The Toyota #8 of Two-time Formula 1 Champ Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima sealed an epic victory this past Saturday at the WEC´s 6 Hours of Spa in Belgium, giving the Japanese team the WEC Manufacturer’s crown of 2018-2019.
The Rebellion #3 (Menezes, Berthon and Laurent) and the SMP #11 (Vandoorne, Petrov and Aleshin) completed the podium. The TS050 #7 of ‘Pechito‘ López, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway finished in the sixth position after being delayed by a fault in their car.
The driver’s title is now closer than ever to the grasp of Alonso’s team. They leave Wallonia with a 31-point advantage over their rivals of prototype #7. Everything will be decided at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on the 15th and 16th of June.
The adverse weather conditions have been the hallmark of this seventh and penultimate race of the Championship. There was rain, hail and even snow, all of which turned the track into an ice rink and the race into a quest for survival. The Belgian circuit resembled a scene from a Christmas card.
The universal deluge and a pit error with Alonso’s Toyota
Conway’s TS050 #7 firmly defended his pole position from the start against the attacks of Buemi’s Toyota #8 as both cars raced separated by a mere one second.
Just five minutes after the green flag, however, it began to rain. Immediately, teams responded calling everyone to pits to change the smooth tires for rain compounds. It was the first key moment of the race.
The two Japanese prototypes simultaneously entered the pit lane. The #7 performed the manoeuvre without any issues. The pit crew of #8, however, were incomprehensibly not ready to perform the tyre change.
This gross negligence had the car leaving pits with a +20-second disadvantage to their sister car. Alonso’s team now had to play comeback, which they did thanks to their consistent pace and to Conway’s car going off track briefly at one stage.
Emergency refuelling and Alonso’s sanction
The safety car was called upon for a second time after an accident suffered by Tom Dillmann, altering again the course of events. The pit lane had closed just when Alonso’s prototype desperately needed to refuel. The #8 made an emergency stop and received a five-second sanction as a result.
As if this were not enough, the pit’s red lights prevented them from re-joining the track. More time wasted as the clock carried on ticking. To make matters worse, they had to go back to boxes shortly after resuming the march to install the smooth tires suited for the freshly dried asphalt.
The key moment arrives mid-race
The successive misfortunes of the TS050 #8, allowed the other Japanese LMP1, the #7, to escape with a comfortable advantage of 50 seconds. However, there was fresh drama to come and a new reversal of fortune.
The car driven by ‘Pechito’ López, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi would suffer the first ever Toyota fault of the season. The culprit was a faulty sensor which took the mechanics eleven minutes to put right.
hey re-joined the track having lost four laps and in the 23rd position. It was goodbye to their chances of victory in Spa and possibly to their overall title options.
The crew of #7 had arrived in Spa in the hope to cut at least some of the 15 points disadvantage they had with their sister car, but instead… the opposite happened. Despite the blow, they did not give up. A proud ‘Pechito’ Lopez managed to seal a sensational stint, which included two yellow flags and a new safety car.” ]
The Argentine driver put the #7 back in a remarkable sixth position. At least they would not hand in the crown to the #8, just yet. It is not all lost for the #7 team after Belgium as there are still options, although remote, to proclaim themselves WEC champions in Le Mans.
Alonso, as usual, was able to make the most of such a hectic race and is closer to the crown than ever. The Spaniard and his teammates need only a seventh or eighth position in Le Mans in order to conquer the World Endurance Championship. In the legendary French race, however, anything can happen. One just has to look at the last lap of 2016.