Toyota 1-2 in wild 6 Hours of Spa

The 6 Hours of Spa began in changeable conditions. Image: Paul Foster.

Toyota has come out on top with another one-two victory after a dramatic TotalEnergies 6 Hours of Spa for Round 3 of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship.

The pole-sitter #7 Toyota GR010 of Mike Conway/Jose Maria Lopez/ Kamui Kobayashi lead the #8 sister car of Brendon Hartley/Sebastien Buemi/Ryo Hirakawa, with the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 499P of James Calado/Alessandro Pier Guidi/ Antonio Giovinazzi taking third position from the #5 Porsche Penske on last lap around Spa-Francorchamps.

The race was officially declared ‘wet’ and stared with a planned two formation laps extended to three, after the damp conditions saw teams gamble on tyre choice. Half a dozen slick-shod competitors comically spun off on the first formation lap, prompting the additional of the third run around the 7.004km circuit.

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With Kamui Kobayashi putting the #7 Toyota GR010 on pole by the barest of margins (0.024s) over the #50 Ferrari, the tricky conditions – and the other Toyota starting 13th and last in the Hypercars class after Brendon Hartley’s crash at Radillion in qualifying – the early stages did not appear favourable for third consecutive win for the Toyota team.

Tyre choice proved critical, with both Ferrari 499P Hypercars starting on wet Michelins to take the top spots as the slick-shod #7 Toyota, with Conway at the wheel, slid down the order. Across the teams, Cadillac has split strategies, with the #2 of Earl Bamber benefitting from wet tyres to take third behind the leading Ferrari pair, while the #3 of Sebastien Bourdais/Jack Aitken/Renger van der Zande started on slicks and, like the pole-sitting Toyota, could not match the pace of the wet-tyred rivals.

While many struggled in the initial part of the race, the first Safety Car came less than 10 minutes in when the #60 Iron Lynx Porsche was beached in the gravel trap at Les Combes enable the slick runners to catch the leading wet-tyre shod car, and also presented an opportunity to pit for wet rubber.

The track surface was still drying with tyre choice not an obvious one, the two leading Ferraris beginning to lose lap time as the advantage of the wet tyres reduced as the slick Michelin became the better option – the #7 Toyota driven by Conway fighting back on its slick rubber to retake the lead of the race, with the sister #8 Toyota driven by Buemi battling Laurens Vanthoor in the #6 Penske Porsche for third place, with the #3 Cadillac in second place.

Less than two hours in, a heavy crash from the #3 Cadillac saw it impact heavily with the wall at the top of the Raidillon. The high-speed incident saw the yellow V-Series.R skip and spark through Eu Rouge before spinning into the wall, the car flailing apart.

Van der Zande, who was at the wheel, was able to walk away from the incident, humorously bowing to the grandstand before medical checks cleared him of any sustained injuries shortly after.

The #6 Porsche Penske inherited second place as a result of the #3 Cadillac’s demise, before being passed by the #8 Toyota, but the Porsche would also be out of the race in the third hour after coming to a stop with a technical issue.

Vanthoor explained that the #6 suffered “a complete blackout”, unable to radio back to the team – the incident causing a full course yellow and the #5 Porsche of Dane Cameron move into third behind the two Toyotas.

Earl Bamber completed a triple-stint to hand the #2 Cadillac to Alex Lynn in fifth position, who became engaged in a battle with the #50 AF Corse Ferrari of Miguel Molina – who ran wide on the pit exit, which earnt the Ferrari driver a penalty.

With a little more than 90 minutes remaining, the challenge from the #50 Ferrari ended when Antonio Fuoco had a moment and slammed into wall after exiting the pit lane.

That left the #2 Cadillac to finish in fifth place, ahead of an impressive debut for the Hertz Jota Racing Porsche 963 with the seventh and ninth placed Peugeot entries – led by the #93 of Mikkel Jensen/Jean-Eric Vergne/Paul di Resta – split by the Glickenhaus of Olivier Pla/Romain Dumas/Franck Mailleux in eighth.

Team WRT won the LMP2 battle, with the #41 of Rui Andrade/Robert Kubica/Louis Deletraz winning by only 6.042s to the #23 of Tom Blomqvist/Oliver Jarvis/Josh Pierson after a late-race pit stop splash-and-dash put the United Autosports entry in the hunt.

Earlier, Esteban Guerrieri handed the Floyd Vanwall LMP2 entry over to Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 F1 World Champion clipped the #54 Ferrari at Blanchimont, ending both cars’ races and bringing out the Safety Car.

In LMGTE, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE of Luis Perez Companc/Alessio Rovera/Lilou Wadoux led home the #33 Chevrolet Corvette of Micky Catsburg/Ben Keating/Nicolas Varrone.

The Ferrari victory means that Wadoux is the first female driver to win a WEC category.

Round 4 of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship is the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 10-11.

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