SEBRING — Early on in Friday’s 1000 Miles of Sebring there was no doubt that it was going to be a battle between the two Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 HYBRIDs.
It remained that way until just more than three hours to go, when the No. 7 Toyota had contact with the No. 90 TF Sport Aston Martin, which gave the No. 8 Toyota team of Kazuki Nakajima, Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi a bit of breathing room and they cruised to a two-lap victory in the World Endurance Championship race.
“We came here to a very difficult circuit but we did a lot of testing, a lot of preparation and went into the weekend very confident,” Alonso said. “The race changed a little bit and then we just controlled the pace and managed the race a little better.”
The No. 8 car had a 10-second lead on its sister No. 7 car at the midway point, but the No. 7 car had chipped a little bit off that, only to see the complexity of the race change following the contact with the No. 90 car.
“It was kind of tricky — I had to push,” Buemi said. “Of course we’ve been following each other within 10 seconds for I don’t know how many hours until they had contact. The idea is to push really hard and not touch any cars and make sure you don’t damage your car on any curbs. I did the best I could.”
After threatening to rain throughout much of the evening, the skies finally opened in the final hour, which made for some nasty conditions and both Toyotas finished the race on rain tires.
“In the end in was very tricky in the car,” Nakajima said. “I was quite happy in the car in the dry conditions, but not happy at all in the end in the rain conditions.”
Loic Duval crashed into the tire barriers in the rain in the final 15 minutes, which led to a yellow flag that was removed just before the end of the race and Nakajima took the checkered flag for the No. 8 team.
Mike Conway, of the No. 7 Toyota, is no stranger to Sebring International Raceway and said it was a difficult race.
“It’s tough out there,” he said. “You become so close to a lot of the traffic and the GTs. We pushed all the way through. It was like driving on ice in the concrete sections.”
Sebring International Raceway took its toll on several of the other LMP1s, as just four of the seven managing to finish the race.
The No. 11 SMP Racing car finished third, trailing the winner by 11 laps, with the No. 3 Rebellion Racing entry fourth, another five laps behind.
The 1-2 finish put the final touches on a record-setting weekend for Toyota Gazoo Racing, which rewrote the record books, as Alonso set the Sebring International Raceway track record during Thursday’s qualifying session with a time of 1:40.318. Teammate Kamui Kobayashi, in the No. 7 car, set the track record for fastest race lap of 1:41.800.
The victory for the No. 8 team increased its season points lead to 15 points over the No. 7 car.