TOYOTA GAZOO Racing returned to the podium with second and third place finishes in the 6 Hours of Shanghai, the penultimate race of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.
The #6 TS050 HYBRID of Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi recovered from the misfortune of two tyre punctures to earn second place and their fourth consecutive podium finish.
That result keeps them in the fight for the drivers’ World Championship, having closed the gap on Porsche #2 to 17 points with 26 still to fight for in the final race, in Bahrain on 19 November.
Third place for Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, their first podium of the season, keeps the team in the fight for runners-up in the manufacturers’ championship. TOYOTA is 15 points behind Audi with a maximum of 44 available.
When the race began on a sunny Shanghai day, Sébastien was at the wheel of the #5 for the team’s first front-row start of 2016 and he led briefly on the first lap before dropping to fifth, with Mike running fourth in the #6 in the opening laps.
An unscheduled stop for Audi #8 around the 90-minute mark lifted the #6 into third place, with its sister car still just behind in fourth and both TS050 HYBRIDs pushing hard at the front.
The situation remained like that through two driver changes for both cars until, with two-and-a-half hours gone, Kamui passed the #2 Porsche for second following an exciting three-lap duel.
That pattern was repeated with the #5 car soon after when Sébastien took over the fight shortly before the halfway point, closed up to the #2 Porsche and took third. However, during the next round of pit stops, he dropped behind again.
More position changes followed soon after the two-hour mark, when a rear-left tyre puncture on the #6 forced an unplanned pit stop and dropped Mike to fourth, with the #5 moving into the podium positions.
Frustratingly, misfortune again struck the #6 when another puncture forced an early pit stop with 80 minutes to go. Kamui began a charging recovery drive, overtaking the #5 for third and then, with 45 minutes remaining, taking second from the #2.
At the final pit stops, Anthony emerged ahead of the #2, bringing the #5 car back into the podium positions while, after the two punctures, Kamui was too far behind the race leader to mount an attack.
As the sun set, Kamui took the chequered flag in second, 59.785secs behind the winning #1 car which secured the manufacturers’ World Championship for Porsche. Anthony followed 6.253secs later to secure TOYOTA’s first double podium since Shanghai in 2014.
Toshio Sato, Team President: “Congratulations to Porsche for winning the manufacturers’ World Championship; it is a great achievement to retain this title. We are pleased to have both cars on the podium for the first time this season, despite some bad luck. Just like in the last three races, we have again seen an incredibly close fight with very little separating the three LMP1 manufacturers. This shows how high the level of competition is in WEC and I think the many fans here in Shanghai enjoyed this spectacle. Now we have a short time to prepare for the last race in Bahrain when we expect to again be competitive; we want to maintain our strong performance and fight for the win again.”
TS050 HYBRID #5 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)
Race: 3rd, 195 laps, 6 pit stops. Grid: 2nd. Fastest lap: 1min 46.791secs
Anthony Davidson: “Luck hasn’t gone our way this season so it’s really nice to be back on the podium again. The race was tough with traffic and an unbelievable amount of rubber on track. Our focus was to get ahead of the #2 car and it was great to do that. It shows how far the team has come since the last podium for our car, at Silverstone in 2015. To get two cars on the podium is a great achievement.”
Sébastien Buemi: “It has been a very tough season for our car so we will enjoy being on the podium. We knew we should be competitive in the race and we were, we just didn’t have the pace of the #1 Porsche. Thanks to the team for their hard work to get car #5 back on the podium; I’m really happy. Now we look forward to Bahrain when we want to stand on the podium again.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “I’m really pleased for everyone on the car #5 crew to get this result. Everyone has worked so hard for us to stand on the podium again despite a lot of bad luck this year so big thanks to the team; I hope this is a turning point. It was a difficult race for me but my team-mates drove well and it was nice we could help out our sister car by finishing ahead of the second Porsche.”
TS050 HYBRID #6 (Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi)
Race: 2nd, 195 laps, 7 pit stops. Grid: 4th. Fastest lap: 1min 46.822secs
Stéphane Sarrazin: “That was a good race for us, even though it’s not the victory that we enjoyed in Fuji. We had a strong weekend and we showed that our car is very fast. We were unlucky with the punctures. Who knows what we could have achieved without that but I’m still really happy. We’re still in the fight for the World Championship; 17 points is not easy but our car is quick and we will keep pushing.”
Mike Conway: “It’s been a positive day overall for us and great to be on the podium yet again. It’s a pity to get two punctures but the team did a great job to recover; everyone dug in and got the maximum out of our race today. We fought right to the end so thanks to everyone for their effort. I’m pleased to see the #5 guys on the podium as well; it’s great for them and the team.”
Kamui Kobayashi: “I’m really happy with our race; second is a good result considering everything. It was a strong recovery drive. Our car was fast and we managed the traffic pretty well. It’s nice to see both TOYOTAs on the podium and the team deserves this because we have worked really hard to improve during the season and we are finishing the year strongly.”
6 Hours of Shanghai results:
1st #1 Porsche (Bernhard/Webber/Hartley) 195 laps
2nd #6 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +59.785secs
3rd #5 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +1min 6.038secs
4th #2 Porsche (Dumas/Jani/Lieb) +1min 40.855secs
5th #8 Audi (di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis) +3 laps
6th #7 Audi (Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer) +14 laps