Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa claimed an easy victory Sunday (April 16) in the FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Portimao. It is the fourth straight WEC victory for Toyota.
“I’m very pleased. It’s been an awesome weekend from [Free Practice No. 1] all the way through,” Hartley told WEC’s Louise Beckett after the race. “I’m sore for car No. 7, they were keeping us honest. I’m quite sure that it would have been a tight finish again.”
The margin of victory was a full lap over the No. 50 Ferrari 499P for Ferrari AF Corse’s Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen. Porsche Penske Motorsport’s Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor were third despite a late stop for a splash of fuel. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook were two laps down in fourth, while Peuegot TotalEnergies’ Loic Duval, Gustavo Menezes and Nico Mueller were fifth.
It took only a couple of laps for Buemi to get back past Calado to take second. By this point, the Toyotas were already beginning to open up a gap on the rest of the field. Buemi was able to run Conway back down and take the overall lead back 50 minutes into the race and before the first pit stop.
That pass ended up being the pass for the win. When the first regularly scheduled stops occurred a few laps later, the Toyotas were already far enough ahead of their competitors that Buemi was able to make his stop and keep the lead.
The No. 7’s chances of backing up their Sebring victory with another win ended early in the second hour when Conway was forced to pit due to a torque sensor going bad. The team was then forced to go into the garage to replace the driveshaft.
The Toyota GAZOO Racing team did their best to make the fix as quick as possible, but it did cost the No. 7 11 minutes to their teammates. That dropped the No. 7 out of any real contention. They would eventually finish ninth, seven laps down.
The lead continued to expand for the remainder of Buemi’s time in the car. By the time Hirakawa took over, the No. 8 had a 25-second lead. As his rivals faltered, Hirakawa continued to increase the advantage to over a minute.
The race was fairly clean with only one safety car period. That came at the end of the fifth hour when Floyd Vanwall Racing Team’s Jacques Villeneuve suffered a brake failure.
As you can see above, the right front corner of the car was on fire, not dissimilar to at least one team this weekend at Martinsville, before Villeneuve spun out and backed into the tires. Villeneuve was able to climb from his Vanwall and walked away uninjured.
Another team that had braking issues was Ferrari AF Corse’s No. 51 Ferrari 499P that ran as high as second early on with Calado driving. The front brake pads were completely worn through early in the race, resulting in the pit crew getting blasted with black dust whenever they changed the tires. In the final hour, a front brake rotor broke on the car with Alessandro Pier Guidi at the wheel, which sent the car off-course.
Rather than bring Pier Guidi into the garage to fix the issue, the team determined that if Pier Guidi finished the race at a reduced pace, he could hold his position. He did that and finished sixth.
By the time of Villeneuve’s brake failure/crash, the No. 8 Toyota had a lap on the field. From there, they coasted to victory.
LMP2 was dominated again by United Autosports. The No. 23 was the class of the field last month in Sebring before an unusual failure put them out. Here, Giedo van der Garde led from the pole and was never seriously threatened in the first couple of hours.
The safety car for Villeneuve’s crash came right after a slow pit stop for the No. 23 team. That put Prema Racing’s Daniil Kyvat into the class lead.
Kvyat led until he had to make his final stop. During that stop, Oliver Jarvis was able to jump back over Kyvat and take the lead while teammate Phil Hanson followed into second. From there, the two United Autosports drove away from the rest of the class. Jarvis was able to hold on to take the win for himself, van der Garde and Josh Pierson.
Team WRT’s No. 41 for Rui Andrade, Louis Deletraz and Robert Kubica were third, while Prema Racing’s Mirko Bortolotti, Daniil Kyvat and Doriane Pin were fourth. Hertz Team JOTA’s David Beckmann, Antonio Felix da Costa and Yifei Ye finished fifth.
Corvette Racing’s Ben Keating started from the GTE-Am pole in the Corvette, but immediately lost the lead to AF Corse’s Diego Alessi. Alessi led for the first 90 minutes of the race before dropping back.
The Iron Dames Porsche with Rahel Frey at the wheel led at the midpoint, but ran into some issues after a spin. That dropped the pink Porsche down the order.
Ultimately, the race came down to a duel between Corvette Racing’s Nicky Catsburg and Richard Mille AF Corse’s Alessio Rovera. With two laps to go, Catsburg was held up by the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus Hypercar of Romain Dumas. That gave Rovera a chance, but he couldn’t make a move.
On the final lap, Rovera got side-by-side with Catsburg entering turn 5, but Catsburg was able to hold him off. From there, Catsburg kept the Corvette steady to earn Corvette Racing their second straight class victory.
Catsburg, Keating and Nico Varrone won by .260 seconds over Rovera, Luis Perez Companc and Lilou Wadoux. The Iron Dames Porsche of Frey Sarah Bovy and Michelle Gatting were third, then AF Corse’s No. 54 for Francesco Castellacci, Thomas Flohr and Davide Rigon. AF Corse’s No. 21 Ferrari for Alessi, Ulysse de Pauw and Simon Mann were fifth.
WEC teams will be back in action in less than two weeks at Belgium’s Circuit de Spa-Francorhamps for six more hours of racing on the treacherous 4.352-mile circuit. Coverage of the TotalEnergies 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps will be split between Motor Trend and MotorTrend+ starting at 6:30 a.m. ET on April 29.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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