WEC: Toyota’s race, Porsche’s title in China
The silverware is beyond Toyota’s reach now, but it is determined to beat Porsche in terms of victories nailed during the season
Toyota knew the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles were as good as gone when it arrived at Shanghai. But that’s only one reason it seemed unconcerned when Porsche sealed both World Endurance Championship crowns last weekend. The other was that the Japanese manufacturer now appears on course to achieve a new target of its own after a dominant victory for Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima.
The win for the #8 TS050 HYBRID levelled the victory tallies for the two LMP1 manufacturers at four apiece this season with one round left to run in Bahrain later this month. Toyota’s ambition now is to outscore Porsche in terms of race victories in 2017 – and it has taken steps to achieve that.
The Toyota Motorsport Gmbh technical team is normally hard at work on next year’s P1 contender at this time of the season. They are still hard at it in Cologne, only this time they are toiling on updates for the current car. Resources have become available because development of the version of the TS050 that will race next year – should Toyota recommit to the WEC – was stopped when it became clear that there would be no factory opposition in the 2018-19 ‘superseason’ or the season after.
A series of aerodynamic updates, the first of which Toyota revealed had come on stream at Fuji last month, and a weight-saving programme appear to have changed the balance in the battle at the front of the WEC. The TS050 had a clear edge on Porsche’s 919 Hybrid around the 3.39-mile Shanghai International Circuit last weekend. It was quicker over one lap and, just as crucially, it was better on its tyres over a double stint.
“Usually at this time of year we are developing the car for next year, but
when it became clear that we do not need next year’s car we were able to restart development for this year,” explained TMG technical director
Pascal Vasselon. “We respect our base homologation, but there are option parts which can be developed a bit. Parts like the dive planes, the vanes and the strakes, these can be developed.”
The introduction of the latest round of developments last weekend made the difference at the front of the WEC field. Toyota was ahead in every session, while Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi were able to take pole in the #7 car by almost half a second. That was despite the Briton, by his own admission, “leaving
a couple of tenths on the table” and trailing the Porsches after the first runs.
Porsche wasn’t in the fight as it went about the business of wrapping up a hat-trick of hat-tricks – three victories in the Le Mans 24 Hours and three drivers’ and manufacturers’ doubles before the end of its LMP1 programme post-bahrain. Its two cars were a lap down inside four hours as Toyota swept towards victory and what appeared to be a dominant one-two.
That result would have kept the manufacturers’ title mathematically open going into Bahrain, though third place for Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard would have been enough for them to seal the drivers’ title. They found themselves promoted to second, though, and team-mates Nick Tandy, Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer up to third, when Jose Maria Lopez in the #7 Toyota was involved in an incident with the
GTE Pro class Porsche of Richard Lietz with just over 40 minutes to go.
The Toyota and the Porsche came together between Turns 11 and 12, the impact damaging the rear suspension and braking a driveshaft on the TS050. The Argentinian limped back to the pits for repairs, losing seven laps before resuming in a distant fourth place.
Tandy and his team-mates seemed to be the Porsche crew most likely to take the fight to Toyota until an issue with an engine sensor delayed the car in the opening hour. More than a minute elapsed while Tandy followed the necessary button-pressing procedure to find a solution.
Bamber, Hartley and Bernhard had a hard day at the office. Bamber had rooted the tyres on which he had qualified, which left them with only three sets of Michelins on which to complete the distance. Hartley did two and a half stints on four tyres.
“Toyota was definitely better on the tyres today,” said Tandy, “and they were better on exit out of the slow stuff.”
Buemi agreed that Toyota “has a better car now” after the flow of updates. “We had a lot for Fuji, but it didn’t show because of the wet conditions,” he said. “We’ve really pushed hard and have a good update for the end of the season.”
The #8 car had qualified only third in the hands of Buemi and Davidson, six tenths behind #7, after a boosting problem cost Buemi half a second on the opening run. In the race, however, #8 was the quicker of the two Toyotas.
Buemi had just made it up to second ahead of Tandy when Lopez had a minor coming together with Nico Muller in the LMP2 G-drive ORECA. The resulting spin dropped Lopez to third, but he was quickly back ahead of Tandy.
The different tyre strategies of the two TS050S – and that of #8 was
undoubtedly superior – meant that Lopez was ahead of Buemi in the final hour when he clashed with Lietz. But the winning car was on the fresher tyres and had closed to within two seconds.
Lopez subsequently apologised to Lietz, but Toyota seemed unwilling to lay the blame at the door of its man.
“Probably, Jose Maria could have handled it better, but the Porsche driver should have known he was being passed by two prototypes,” reckoned Vasselon. “The Porsche closed across very quickly and hit him on the back of the car.”
Porsche LMP1 team principal Andreas Seidl described wrapping up the titles as a “big relief”. The pressure is off now as the team heads into the final race of its LMP1 adventure in Bahrain.
“We will fight back in Bahrain,” said Bamber. “We don’t want Toyota ending up with more wins than us.”
The bad news for Porsche is that the stream of updates from Toyota, in Vasselon’s words, is “ongoing”.
Toyota’s late-season developments have brought the TS050 back on competitive terms with Porsche
The #2 Porsche crew sealed the drivers’ title
The #8 Toyota didn’t start from pole but dominated the race
Engine-sensor issue delayed the Tandy/ Jani/lotterer Porsche
Second place was enough to win both titles