#8 Toyota secures lights-to-flag victory at Sebring

The #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima took a dominant victory in the maiden 1000 Miles of Sebring, despite a late rain storm causing chaos.

Starting on pole ahead of the sister #7 driven by Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway, Buemi – who took the first stint – was untroubled at the head of the field as he pulled clear of the competition. Even as day transformed into night, the #8 ran like clockwork over the airfield circuit’s fearsome bumps to open up a comfortable lead over the #7. Its victory was all but assured with just over three hours of the eight-hour race remaining when Lopez clattered over a kerb at turn 15 trying to avoid the TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage. He was called into the pits so the car could be checked over and lost more than four minutes while the Toyota mechanics went to work.

The #8 had a scare of its own with less than 15 minutes on the clock as Nakajima slithered off the track despite using wet tyres. He only lost a handful of seconds, but it could have been much worse for the race winners, as the Japanese driver only just missed the barriers.

After the #28 TDS Racing Oreca, with Loic Duval behind the wheel, went straight on into a tyre wall at low-speed, the last 12 minutes of the race was run under the safety car – guaranteeing a fourth win of the season for the #8.

Brendon Hartley claimed a podium finish on his return to endurance racing as the #11 SMP Racing BR1 survived an early explosive tyre failure to finish third – the team’s second consecutive podium after success in Shanghai. Their cause was helped by a crash for the #1 Rebellion Racing R13 with three hours to go which sent the car to the garage. The #3 Rebellion also had a number of mechanical issues which relegated it to a distant fourth in LMP1. The #17 SMP machine was on course for a good result in the top class, but Egor Orudzhev crashed into the barriers at turn one just before the two-hour mark. The Russian was running third at the time, having pulled clear of the #3 Rebellion in the opening quarter of the race. Also failing to finish was the DragonSpeed BR1, which was pushed into the garage with a mechanical issue with two hours and 40 minutes still on the clock.

A decisive move on the opening lap of the race proved to be decisive for the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing crew of David Heinemeier-Hansson, Jordan King and Will Stevens. Passing the sister #38 at turn one on the opening lap, the trio was unchallenged as they took victory in LMP2 by more than 50 seconds. The pole-sitting #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca endured a frustrating race. The car lost almost an hour in the pits as the team dealt with a gearbox fault in the car and then lost more time after a bizarre issue with the door failing to open on the Oreca at a driver change. It eventually finished 30th, last of the classified runners.

Finishing second, a familiar position for the team after the three Free Practice sessions, was the Signatech Alpine A470. Despite a clean race for the French team, its crew of Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet couldn’t match the front running pace of the DC Racing team. Despite disappointment in LMP1, DragonSpeed picked up a podium in LMP2 as the #31 of Anthony Davidson, Pastor Maldonado and Ricardo Gonzalez had enough pace to counteract two unscheduled pitstops to replace the rear-wing twice – once for a failure on the bumps and once after Maldonado swiped the barriers on the exit of turn 17. Despite a herculean effort to get the car from last on the grid to P8, the Racing Team Nederland entry could only manage fifth in class at the chequered flag – behind the Larbre Competition Ligier.

GTE Pro proved to be the hardest fought category during the race, with almost every entry in the 11-car class enjoying a spell in the lead and half-a-dozen cars often covered by less than three seconds. Despite the back-and-forth between the teams, it was the heavy rain with less than 20 minutes of the race remaining that made the decisive difference. With teams scrambling into the pits to swap their slicks for wets, Gianmaria Bruni – in the #91 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR – jumped the #81 BMW Team MTEK M8 GTE in the pits and with the late safety car to recover the #28 TDS Racing Oreca, the Italian held on to secure the victory.

The #81 finished second, the best result of the season for Martin Tomczyk, Nicky Catsburg and Alexander Sims, with the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK Ford GT in third. That car had led for the majority of the opening four hours, but faded as the race went on – that was summed up by a great overtaking move by Bruni to relegate the #67 from the lead, the Porsche driver out-braking Jonathan Bomarito going into the turn seven hairpin. James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Davide Rigon ensured four manufacturers were represented in the top four as the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo finished ahead of the #92 Porsche of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen. The latter lost time late on as Estre was given a stop & go penalty for rear-ending the #95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Darren Turner. The Aston was running in second at the time, but the contact, which sent turner spinning across the grass, dropped the car down the order.

Dempsey-Proton Racing secured top honours in GTE Am to make it a Porsche clean sweep of the GTE classes as the #77 of Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer fought hard to pass the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari. The Ferrari finished second, despite receiving a penalty for side-to-side contact which sent the Team Project 1 Porsche into the barriers early on in the race. Thankfully for the Project 1 team, the damage proved to only be minor and thanks to a strong charge from Egidio Perfetti, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey, the team recovered to the third step of the podium. Gulf Racing took advantage of a black and orange flag for the TF Sport Aston Martin – after the rear diffuser on the Vantage broke apart on track – to finish fourth. The TF Sport car crossed the line sixth after hasty repairs – behind the MR Racing Ferrari.