Weekend to forget for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing at Spa

2015 World Endurance Championship - Round 2

The legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium played host to another dramatic round of the World Endurance Championship on Saturday but it proved to be a disappointing event for the reigning World Champions TOYOTA GAZOO Racing.

The 7.004km track was a happy hunting ground for the team twelve months ago with a victory and third place but there was no such good fortune in this year’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. The #2 TS040 HYBRID finished in fifth with the #1 car in eighth after suffering technical problems mid-race.

The event got off to a bad start from the very first free practice session on Thursday when #1 TS040 HYBRID driver Kazuki Nakajima suffered injury in a heavy accident in tricky wet conditions. Kazuki was taken to a local hospital in Verviers after the crash where he was diagnosed with a fractured vertebra, ruling him out of the Spa weekend. An outpouring of support for Kazuki from the close WEC community and fans around the world was well received by the team and Kazuki but it overshadowed the team’s weekend.

“This has been a tough event for us,” explained Team President Toshio Sato. “We wanted to get a much better result, particularly for Kazuki. Like in Silverstone, we have shown a lap time improvement compared to last year but it has not been enough to challenge Audi and Porsche, who have done an impressive job.”

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The team recognised from Friday’s qualifying session that the six hour race would be one of damage limitation with a larger than expected gap to the front runners. Starting from sixth and seventh, the cars had a bright start to the race with Alex Wurz running briefly in the top four in the #2 car before dropping back. The Austrian put in one of the overtaking moves of the whole race through Eau Rouge-Radillon in a thrilling battle for sixth place.

“It was a tough race because we just didn’t have the pace,” said Alex. “I had some fun battles; it was very nice to fight on track. Overall, the race was very exciting for WEC fans but we are not at the front so I want to work hard with the team to see what we can improve.”

Incidents throughout the LMP1 field shook up the order and helped both cars to compete in the top six after the first round of driver changes. Unfortunately, the #1 car suffered technical issues of its own with electrical problems requiring more than 20 minutes in the pits. As the #2 car ran trouble-free in the top five, the #1 car was left battling down in 14th and 14 laps off the leaders.

Nonetheless, a typically resurgent performance from the World Champions Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi soon saw the #1 car back inside the top ten.

“It has been one of our worst weekends to be honest,” admitted Sébastien. “It’s been a long time since we were not on the podium. We had problems in the race and we were not quick enough. We will continue to push and do the best we can.”

The #2 car had a less problematic race but lacked the pace to compete for a podium. Alex, along with Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway, finished the race fifth, three laps adrift, but will the Le Mans 24 Hours firmly in their sights.

“We did the best job we could and fifth was the maximum we could do,” said Mike. “It’s a few more points for us but the next race is Le Mans, which is the big one. We just have to get our heads down and keep working away to prepare the most competitive package we can for Le Mans.”

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For Mr. Sato, the priorities are clear: “We will conduct a detailed investigation into the technical problems as well as the gap to our competitors. We will work flat-out and concentrate on the development of our Le Mans-spec car.”

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing lies third in the Manufacturers’ Championship on 47 points after two rounds, with the #2 crew of Alex, Stéphane and Mike residing third in the Drivers’ standings.

Preparations for Le Mans 24 Hours get underway in earnest with the official test day at Circuit de la Sarthe on 31 May.

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