Hartley wins for Toyota in Portugal

The #8 Toyota lost the start to the #50 Ferrari, but fought its way back to the front for a crushing victory.

New Zealand’s Brendon Hartley has taken a dominant victory with co-drivers Sébastien and Buemi Ryo Hirakawa to deliver Toyota back-to-back wins on the World Endurance Championship.

Hartley’s #8 Toyota GR Hybrid started from pole for the 6 Hours of Portimao and, with Sebastien Buemi at the wheel, dropped to third off the start.

Yet the Swiss driver was back in the lead as the clock ticked over the first hour and the #8 Toyota was never headed as it scored a crushing victory, completing 222 laps of the 4.653km Portuguese circuit for the team’s fourth consecutive win and 41st victory from 78 WEC races.

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The winning Toyota had a significant margin over the second-placed #50 AF Corse Ferrari of Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen, which Hartley lapped in the final hour.

The #6 Penkse Porsche of Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor finished in third place – giving the Porsche 963 its first WEC podium and third in two days after its double podium maiden victory in IMSA at Long Beach.

It was bittersweet for the Toyota team, with any hope of a repeat of its one-two at Sebring thwarted after officials forced the #7 GR Toyota Hybrid to pit in order to replace a control rear driveshaft sensor, taking it out of contention after seven minutes in the pits.

“I feel for car #7. They were pushing us hard and I am sure it would have been another close finish between us as it usually is,” said Hartley.

“It was a great race, and everything went perfectly; no mistakes by the drivers or on pit stops, we had the right strategy and the car was faultless. It was nice to drive from start to finish so a massive thanks to the team.

“I feel proud of their great work over the first two races. We have maximised our performance using all the experience we gained over the years because the competition is getting strong.

2022 World Champion Hartley had qualified the #8 Gazoo Racing Hybrid on pole position at the Algarve International Circuit with the #7 GR Hybrid Toyota team-mate of Mike Conway and Sébastien Buemi sharing the front row, with the Ferraris locking out row two ahead of the #6 Porsche.

The start of the race saw James Calado in the #51 Ferrari 499P split the Toyotas, pushing the #8 Toyota with Sébastien Buemi at the wheel to third as the #7 led the field. That set up an early battle as Buemi mounted an attack on the Ferrari, making the move at the hairpin five minutes into the six-hour event, by which time the leading Toyota was 4.9s ahead.

That put the two Ferraris back together in third and fourth, with Calado at the wheel of #51 being told over team radio to let the #50 Ferrari by – the Brit arguing that it was traffic, not pace, that had impacted his lap times and that he shouldn’t have to let Nicklas Nielsen in the sister Ferrari past.

A similar argument was simmering ahead of them between the two Toyotas, with Buemi telling the team that he was faster than Conway, the team suggested an orchestrated position switch – but instead an aggressive, hard-fought pass while overtaking a lapped car put the #8 Toyota in front with just over five hours remaining.

After 80 minutes of running, officials instructed the second-placed #7 Toyota to replace a rear-left driveshaft sensor. Hypercar regulations mandate that performance is monitored by standardised torque sensors on the driveshafts, which must function at all times.

The #7 lost 11 minutes in the pits, re-joining in 34th and finishing ninth, seven laps behind the winning Toyota. Conway set the fastest lap of the race.

The #51 Ferrari’s chances of podium disappeared after brake problems which saw it switch off its hybrid system, losing pace to come home sixth behind the #94 Peugeot Total Energies 9X8 Hypercar of Loic Duval, Gustavo Menezes and Nico Mueller but ahead of the #93 Peugeot that had started from pit lane after steering issues.

Australian Ryan Briscoe finished eighth in the Glickenhaus 007 he drove with Romain Dumas and Olivier Pla ahead of the #7 Toyota, with the #5 Porsche Penske 963 10th.

The battle for LMP2 and GTE Am classes was far closer, with the race’s only Safety Car an hour from the end sparked by Jacques Villeneuve, who crashed at Turn 10 with suspected brake failure in the Floyd Vanwall Hypercar.

Oliver Jarvis, Giedo van der Garde and Josh Pierson won LMP2 by a mere 0.684s over United Autosports team-mates Phil Hanson, Frederick Lubin and Ben Hanley.

The GTE victory was taken by just 0.260s, with the #83 AF Corse Ferrari with Alessio Rovera at the wheel attacking Nick Catsburg in the #33 Corvette in the closing stages all the way to the finish line.

Round 3 of the World Endurance Championship will be the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium Sunday April 29.

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