Taking their second win of the season, the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing took the chequered flag at the FIA World Endurance Championship‘s inaugural 8 Hours of Portimao.
The race marked the Japanese manufacturer’s 100th endurance race entry and the team had had high hopes going into the weekend after their successful opening round of the season. With the Alpine Elf Matmut #36 entry starting on pole, it looked like they were going to have to get clever with strategy to claim the win. However, within the first couple of hours of the race, both Toyota Hypercars were in front of the sole LMP1 entry.
With such an incident-free race, only one full-course yellow and one safety car in the entire eight hours, it all came down to race strategy at the end. The safety car momentarily brought the Alpine LMP1 back into the fight but as the pit stops shuffled out it was down to a Toyota vs Toyota for the top step of the podium. Spectators had been sure they were in for a final fight to the finish line, but team orders instead left them confused and robbed of a race.
The #8 car had been on a more conservative strategy, meaning that it did not need to pit for a final splash of fuel in the last hour, when the sister car did. However, as the full-course yellow came out whilst the #7 was in the pits, Jose Maria Lopez found himself right behind Sebastein Buemi as he returned to the track. The team ordered Buemi to let Lopez pass to see what pace the #7 held, but when Buemi stayed on the rear wing of the Argentinian the team ordered the cars to switch back. With no pressure from behind as the cars were not racing to the chequered flag, Buemi held onto the lead until the end of the eighth hour, giving the #8 car its second victory of the season and Toyota a competitive one-two for their 100th endurance race.
The Alpine came over the line third after having to make an extra stop for fuel and losing too much ground to the Toyotas to challenge for anything higher.
Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus had a turbulent debut race, but made it to the chequered flag, classifying fourth in class but 30th overall, 53 laps off the leader. Off the start, the LMH car hit trouble, falling off the lead lap within the first hour. Richard Westbrook noted the car had severe tyre wear, making it hard to extract maximum performance. It got worse later in the race when it collided with the two Am cars: #777 D’station Racing Aston Martin and #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche, causing the team to bring the car into the garage for a lengthy repair stop.
Unlike the Toyota battle, the battle for victory went down to the wire in LMP2 as both JOTA-backed cars found themselves nose to tail in the final hour. Antonio Felix da Costa raced hard but fair in the #38 against sister car #28 in the hands of Tom Blomqvist to lead the duo over the line. Da Costa had been behind but closing as the final hour began, but clearly had the pace advantage. Blomqvist defended well, but ultimately a bold move from Da Costa gave the team’s first win of the season to the #38.
Throughout the eight-hours, the battle for the lead in LMP2 had been fought between Spa winners #22 United Autosports and #31 Team WRT. It had been a great run from the #31, but sadly a series of drive through penalties for speeding in the pit lane and ignoring blue flags took them out of the podium fight. United Autosports completed the LMP2 podium after falling back of the JOTA pair in the second half of the race.
Although Porsche had the advantage in qualifying, their pace faded away in comparison to Ferrari during the race to secure a one-two finish. The battle never seemed to be on for the lead as James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi led the four Pro cars to the chequered flag. Starting on pole, Kevin Estre led for the first hour of the race, but the pace of the 488 EVOs was too much to keep them behind. After getting ahead, the #51 never gave up the class lead.
Calado and Pier Guidi may have raced off with the victory, but it came down to the last hour to reveal who would be taking second place. The #92 Porsche GT Team kept Miguel Molina and Daneil Serra on their toes throughout the race, and it had looked like it was going to be fought down to the chequered flag until the late full-course yellow covered the track. Slowing down the rest of the grid, it enabled the #52 AF Corse to take its final stop during the caution period, meaning the #92 couldn’t close down the gap to challenge for second and had to settle for third.
Ferrari had the pace yesterday in qualifying, but it had looked like it was going to be Aston Martin’s day today as the #98 Aston Martin Racing car led throughout the first half of the race. A mistake from Paul Dalla Lana however saw the car tumble off the podium, handing the net lead of Am to then-chasing Cetilar Racing #47. Antonio Fuoco, Giorgio Sernagiotto and Robert Lacorte drove a strong race, but the pace of the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche deemed too much, losing the lead to Ricardo Pera, Matteo Cairoli and Egidio Perfetti.
Penalties once again played a part in the racing, as Pera was tangled in an incident with the #70 Realteam LMP2 car. Branded responsible, he was handed a time penalty that saw the #37 promoted to race winners. The #56 only lost one place, finishing second ahead of the #54 Am AF Corse.
The next race will see the grid heading to another new circuit for WEC: Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. The series hosted its Prologue for the 2017 season at the Italian circuit but has never hosted a round of the championship there. The long straights of Monza will favour speed, and may be another opportunity for the LMP2 cars to bring the fight for the overall podium.