Poignant podium for Toyota in Bahrain

2015 World Endurance Championship - Round 8

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing brought down the curtain on the 2015 World Endurance Championship in style last Saturday with a podium finish for the #2 TS040 HYBRID in the Six Hours of Bahrain.

The result marked the team’s second podium of the season but was especially poignant as it represented the final WEC race for the TS040 HYBRID and for driver Alex Wurz, who announced his retirement from professional racing ahead of the race.

A thrilling six-hour race around the Bahrain International Circuit also saw the #1 TS040 HYBRID finish in fourth place to allow the team to finish the season in positive fashion.

The weekend was always going to be a special one for the team at a venue where it took consecutive victories in 2013 and 2014. However, the team had more realistic expectations ahead of the opening day of free practice.

The #1 car of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima were fifth in the first practice session, focusing on race preparation, with the #2 car of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway right behind. The two cars switched positions in the second 90-minute session, which allowed teams and drivers to acclimatise to night-time conditions in anticipation of the day-night race conditions.

It went fine today,” said Sébastien at the end of Thursday. “We had a solid day with no reliability issues so we were able to do a lot of laps and gather a lot of data.

Meanwhile, it was also productive day for the #2 car. Alex, who had been presented with a framed 2015 race overall as a farewell gift by the team earlier in the day, said: “We did a big jump between the two sessions, which was good and we are now where we expected to be.

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Qualifying was a familiar story for the team. Taking place in darkness on a warm Friday evening, it was Anthony and Kazuki on duties for the #1 car while Alex was joined by Stéphane to qualify the #2 car.

For the fifth consecutive race, the team would start from the third row of the grid in fifth and sixth positions, with the #1 car getting the better of the sister car on this occasion.

It was a tight qualifying in terms of the battles between the two TOYOTAs,” said Kazuki. “We had a good car for qualifying and Anthony did a very impressive lap time.

Stéphane added: “It was very special to be part of Alex’s last qualifying session. The car is good for the race with the package we have so let’s see what we can do. I hope we can have a strong race for Alex.”

The race began in bright sunshine as Sébastien established the #1 car in fifth while Alex, taking the start in the #2 for his last-ever race, was sixth. Both cars moved up a place when the #17 Porsche pitted for nine minutes of repairs 30 minutes into the six hours.

At the two-and-a-half hour mark, Kazuki had contact with an LMP2 car which required a front-end change, dropping the #1 car behind its sister car.

Halfway through the race, the second-placed #8 Audi needed 15 minutes of repairs which lifted the #2 car into a podium position, followed closely by the #1 car.

Both TS040 HYBRIDs kept up a strong pace with the #1 maintaining pressure on the #2, and they pushed all the way to the chequered flag, ending the race just 1.177s apart.

There were emotional scenes as Alex stood on the podium alongside Stéphane and Mike in his final race - his 12th podium in total as a TOYOTA driver.

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We had a faultless day on our car,” said Alex. “We had a hard battle with the sister car which went down to the wire. It was nerve-wracking. I am very happy for the team, who got their reward for working hard.

It’s great to be on the podium and give Alex a trophy to retire with,” added Mike.

A fighting fourth place for the #1 car ensured a two-car finish in the final race for the TS040 HYBRID.

The car competed in 16 races over two seasons, winning five times as part of 14 podium finishes, most of which came during its double World Championship winning 2014 season.

TOYOTA now moves its focus to 2016 with an all-new car, which will start testing early next year before its first public appearance at the traditional pre-season Prologue test at Paul Ricard in March.

Commenting at the end of the Bahrain race, Team President Toshio Sato commented: “It was great to finally fight for a podium again; this was a nice way to finish a difficult season and it gives us added motivation for the winter. We want to be battling at the front every race. That is the expectation for next year and everyone is already working hard to achieve this.

“Finally, I am happy that Alex could end his career in a positive way. I want to thank him once again for his fantastic contribution to out team. He has been an incredible professional. Thanks also to the team for a perfect job, which brought a nice reward.

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