been a long time since we were not on the podium. We had problems in the race and we were not quick enough. We have to go home and try to find some lap time. We will continue to push and do the best we can.”
TS040 HYBRID #2 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway)
Race: 5th, 173 laps, 7 pit stops. Grid: 7th. Fastest lap: 2min 00.170secs
Alex Wurz: “It was tough race because we just didn’t have the pace. I had some fun battles; it was very nice to fight on track. Overall the race was very exciting for WEC fans but we are not at the front so I want to go home and work hard with the team to see what we can improve.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “As we feared, it has been a difficult day for us. Audi and Porsche were very quick. They have made a really big step; even if we also improved we are still behind. We have one month to react so we will see. We have to push really hard for Le Mans to improve.”
Mike Conway: “We did the best job we could and fifth was the maximum we could do. It’s a few more points for us but the next race is Le Mans, which is the big one. We just have to get our heads down and keep working away to prepare the most competitive package we can for Le Mans.”