Race Weekend Central

Toyota GAZOO Racing Wins Imola in Mixed Conditions

Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Kamui Kobayashi was able to hold off a hot challenge in the final laps from Porsche Penske Motorsport’s Kevin Estre to win the FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Imola along with teammates Mike Conway and Nyck de Vries. It is the team’s second straight victory in Italy.

“The team made a great decision. I just tried to not mess [it] up,” Kobayashi stated after the race. “The track was constantly changing, and to be on a constantly changing track, I had a lot of pressure from [Estre]. I made no mistakes and managed to [keep] us up front.”

The margin of victory was 7.081 seconds over Estre, Andre Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor. It was really 2.081 seconds on the road, but the team was assessed a five-second penalty for an illegal pass during a safety car period.

The No. 5 Porsche of Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen and Frederic Makowiecki was third, followed by Ferrari AF Corse’s Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen after Fuoco made a last lap pass. The No. 8 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa were fifth.

The start of the race was very eventful. Nielsen led the field to green, but chaos broke out multiple times on the first lap.

First, Manthey EMA’s Yasser Shahin had contact with Iron Dames’ Sarah Bovy on the pit straight and spun into the wall. Shahin would continue, but was blamed for the incident and had to serve a one minutes stop-and-go penalty. He would ultimately finish 16 laps behind the LMGT3 class winners.

Shortly afterwards, Isotta Fraschini’s Jean-Karl Vernay got in the back of Peugeot TotalEnergies’ Paul di Resta. This created a stack up that involved Signatech Alpine’s Charles Milesi and Matthieu Vaxiviere, along with BMW M Team WRT’s Marco Wittmann.

Everyone was able to drive away from the second incident except for Wittmann, who got stuck in the gravel at Tamburello. The duel crashes brought out the safety car. Both Vaxiviere and Wittmann ended up in the garage and laps down.

The weather ultimately determined the outcome of the race. Just after halfway, it began to rain, but it never fully covered the entire track. The conditions were most in the third sector of the track, especially around the Rivazza complex. However, the other side of the track was bone dry.

Ferrari AF Corse’s Ferrari 499Ps were leading at the time and chose to gamble on staying on slicks. Meanwhile, Toyota GAZOO Racing, Porsche Penske Motorsport and others chose to pit for wet tires.

A few laps later, Ferrari AF Corse made the decision to pit for wets. The decision angered James Calado, who felt that they could have handled the conditions on their hot slick tires.

The stop to switch to wet tires, plus a series of field neutralizations due to spins into the gravel, put the Ferraris off-sequence and way behind. While the No. 50 eventually got back to fourth, the No. 51 ended up seventh in a race they could have won.

As a result, the race ended up being a duel between the No. 7 Toyota and the No. 6 Porsche. Kobayashi and Estre were able to open a decent gap over the rest of the class before battling each other.

In addition to the battle, energy conservation was a big issue. The final stop for Kobayashi came with 61 minutes to go. Estre stopped five minutes later. Kobayashi had to save a substantial amount of energy in order to make it to the finish.

In the end, Estre started to fall off of Kobayashi in the final couple of laps. That was all Kobayashi needed to take the win.

In LMGT3, Manthey PureRxcing’s Alex Malykhin led the field to green in his Porsche with Team WRT’s Ahmad Al Harthy giving chase. The Porsche was the dominant car for much of the race, leading without issue.

Much like the Hypercars, the rain did play a substantial role in the LMGT3 race. Unlike the Hypercars, almost everyone stuck it out on the slicks much longer.

Most of the teams pitted during the fourth hour to swap over to wet tires. Joel Sturm waited until early in the fifth hour to make the switch. By that time, most of his competitors had been on wets for quite a while and the PureRxcing Porsche had lost a lot of time.

Team WRT had a different strategy. No wet tires at all. They managed to avoid ever taking them on despite some really dicey conditions, which ended up saving them time in the pits.

In the final 90 minutes of the race, the track dried out, eventually forcing everyone to switch back to slicks. Team WRT didn’t have to worry about wet tires being ripped up and could go faster in between their stops.

As a result, the race ultimately was going to come down to a battle between Team WRT teammates Augusto Farfus and Maxime Martin. However, right as Martin caught Farfus, he was given a drive-through penalty for not respecting virtual safety car procedures. That meant that Farfus was home free and held on for the win with teammates Sean Galael and Daniel Leung.

The margin of victory was 22.838 seconds over Al Harthy, Martin and Valentino Rossi. A lap down in third was Manthey PureRxcing’s Porsche for Malykhin, Sturm and Klaus Bachler. Vista AF Corse’s Francois Heriau, Simon Mann and Alessio Rovera were fourth in their Ferrari, while The Heart of Racing’s Ian James, Daniel Mancinelli and Alex Riberas were fifth.

FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Imola Unofficial Results

The WEC teams will take a couple of weeks off before returning to action at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps will be on May 11 and will air live on a combination of Motor Trend and Max’s B/R Sports Add-on.

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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