Toyota survives Shanghai storm to take victory
Toyota may have scored a 1-2 victory in China, but it was a race that was far from straightforward. With delayed starts, red flags and with as many safety car periods as racing, the Six Hours of Shanghai was a survival of the fittest.
With a wet track and rain still falling, the clock had officially started for the 6 Hours of Fuji, but safety car conditions are still in effect. Even under those conditions, tyre temperatures were not improving as Andy Priaulx found out as he exited the final corner and across the AstroTurf – nearly collecting a Ferrari in the process.
Thomas Laurent was another driver to come unstuck in the cold conditions, experiencing sudden oversteer snap and shooting the number 3 Rebellion into the barriers. Laurent suffered some suspension damage but was able to return to the pits for repairs.
Race Director Eduardo Freitas took the decision to red flag the race until conditions could improve. This caught out the Rebellion team, as they were only unable to pull off the engine cover before the red flag came out and had to wait considerable time before they could start work again.
After one hour and fifteen minutes the race finally resumed under the safety car with the number 13 car repaired and only losing two laps in the process. Jose Maria Lopez led away from Sebastien Buemi with Neel Jani trailing in third by two seconds.
With superior pace in hand, Buemi was already asking to be let into the lead. He would get his wish one lap later. Also making a move was Stehane Sarrazin in the number 17 SMP entry, disposing of Jani to take third.
But the conditions were difficult for everyone. Remarkable the GT field was still holding pace with the LMP2 entries as Jackie Chan DC Racing held 1-2 in class over the sole Dragonspeed entry of Anthony Davidson. However, Davidson would get his head down and scythe his way into the class lead within the course of a lap.
In GTE Pro, Olivier Pla was doing well to hold the lead given his Ford GT looked vulnerable in the wet as Kevin Estre’s number 92 Porsche cut his way into second position ahead of the number 97 Aston Martin of Maxine Martin. An impatient Estre now had his sight set on Pla and nerfed the Ford driver out of the lead after running the kerbs into turn one.
The safety car would bring a halt to proceedings however after Salih Yoluk beached his TF Sport Aston Martin into the gravel. With the number 36 Signatech Alpine also spinning off track, the decision was made to red flag the race for a second time. Toyota would use the opportunity to save fuel, but with brake temps are also falling, it also had a detrimental effect on the regenerative braking that feeds into the hybrid system.
Within half an hour the race was resumed for a third time under the safety car, with Michael Wainwright looping the number 31 Gulf Racing Porsche into the wall on the main straight. Rebellion meanwhile took the opportunity to put Bruno Senna into the number 1 R13. It was astute thinking from the Swiss team should the race be red-flagged for a final time. The number 38 JCDC Racing Oreca would soon follow suit along with the number 81 BMW of Anotnio Felix Da Costa.
Toyota were next to jump by bringing both their cars into the pits, elevating the number 17 SMP entry into the lead. Toyota were a little unprepared however with the number 7 TS050 stopping into the first garage, forcing the sister car to overshoot theirs and requiring the use of the dolleys to get back into position.
With just over three hours left on the clock racing began for the first time without the use of the safety car. The first casualty at race speed was the number 67 Ford of Andy Priaulx. Just as Fernando Alonso was sizing up Bruno Senna for fifth, Praulx’s incident brought out yet another safety car.
At the turn of the green the number 8 Toyota made short work of the number 1 Rebellion, but with the front-runners now having to pit, the move was for the actual race lead. It was the 283rd pass of the day despite the lack of actual racing. Now back in the number 11 SMP, Jenson Button was revelling in the conditions and followed Alonso in disposing of Senna. The two ex-McLaren teammates were now running first and second.
With the number 38 JCDC Racing Oreca leading LMP2, the sister 37 entry found itself beached in the sand trap and taking the better part of a lap to re-join. In second was the number 27 TDS entry of Matthieu Vaxiviere followed by (despite numerous spins) the number 36 Signatech Alpine entry with Nicolas Lapierre at the wheel.
Remarkably three GTE Pro cars were now running inside the top ten, with Nicki Thiim in the class lead and eighth on the road in the number 95 Aston Martin followed by the number 91 Porsche of Richard Lietz and the number 51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado. In GTE Am Matt Griffin led the way for Clearwater racing ahead of number 88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche and the MR Racing Ferrari of Edward Cheever.
Having burnt much of their lead driver time during the safety car periods, it looked as though the majority of the LMP2 field would finish the race with their gentleman drivers at the wheel. Meanwhile the Bykolles and Dragonspeed entries of Tom Dillman and James Allen had stopped out on track and the later yet another to find the sand trap.
The majority of the field took the opportunity to pit, with both Toyota’s of Alonso and Kobayashi now leading Button and Andre Lotterer who was now at the wheel of the number 1 Rebellion R13. The good news was that should the race have to be stopped it could now be classified as a full points race.
With the Astons running 1-2 in GTE Pro, a massive battle for third was taking place between Richard Lietz and Tom Blomqvist in the Porsche and BMW. The fight eventually went Lietz’s way but not without losing crucial time to the Astons.
With twenty minutes left on the clock the number 17 Rebellion entry collected the wall and parted company with most of its bodywork. Matevos Isaakyan was able to limp to the pits but the incident scene required a massive clean-up job.
As racing resumed the leading Toyota’s were separated by just over a second but the margin stayed giving Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez the overall victory ahead of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. Third was the number 11 SMP entry of Jenson Button, Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin.
In LMP2 the number 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing entry of Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stephane Richelmi took the honours with an aggressive intermediate tyre strategy ahead of the number 31 Dragonspeed entry of Roberto Gonzales, Pastor Maldonado and Anthony Davidson. Third was Pierre Thiriet, Nicolas Lapierre and Andre Negrao in the number 36 Alpine entry.
Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim held on against the odds to take a slender victory for Aston Martin from the number 92 Porsche of Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni followed by the sister entry of Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre.
In GTE Am it was Porsche 1-2-3, with the number 77 Dempsey-Proton entry of Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer took the honours over Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey and Egidio Perfetti in the Team Project 1 entry.Rounding out the top three was the sister Dempsey-Proton crew of Khaled Al Qubasi, Ricardo Perra and Matteo Cairoli.
Images: Adrenal Media
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