TOYOTA GAZOO Racing returned to the podium in a thrilling Six Hours of Bahrain, the final round of the 2015 World Endurance Championship.
An emotional result saw Alex Wurz stand on the podium in his last-ever race, claiming third place in the #2 TS040 HYBRID he shares with Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway.
As well as being the team’s first podium since the opening round of the season at Silverstone, that result also marked Alex’s 12th podium for TOYOTA in 28 races, including five victories.
Another very reliable race for the TS040 HYBRID saw the team profit in the Bahrain heat whilst some of its rivals encountered problems, and the #1 of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima finished a strong fourth.
The race began in bright sunshine as Sébastien established the #1 in fifth while Alex, taking the start in the #2 for his last-ever race, was sixth. Both cars moved up a place when the #17 Porsche pitted for nine minutes of repairs half an hour into the race.
More drama came after two-and-a-half hours, when Kazuki had contact with an LMP2 car which required a front end change and dropped the #1 behind its sister car.
As half distance approached, the second-placed #8 Audi needed 15 minutes of repairs which lifted the #2 into the podium positions, followed closely by the fourth-placed #1.
Despite a busy track and plenty of incidents, both TS040 HYBRIDs kept up a strong pace, with the #1 putting increasing pressure on its sister car for third as all drivers took their turn fighting for a strong result to end the season.
The two TOYOTAs established themselves in a clear third and fourth, closing out the final two hours with consistent lap times and crossing the line together, separated by only 1.177secs in a race won by the #18 Porsche.
A tense six hours eventually saw the #17 Porsche of Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard earn the drivers’ World Championship title, succeeding Anthony and Sébastien who took the 2014 crown in Bahrain 12 months ago.
TOYOTA finish the year third in the manufacturers’ World Championship. Anthony and Sébastien are fifth, on exactly the same points as the #2 crew but ahead courtesy of more fourth places. Kazuki is seventh having missed the Spa race due to injury.
Today’s race brought the curtain down on the TS040 HYBRID era. It competed in 16 races over two seasons, winning five times as part of 14 podium finishes, most of which came during its double World Championship-winning season in 2014.
It will be succeeded by an all-new car for 2016 which will start testing early next year prior to its first public appearance during the Prologue test at Paul Ricard in March.
Toshio Sato, Team President: “It was great to finally fight for a podium again; this was a nice way to finish a difficult season and it gives us added motivation for the winter. We want to be battling at the front every race. That is the expectation for next year and everyone is already working hard to achieve this. This was a special race, as the last one for Alex before his retirement and I am happy he could end his career in a positive way. I want to thank him once again for his fantastic contribution to our team. He has been an incredible professional all the way up to his final racing laps, which showed how talented he still is. Thanks also to the team for a perfect job which brought a nice reward today. I also would like to sincerely congratulate Brendon, Mark and Timo on winning the drivers’ World Championship. They have been very strong all season and deserve to enjoy this moment.”
TS040 HYBRID #1 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)
Race: 4th, 196 laps, 6 pit stops. Grid: 5th. Fastest lap: 1min 44.314secs
Anthony Davidson: “It’s really nice for the team to end up on the podium as a reward for all their hard work during a challenging season. Thanks to all of our crew who have given everything this year. It was particularly good to see Alex up there in his final race; hats off to him for another great job. We tried our best but it wasn’t to be today for us.”
Sébastien Buemi: “Car #2 did a good job, well done to them. For us it was a frustrating race. We felt we could have been on the podium; we had the speed but it didn’t work out in the end. I am happy that Alex could finish on the podium in his last race. It is good for team motivation and now we will work to come back stronger next year.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “Personally I had a difficult race as in my first stint I had contact with an LMP1 which ultimately cost us the podium. But I am happy I could fight back with a strong second stint, which I enjoyed. I have to say thank you to the crew for all their effort this year. I am really happy for the team to be back on the podium, especially for Alex. I am so pleased for him. It was a tough year but we will fight back.”
TS040 HYBRID #2 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway)
Race: 3rd, 196 laps, 6 pit stops. Grid: 6th. Fastest lap: 1min 44.793secs
Alex Wurz: “In my last race I got a bit fortunate with some technical issues for the others but we had a faultless day on our car and that brought us to third. We had a hard battle with the sister car which went down to the wire in the end. It was nerve-wracking to watch. I am very happy for the team, who got their reward for always working very hard. Congratulations to Porsche for well-deserved drivers’ and manufacturers’ World Championships. They raised the level this year and I hope TOYOTA will fight back. These guys have been my home for a few years now and I really want them to bounce back. The work starts now.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “Today we were a little fortunate to end up on the podium but we enjoyed fighting up there and it is a great result for the team. We never gave up; everybody gave their maximum all the time, mechanics, engineers and drivers. We have a lot of work to do this winter to improve but we will come back. Thanks a lot to Alex for all the seasons we had together as team-mates. It has been cool to share a car with him; I have learned a lot and enjoyed it. He was a great team-mate so I am happy to finish it on the podium.”
Mike Conway: “It’s obviously great to be on the podium and give Alex a trophy to retire with. It was a tough day of fighting with the sister car. I enjoyed it and we came out on top in the end. But we had to push all the way as it was a close battle. Alex and Stéph did a great job all day. It’s a fantastic way to end the season and gives us a good push for next year when hopefully we will be on the podium many more times. I am looking forward to that.”