Toyota Racing drivers Alex Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre dominated the Six Hours of Sao Paulo, scoring the first win for the Japanese manufacturer’s Cologne based TS030 Hybrid endurance racing program.
Unlike at Silverstone at the previous round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) the pair – competing without Kazuki Nakajima – had both speed and sufficient fuel economy to keep them ahead of the pair of Audis that kept up a relentless chase throughout the six hours. In doing so the pair scored the first petrol fuelled win against the works run Audis since Franck Montagny and James Rossiter won the ALMS round at Belle Isle for Andretti Green Racing in August 2008.
The fuel mileage concern for Toyota remained, Wurz and Lapierre still needed an extra pitstop. But, unlike Silverstone it was just a splash and dash for Wurz stop with five minutes remaining, but all the 36 second traverse of the pitlane did was bring the Audis – driven in their final stints by Andre Lotterer and Lucas Di Grassi – back onto the lead lap for the final circuits of the Interlagos track.
The Toyota’s progress at the front was almost serene throughout, the #7 car only failing to lead for a total of 16 of 247 total laps completed in the six hours. The Toyota’s pace was consistently faster than the
While Lapierre made his escape at the front of the field it took only ten laps for the chasing pair of R18s to align themselves in favour of Benoit Treluyer. Matters for the #2 car were only complicated by the car taking too much, too soon from its tyres in the Brazilian heat, the team with the R18 ultra – Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen joined by Di Grassi for the weekend – having to make four stops for tyres during the race, compared to three four their hybrid propelled stablemates and the Toyota crew.
The #2 team’s race was further complicated by an ill-judged pitstop during the only safety car period of the race. The stop – coupled with two separate safety car trains weaving their way around the 4.3km circuit, saw them lose a lap. Their teammates, meanwhile, lost out to a lesser extent after being collected by a different safety car to the leading Toyota, the gap between the lead pair doubling from 25 seconds to nearly 50 when racing restarted.
From that point on the #2 car spent much of the race a lap in arrears and Toyota’s dominance was rubber stamped shortly before the start of the final hour when it moved alone onto the lead lap with a move at turn one past Lotterer in the #1 car.
Rebellion Racing increased the lead in the points standings for the LMP1 privateers, with the #12 car of Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost finishing fourth after a relatively untroubled run to fourth place behind the three works cars.
The same, however, could not be said of the three cars it was in competition with. The JRM HPD started brightly, but with David Brabham in the car what he described as a ‘sensor problem’ left the car stranded on track, almost simultaneously as the stationary LMP2 #23 Signatech Nissan demanded the safety car to allow it to be recovered for the drag up the hill from the final corner at Juncao.
Just as at Silverstone Rebellion and Strakka Racing were embroiled in a race to the flag, albeit for fifth place behind the lead Rebellion Lola-Toyota.
The battle started between Strakka’s Nick Leventis and Harold Primat in the #13 Rebellion. Trying to take the position on the inside at turn four Primat clashed with Leventis, sending both into a harmless spin – the end of the back straight one of the relatively few places on the track graced with copious tarmac run-off.
It was Primat who was fastest to recover, but Jonny Kane installed in the car for the final stint the gap began to come back down again, Kane taking back the position at turn one with just three laps remaining.
The race was not without accident – but it was largely confined to the LMP2 and GTE Am class.
Representatives of the two classes took only four corners before they connected destructively. Matthieu Lahaye and Pierre Kaffer spun their respective LMP2 cars, forcing Fabien Giroux to slam on the brakes with the top two starters in GTE Am making contact behind, the class pole sitter Enrique Bernoldi climbing the back of Giroux’s Lola Coupe before landing on the front of Kaffer’s Pecom Racing ORECA 03.
Incredibly, there was no safety car despite the fragments of car. Also incredibly, all but one car – the GTE Am Krohn Racing Ferrari – were able to continue. Even more incredibly the two LMP2 cars that begun the chain reaction ended the race on the class podium.
At the head of the class Starworks Motorsport took a stranglehold on the points title with another win, leading the class by an astonishing three laps at the end of the race, but their relatively huge advantage was as much down to everyone else’s problems as it was the pace of Stephane Sarrazin, Ryan Dalziel and Enzo Potolicchio in the #44 HPD.
Their regular rivals – ADR Delta – endured a difficult race. Slotting into second place early on starting driver John Martin was delayed when he lost a wheel, the repair needing five minute stop that dumped he and co-drivers Jan Charouz and Tor Graves out of the race for the class win. Martin would later spin the #25 car, Graves completing the hattrick of delays by collecting a drive through penalty.
After showing strongly throughout the practice sessions Tonio Liuzzi was a front runner in the class during the early laps, before a four minute first pitstop, and co-drivers which – politely – are unable to match the Italian’s pace saw it drop from contention.
The demise of Liuzzi’s Lotus, the ADR-Delta car and the #23 Signatech Nissan, left unable to climb the hill after losing a rear wheel, left the way clear for the #35 OAK Racing Morgan. Regular drivers Bertrand Baguette and Dominik Kraihamer were joined by Greaves Motorsport refugee Alex Brundle for the weekend, and it was the young Briton who led the class ahead of Dalziel. For several laps he kept the Scot at bay, driving defensively, but fairly until his conservative line into the final corner allowed Dalziel onto the inside line with more momentum to climb the hill allowing the Starworks driver to complete the pass, though only after pushing Brundle towards the grass before completing the turn onto the pit straight.
Unfortunately for Brundle the #35 would expire with fuel pump problems with Kraihamer at the wheel while running second. Ironically, it was that problem that lifted the sister Morgan-Nissan into second place, with the Pecom Racing entry in second place.
The pair would swap places before the flag, Olivier Pla called into to serve a two minute penalty for speeding in the pitlane for OAK Racing allowing the Pecom crew of Kaffer, Luis Perez Companc and Nicolas Minassian – whose contribution was only a double stint – to take second place.
Greaves Motorsport’s lone entry was fourth, with ADR-Delta salvaging fifth place from the race.
The Ferrari teams in the GTE classes had differing days. The Prancing Horse’s chances of an Am win all but ended with the first lap crash. Despite missing large chunk from the front of the car Bernoldi continued, moving back into the lead when Fernando Rees pitted the leading Larbre Competition Corvette.
When Bernoldi made his own first pitstop officials demanded repairs to the rear of the car – ignoring the extensive, though apparently cosmetic damage to the front of the 458. The spectre of the damage – potentially – later caused a left-rear puncture, but by that time the all-Brazilian team had long since departed the first for the lead, which had become a fight between the Larbre Corvettes and the Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche.
From the start of the third hour onwards it was Larbre’s race, Rees and co-drivers Patrick Bornhauser and Julien Canal easing to an apparent victory over the Felbermayr-Proton squad. However, at the time of writing the result remains in doubt after the Corvette was excluded after scrutineering, a decision the team are appealing.
In the Professional class the frugal Ferraris proved unbeatable. In the opening, chaotic, laps Stefan Mucke fell from pole to fourth – and last – in class before fighting back to the front, handing the lead of the class to Gimmi Bruni for AF Corse.
Mucke – and Aston Martin Racing co-driver Darren Turner – fought back with pace on a par with Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella to take the lead when the Ferrari made its second pitstop. Though the Aston led through the safety car period, the Ferrari took the position on track soon after the racing restarted. Already ahead on track Bruni and Fisi’s car, again, needed one fewer stop for fuel than the Aston, which proved too big or a hurdle for Mucke and Turner.
Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz finished third for Felbermayr-Proton, Andrea Bertolini and Olivier Beretta fourth in the second AF Corse 458.