TOYOTA Racing experienced a dramatic but very frustrating Six Hours of the Circuit of the Americas which ended with a podium finish but promised much more for the fourth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Heavy rain early in the race caused chaos and necessitated a stunning recovery drive for the #8 TS040 HYBRID of Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi, who finished third to leave with a 11-point lead in the drivers’ standings.
The #7 of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and TOYOTA Racing debutant Mike Conway took sixth place, meaning the team fell to second in the manufacturers’ World Championship, 18 behind Audi at the halfway point in the season.
The race had begun very promisingly with the 1,000PS, four-wheel-drive TS040 HYBRIDs taking control at the start; pole sitter Sébastien pulling out a substantial lead while Alex brought the #7 up to second place in the opening laps.
After Mike and Nicolas took over their respective cars close to the hour mark, the race was turned upside down by a heavy rainstorm. In impossible conditions on slick tyres both cars aquaplaned off track, with the #8 getting stuck in the gravel.
Several cars suffered the same fate so the red flag was waved to temporarily stop the race in the interests of safety.
After a delay of nearly an hour, during which the race clock continued to count down, Nicolas took the safety car restart in fourth, with Mike back in seventh.
Both cars lost a lap during the chaotic scenes just prior to the red flag. But Nicolas set about a fight back, switching to hybrid intermediate tyres at the half-distance point as Mike pushed on with wets, with night having closed in.
As the standings settled down and the next round of pit stops came, Anthony in the #8 was pushing to close the gap on the podium positions while Stéphane was sixth, with both by now on slick tyres.
Sébastien began a determined pursuit of the podium places and a string of quick laps, including the fastest of the race, earned a third place which looked highly unlikely earlier in the race, while Alex took the flag in sixth.
TOYOTA Racing will attempt to recover the winning habit at its home race, the Six Hours of Fuji on 12 October, and heads to Japan aiming for a third consecutive victory at the historic track.
Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Team President: “This is a frustrating result because we had the fastest car but couldn’t win the race. The wet conditions were extremely challenging and unfortunately we suffered more than our rivals. From then on, it was a damage limitation exercise where we had to push as hard as we could to get the maximum points available. We wanted a lot more from this weekend and we will be pushing very hard to achieve a much better result at Fuji Speedway.”
TS040 HYBRID #7 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway)
Race: 6th, 155 laps, 5 pit stops. Fastest lap: 1min 51.383secs
Alex Wurz: “For me generally it was a frustrating weekend. I had a good start and brought the car up to second place but then the rain came. Unfortunately we were running third when the red flag came out but had to restart from seventh. We did everything we could from there but sixth is not where I want to be.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “It was a tough race for everybody. Unfortunately we had the heavy rain. We were in the pit when the red flag came out which destroyed our race completely. The car was good, and it was possible to get a top result. It’s a pity for us as well as the #8. It’s not the weekend we expected. Now we have to try to win in Fuji.”
Mike Conway: “That was pretty eventful. With the massive downpour it was like driving into a lake. It caught everyone by surprise. Fortunately we survived and managed to move up to third but then got dropped down to seventh for the restart which made our life hard. Stéph and Alex dug deep to try to get further up but sixth was all we could achieve. I would have liked a better result, but that’s motorsport.”
TS040 HYBRID #8 (Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre, Sébastien Buemi)
Race: 3rd, 157 laps, 5 pit stops. Fastest lap: 1min 50.390secs
Anthony Davidson: “Looking on the bright side, which you have to do when the result doesn’t go your way, the good news is we had the fastest car. We should have won, that was clear. Going forward, we have a car to fight for the championship. It is going to be tough but we are still ahead in the drivers’ championship at least. We can only look forward and make sure we win as many race as we can from here on in.”
Nicolas Lapierre: “I am very disappointed because we had the car to win the race. Everybody was expecting nice weather but we had this big shower which changed everything. We had a quick car in the dry, a little faster than Audi, but in the wet and intermediate conditions we were much stronger. I am disappointed but it is a good sign for the rest of the season because this track is not our strongest one.”
Sébastien Buemi: “I don’t know what to say apart from that I’m really disappointed with what happened because it feels like we have thrown the win away. For the championship it is not so bad, it is still a podium, but we cannot be happy with this because we had the fastest car yet we are only third and have lost some ground in the championship. It’s like this but we will try to bounce back in Japan.”