In the first race of the 2018/2019 FIA World Endurance Championship season, Toyota Gazoo Racing emerged victorious at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. The pair of Toyota TS050 Hybrids competing in the LMP1 Class took first and second places in what was a drama-filled event for the Japanese team. The No. 8 car driven by Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and WEC newcomer Fernando Alonso seized the race win, closely followed by the No. 7 sister car piloted by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose María Lopez.
The No. 8 car qualified in pole position and was driven by Buemi for the race start. He built up a substantial lead, but was eventually tailed by the chasing No. 1 Rebellion after the first hour due to a safety car. WEC rookie Alonso then took over driving duties and defended the lead with a spectacular overtaking move on the Kemmel Straight. The car was then handed over to Nakajima just before half distance, when it already had a sizable gap from the second-placed car.
Meanwhile, the No. 7 car was penalized with a pit-lane start after a post-qualifying technical infringement. Finishing strong now became a tall order for the team, but Conway had driven the car to sixth place around the time of the first pit stops. The car’s remarkable pace remained unimpeded as it started the second half of the race just a minute behind the leading TS050.
The No. 8 car kept a steady lead of one minute over its No. 7 stablemate, but a safety car within the last hour closed the gap to just six seconds. It was decided that—to avoid unnecessary risks and preserve the team’s championship points—both cars would hold their positions until the race ended. The No. 8 car crossed the finish line and completed 163 laps. The No. 7 car finished in formation, 1.444 seconds behind the race winner.
This was Toyota’s 17th WEC victory and its third at Spa. For Alonso, it was his first victory at this circuit after 18 years (since winning an International Formula 3000 race), and he became the first Spaniard to win a WEC race since Marc Gene’s triumph for Audi at the same track in 2012. Toyota thus leads both the drivers’ and teams’ championship standings going into the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 16-17.