Toyota Triumph In Turbulent 6 Hours Of Imola

8 Mins read
Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Toyota Gazoo Racing pulled off an extraordinary victory in the Hypercar class in the 6 Hours of Imola, the second round of the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship. The #7 car, driven by Mike Conway, Nyck de Vries, and Kamui Koboyashi, drove a superb race, battling a very difficult track, changing and treacherous conditions, and fierce competition from Porsche Penske Motorsport to win a very hard fought race.

Winners at the Qatar 1812km, the #6 Porsche came home second ahead of the sister #5 car in another very strong weekend for the German team. The first Ferrari AF Corse, the pole-sitting #50 car, came home 4th after another disappointing weekend for the Scuderia. The #8 Toyota came 5th, followed by a fantastic result by the #20 BMW M Team WRT car. The #51 and #83 Ferraris came home 7th and 8th.

The LMGT3 class winning BMW M4 LMGT3. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

Meanwhile, in LMGT3, it was a superb 1-2 finish for Team WRT, the #31 car claiming victory over the #46 car. This result means that local legend Valentino Rossi claims his first podium, taking second position along with his teammates Ahmad Al Harthy and Maxime Martin. Winners in Qatar, Manthey PureRxing, secured 3rd position in their Porsche 911 GT3 R LMGT3.

Speaking after the race, Koboyashi said “the team made a great achievement. I tried to not mess up! The track was really challenging and I had a lot of pressure from car #6 who did an amazing job. Thanks to the team and the support in Italy, and of course these two guys here” referring to his fellow drivers.

After his first WEC victory, de Vries said “I’m very happy and very thankful to be sharing the car with Kamui and Mike. The team executed the race perfectly and I think we really deserved this one.”

Race Report

Antonio Fuoco celebrates putting his #50 Ferrari 499P on pole. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

An extremely enticing grid lined up after qualifying on Saturday. All three Ferrari Hypercars locked out the front three positions. The #50 factory Ferrari 499P qualified on pole, followed by the privateer #83 Ferrari and the Le Mans winning #51 car. The Scuderia were closely followed by the two Porsche Penske Motorsport cars, with reigning champions Toyota Gazoo Racing in 6th and 8th split by a great qualifying result for the #20 BMW M Team WRT Hypercar.

The top 8 survived the first chicane, with the only change being the #83 and #51 cars switching places. But behind them chaos reigned. Braking into Variante Tamburello, one of the Alpine Endurance Team cars locked up into the back of the #94 Peugeot, with a helping nudge from the Isotta Fraschini behind, and a domino effect crash took over, causing damage to Alpine, Peugeot and BMW. After a brief safety car stint, the race got back under way.

The Ferraris lead as chaos unfolds behind. Credit: FIA WEC

To the delight of the Italian fans, the #46 BMW restarted the race in 2nd position in LMGT3 with the other BMW in 3rd. Sarah Bovy in the Iron Dames Lamborghini suffered some sort of electronics issue at the Rivazza, dropping her right to the back of the field where she battled with her Iron Lynx teammate briefly before getting called back into the garage for repairs. Due to damage caused by contact, no data was flowing from the car to the garage, meaning they were unable to race due to FIA regulations until it was repaired. Unfortunately, this was not possible and the Iron Dames were forced to retire.

Iron Dames line up on the grid for a race that would end shortly after. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

Meanwhile, in Hypercar, the two Ferrari factory cars led the way from a very rapid three way battle between Ferrari, #6 Porsche and Mike Conway in a determined charge in his #7 Toyota. Midway through lap 9, around 20 minutes into the race, the leading pack hit the LMGT3 traffic for the first time. One of the biggest talking points going into this race was how difficult it would be to negotiate the traffic on such a narrow track. Adding to the complication was the full course yellow of the day, which led to a gap forming between the top four and the #7 Toyota which was forced to drop back due to traffic. However, due to the nature of the traffic, Conway was right back behind the Porsche in less than a lap. It is going to be a race of constant ebbs and flows.

Problems for Thomas Flohr in the #54 Vista AF Corse Ferrari 296 LMGT3 at 35 minutes. The Swiss driver took too much curb into the Tamburello chicane and became a passenger as the car dug itself into the gravel trap, causing the second full course yellow of the race. As the race went back to green, the battle for 7th raged between René Rast in the BMW and Sébastien Buemi in the #8 Toyota. After a disappointing season opener for BMW, it is fantastic to see them race so hard against the reigning champions. Buemi was even told he had extra power to deploy due to their strategy, but couldn’t make a move past the BMW.

Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Just after the one hour mark, the first pitstops for Hypercars began. The race leading #50 Ferrari and the #83 Ferrari blinked first and came in, giving Antonio Giovinazzi in the #51 one lap to try and make the strategy count. The #83 managed to get past the #50 car in the pit lane. But the big news was yet to come. As a result of traffic and different strategies, once the first round of pitstops were through on lap 38, the new top six was #51 Ferrari, #6 Porsche, #7 Toyota, #83 Ferrari, #5 Porsche, and then the previously race winning #50 Ferrari. In LMGT3, the field looked much more stable. The #92 Porsche led the way from the two Team WRT BMWs, as had been the case for the whole race so far.

At the 90 minute mark, the first proper Hypercar overtake took place as the #50 Ferrari pulled off a lovely move up the inside at Tamburello of Frédéric Makowieki in the #5 Porsche having followed him up the pit straight in the slipstream. Meanwhile, the #83 Ferrari had to serve a drive through penalty for not respecting the full course yellow procedure, which dropped Robert Kubica back down to 9th.

The #7 Toyota crew lined up on the grid. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

At 65 laps, almost two hours in, the #7 Toyota was still all over the back of the #6 Porsche, as it had been for the entire second stint of the race. Conway received the message that they were going to try and overtake the Porsche in the pit stops, but that didn’t stop him trying his best to make an overtake count, keeping within a second of the Porsche for almost a whole hour.

With two hours gone, the second round of pit stops started. After they were done and dusted, the top six were #51, #50 Ferrari, then the #7 Toyota which managed to leapfrog the #6 Porsche, and then the #8 Toyota which pulled off the same move on the #5 Porsche. However, on the one and two hour marks, the cars in 1st and 2nd were the Hertz Team JOTA Porsches. By going longer in their stints, the privateer Porsche team looked like they could sneak an extraordinary result.

Team WRT driver and local hero, Valentino Rossi. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

The Italian fans had a field day when Valentino Rossi climbed into the #46 BMW. The #55 Vista AF Corse Ferrari, which had managed to make it up to second due to varying strategies, was put under immense pressure from the home hero from the moment The Doctor got into the car, putting on a great show in his debut season on four wheels.

After a mammoth almost three hour stint, race leader Giovinazzi pitted and changed with James Calado. He immediately had to defend from Miguel Molina, the new driver in the #50 Ferrari. The two battled for the majority of a lap as the new tyres on #51 came up to temperature, Calado just holding on to the race lead. Fairly rapidly after that, Nyck de Vries, now in the #7 Toyota, had caught the #50 Ferrari with Molina being put under immense pressure by the young Dutchman.

Three and a half hours in, Carl Wattanna Bennett lost control of his Isotta Fraschini at Variante Alta, ending up in the gravel parked by the barrier, bringing out a full course yellow as the wind increased and the weather threatened to turn sour. De Vries got a phenomenal restart and claimed 2nd from Molina on the run down to Rivazza on lap 125.

The Isotta Fraschini ventured into the gravel a few times. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

Barely a lap later, Callum Ilott in the #12 Hertz Team JOTA got out of shape braking down the hill into Rivazza, beaching him in the gravel. This triggered a virtual safety car (VSC), which was a disaster for the #51 Ferrari which had committed to a pitstop. As the VSC converted to a full safety car, #51 had dropped to 4th and the race leader was the #7 Toyota, followed by the #50 Ferrari and the #6 Porsche.

The rain started to fall with just over 2 hours to go. The #7 Toyota lost the lead to the #50 Ferrari almost instantly thanks to the conditions. At the end of that lap, both Toyotas pitted and all three Ferraris stayed out on the slicks, gambling that the rain wasn’t going to last. However, after a few more laps of having to tiptoe around a sodden sector 3, the team threw their strategy aside and brought in the Ferraris for full wets, throwing away the lead and bringing them back out in 6th to 8th position, gifting the lead back to the #7 Toyota.

Three Ferrari teams lined up for another disappointing weekend. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

While Ferrari were disappointed, Sheldon Van Der Linde performed remarkably in his #20 BMW to be in 4th, battling the #8 Toyota for 3rd position. In LMGT3, race leading Manthey PureRxing also pitted for wets while the Team WRT BMWs elected to stay out, putting the Porsche down to 3rd. One of the BMW engineers told the drivers on the radio that they teams simply didn’t know what to do in terms of changing to wets. With an hour and a half to go, the race was still very up in the air.

With 30 minutes to go, all the Hypercars were back on slicks with #7 Toyota still in the lead, followed by the two Porsche Penske Motorsport cars. For the final stretch, fuel saving and strategy were going to be crucial. After 192 laps, with less than 20 minutes to go, Estre in the #6 Porsche had closed right up to the back of Koboyashi in the Toyota. Porsche had a 5 second penalty to be applied after the race, so Estre seemed to have his work cut out to claim outright victory.

While Toyota #7 remained in front, the #8 car threw away 4th position on the last lap, drifting wide at Tamburello and allowing the #50 Ferrari to get up to 4th. Ferrari driver Fuoco set the fastest lap of the race on lap 203 of 205. For a team who started 1st, 2nd and 3rd, this will be scant consolation for the Scuderia who showed so much promise racing at home.

Championship Update

The crew of the #6 car remain atop the championship standings in Hypercar on 56 points. The #7 Toyota crew jump to second on 40 points, just 1 point ahead of the #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport team.

The Manthey PureRxing crew maintain their lead in the LMGT3 drivers’ championship. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

In LMGT3, no change at the top as Manthey PureRxing lead the way on 54. With their win today, the #31 crew are now tied in second with the Heart of Racing Team who didn’t really look like contenders at any point today but finished 2nd in Qatar. 1 point behind them, the #46 crew are in 4th on 36 points.

Up Next

The next round of the FIA WEC is the TotalEnergies 6 Hours of Spa on 11 May. Follow The Checkered Flag for all the driver and team reactions after this race.

You can see full race results here and championship standings here.

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