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

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Gary Watkins, Spe­cial Con­trib­u­tor

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”.

The #2 Porsche crew sealed the driv­ers’ ti­tle

Toy­ota’s late-sea­son devel­op­ments have brought the TS050 back on com­pet­i­tive terms with Porsche

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

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