Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima took victory for Toyota ahead of the sister car of Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi, which was forced to start last after the team declared an incorrect identification number for the car’s fuel flow meter.
By virtue of their penalty, the number 7, TS050 Hybrid of Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway would start from the pit-lane after the final cars crossed the start finish line.
Sebastien Buemi led the way at the start under pressure from the Rebellions of Andre Lotterer and Thomas Laurent as the tyres got up to temperature. Behind them, Guido van der Garde was carving his way through the LMP2 field to take the class lead after an impressive move around the outside of Ho Pin Tung at Les Combes and a similarly audacious move on the number 26 G-Drive Oreca of Romain Rusinov.
In GTE, Stephane Mucke’s Porsche 911 RSR got the jump on the Ford GT of Harry Tincknell, who dropped to 3rd place after being-pushed wide at the first corner. However, it was the number 86 Gulf UK Porsche of Michael Wainwright that brought out the first safety car after collecting the barriers whilst trying to avoid a spinning Ferrari.
Toyota were faster in sectors one and two, but Rebellion were making big gains in sector three to make up the shortfall. Rebellion’s pace was ultimately two seconds in arears to the Toyotas and had a similar gap over the rest of the non-hybrid entries. The question was whether to consolidate or push the Japanese manufacturer.
The question would be answered on lap 17, with both the number 8 Toyota and both Rebellions pitting for fuel, hinting that the boffins behind the Equivalence of Technology (EoT) process this season had got their numbers right.
Just after the one-hour mark, Harry Tincknell’s slammed his number 76 Ford into the barriers at Eau Rouge where Pietro Fittipaldi did yesterday. The left front appears to bottom out through the kink before making heavy contact, but mercifully, Tincknell was able to walk away from the incident.
The number 3, Rebellion took the opportunity to do a full change under the safety car and split their strategy despite being out of sync; Gustavo Menezes jumping in for Lotterer. Toyota however spotted the move and pitted the number 8, TS050 to allow Fernando Alonso to relieve Buemi and cover any potential threat later in the race.
At the turn of the Green, Jean-Eric Vergne had put the number 26, G-Drive Oreca at the top of the LMP2 order marginally ahead of the pair of Jackie Chan DC Racing entries. Likewise, Aston Martin had used the safety car to their benefit to lead 1-2 in LMGTE Am with Charlie Eastwood’s TS Sport Aston Martin heading Paul Dalla Lana in the AMR Vantage.
Dalla Lana would make an error in defence, handing 2nd to youngster Julien Andlauer in the second Dempsey Proton Porsche.
Having taken full advantage of the safety car period, Kamui Kobayashi slipped past race leader Alonso to unlap himself and immediately went 1.5 seconds quicker in the middle sector. From the pit-wall, Toyota radioed to Alonso to look after his rear tyres. After a spin for the number 88 Dempsey Proton Porsche brought out the yellows, Toyota would take the opportunity to dial-in a little more down force on the rear of the number 8 car.
After Nakajima jumped in for Alonso, his seat belts hadn’t been secured correctly, forcing another pit stop. Whilst retaining the lead the gap to Kobayashi to 57 seconds, a spin for Nakajima only served to give the number 7, TS050 an added sniff of victory.
With 90 minutes left on the clock, a potential unsafe release from number 51 AF Corse Ferrari saw its nose clipped by number 56 Project 1 LM GTE Am Porsche, effectively ruining any chance of victory for last year’s world champions. Accident aside, James Calado was more concerned about the apparent imbalance with the BoP regulations; declaring the Ferrari was “nowhere” under the current regulations.
For Rebellion, any slim chance of victory was further dented when the number 1, REB13 endured a prolonged stop due to a malfunctioning GPS module. As a mandatory part provided by the FIA, the Rebellion crew had no choice but to replace the part. The number 3 sister car was faring slightly better, with Thomas Laurent getting a run on Matevos Isaakyan’s SMP BR1 through traffic in Eau Rouge and snatching 3rd place outright. Isaakyan would last but a few laps longer, making heavy contact with the barriers but thankfully was able to walk away.
The resulting safety car saw the number 7 Toyota close within fifteen seconds of team mate Alonso, which was reduced to just 1.1 seconds before both cars would pit for the final time. Alonso would emerge 7 seconds ahead after a slow stop for the number 7, TS050.
The big move however was happening in LMGTE Pro, with Olivier Pla’s remaining Ford seizing the lead from Richard Lietz’ Porsche through Eau Rouge. Pla would eventually take victory for the number 66 Ford ahead of the works Porsche of Christensen and the AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon – who took the final podium spot of Richard Leitz’ Porsche on the last lap.
In LMP2, Ho Pin Tung rolled the dice and pitted for two new left tyres in an effort to chase down Negrao and Vergne for victory. Tung would eventually split the G-Drive and Signatech Alpine to take 2nd place for Jackie Chan G-Drive Racing.
In LMGTE Am, a few metres separated the number 98 and 90 Aston Martins, with Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana taking honours ahead of TF Sport of Euan Alers-Hankey and the Clearwarter Racing Ferrari of Matt Griffin.
Images: Adrenal Media and Toyota Gazoo Racing
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