WEC: Toyota pushes through downpour to take Shanghai 6H
The 6 Hours of Shanghai was anything but a straightforward World Endurance Championship race. Heavy rain throughout the day made the conditions undrivable at times, forcing the organizers to stop the race twice in the first half.
In the end, Toyota Gazoo Racing scored a comfortable 1-2 finish, though the Japanese team had to work for the win more so than in previous races this season. The stoppages and safety cars resulting in both its TS050 HYBRIDs to drive through the field to take the lead twice when the conditions were at their worst.
The No. 7 TS050 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez led home the No. 8 for another 1-2 finish though, both cars finishing a lap ahead of the rest of the field, despite less than half the race running in green flag conditions.
The weather front moved in early in the morning before the race began, and worsened in the build-up with the rain shower getting heavier. The race started under safety car conditions, and with such low visibility was quickly red-flagged after the No. 3 Rebellion R-13 of Thomas Laurent had an off into the barriers due to the standing water.
The race did get going later for a handful of laps, but a second red flag came out as the rain continued. Eventually, it went green for a second time with just over three hours to go, and from there, the track began to dry as the level of rain decreased.
There was another safety car during the fourth hour, due to the ByKolles CLM catching fire on the pit straight and DragonSpeed’s BR1 getting beached in the gravel, but after that, the race really got underway, and ran mainly green until the end, though a late shower and safety car added to the drama in the closing laps.
“We expected it would be a hard one, and obviously during the safety cars there was so much rain,” Kobayashi said. “I had no visibility and couldn’t take risks. I tried to catch up but we lost time to the eight during my stint, but we had a safety car which helped us manage the gap. The car felt good, and I handed over to Mike to finish it off. The team did a great job.”
Behind Toyota, there was some decent racing for the final podium spot, SMP and Rebellion racing hard for the first time this year, on track. For the first time this year the Russian outfit came out on top, the BR1 proving itself as the better package in the dismal en route to its first podium.
The No. 11 BR1 of Jenson Button, Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin was the better of the two, the trio scoring silverware for their performances. Unfortunately, the sister car’s day wasn’t as positive though, as Matevos Issakyan had a big off in the final 20 minutes with the rain coming down, bringing out a late safety car which set up a dash to the flag.
“It was a tough old day for everyone, I think the red flags and safety cars were necessary as these cars don’t run in those conditions,” Button said. “It was a really good call — the first green flag I was surprised at, but we got racing.
“It was good fun and we were fighting with the Rebellions, but we could do nothing about the Toyotas with their four-wheel-drive systems. But we pushed as hard as we could and only finished a lap down. For us it wasn’t too bad a day at all, no major issues aside from a drive-through and a spin.”
The No. 1 Rebellion R-13 finished fourth, ahead of the No. 3 chassis which recovered well from its off at the start. Andre Lotterer had a chance to catch and pass Petrov to take third after the final restart, but he couldn’t keep up with Petrov as the conditions deteriorated in the final 10 minutes.
GTE Pro saw a historic result for the Aston Martin Racing team. The No. 95 prevailed in the conditions and as the new Vantage AMR scored its first victory.
Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen were masterful in the tricky conditions, aided by strategy calls from the team. Thiim stormed through the field from fourth in the fifth hour after the safety car for the ByKolles fire to take control of the race, before Sorensen kept his cool at the end.
“In the end it was just surviving after the safety car, everything you knew about driving couldn’t help you as you were sliding around the whole time,” Sorensen said. “The whole stint at the end I just kept asking: ‘When is the last lap? When is the last lap?’
“We just did a good job tactically, we made good strategy calls under safety cars and split the strategy on both cars,” Thiim added.
Behind, Richard Lietz steered the No. 91 Porsche to second, after getting past a struggling Tom Blomqvist in the No. 82 BMW, Davide Rigon’s No. 71 Ferrari and Alex Lynn’s No. 97 Aston Martin (which faded to fourth) during his stint.
The championship-leading No. 92 Porsche demoted the No. 97 to fourth at the very end, when Michael Christensen muscled his way past Maxime Martin in the dash to the flag after the final safety car period. The best of the AF Corse Ferraris — the No. 51 — came home fifth.
BMW, Ford and Corvette meanwhile, all had races to forget.
BMW was in the fight when the race got going, but faded away as the final hours approached, the No. 82 falling from the podium places outside the top 10, while the No. 81 crossed the line sixth and fell to ninth in the classification after a post-race penalty.
Ford fared no better. The No. 66 which started from pole was unable to recover from contact with the No. 92 Porsche during the first green flag sequence of the race. Kevin Estre tagged Olivier Pla going through Turn 1, sending the Ford into a spin. In this instance, no blame was placed on either driver though, and there was no penalty handed out for the incident.
The sister car, meanwhile, had an off into the gravel during Andy Priaulx’s time in the car, which set himself and Harry Tincknell back considerably. The car was classified seventh, but dropped to 10th after a post-race penalty for a safety car pit stop violation
And then there was Corvette Racing’s outing, which despite making bold strategy calls during the race in an attempt to gain any sort of advantage, failed to feature and finished eighth. Tommy Milner nor Oliver Gavin could extract enough pace out of the C7.R to keep up in the mixed conditions.
In LMP2, the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA won its third race of the season. Stephane Richelmi, Gabriel Aubrey and Ho Pin Tung enjoyed with a strong run while the other runners in the class hit trouble or struggled in the conditions.
They had to overcome adversity though during the race. The team put the car on intermediate tires too early, causing Aubrey to drive cautiously, recover from contact and spins, and nurse intermittent issues. The car and drivers were quick and consistent when it mattered though, and that proved to be the difference.
“I think everyone did an outstanding job,” said Tung. “Five years ago David (Cheng) and I started this journey together, since then we’ve won Le Mans, and finally we managed to crack winning the home race in very difficult circumstances and conditions.
“We’ve always had such a fast car and excellent strategy, and that stood out today. We suffered with poor visibility minor car issues, like the gear shifts, but we nursed the car home and took the win.”
Aubrey added: “There were so many scares. It was an emotional rollercoaster. We had a trip to the gravel, contact with an LMP1 and I was on inters in the full rain, so I was so happy to see the checkered flag at the end!”
DragonSpeed looked in with a chance at points with its No. 31 ORECA, leading the class for a good portion of the second half of the race before finishing second.
The title-challenging Signatech Alpine came home third after the TDS Racing ORECA was forced to pit on the final lap, the French-flagged 07 Gibson not classified after its drama in the final seconds of the race.
With a third win, the No. 38 now has a clear lead in the championship over Signatech Alpine. Heading into the race, the two crews were tied.
Also notable was the where the winning crew finished in the overall classification — behind the GTE Pro-winning Aston Martin. The LMP2 runners were at times, no match for the GTE Pro cars when the conditions were at their worst.
In GTE Am, Dempsey Proton Racing emerged victorious, in the shadow of yesterday’s steward’s decision which cost the team all of its points up to this point.
The No. 77 of Christian Ried, Matt Campbell and Julien Andlauer (which led the championship until yesterday) won the race, leading home the Project 1 Porsche, which now holds the lead in the Am class championship standings. The No. 88 Dempsey Proton Porsche completed the podium, losing second at the very end, but still securing a double podium for the team.
“I’m really happy to win this race after a difficult weekend. I’m really happy for everyone — they did a great job,” said Ried. “It was so hard, I did the start, we chose the wrong tires so I struggled. But Julien and Matt did so well to recover.”
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