Toyota won its 100th sports car race at Portimão yesterday, although Alpine, running a grandfathered LMP1 racer, made the new Toyota GR010 Hybrid hypercar work hard.
In fact, Alpine claimed pole position, thanks to Matthieu Vaxivière, less than 0.1sec ahead of the Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, with the second Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and José María López in third.
The Alpine led away from the lights and had the race pace to keep the Toyota honest throughout, thanks to the latest Balance of Performance formula and a late safety car. But the Toyota’s larger fuel tank meant it emerged the winner, because it could get away with fewer pitstops.
American outfit Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus was also racing for the first time in the new LMH class, ahead of more mainstream manufacturers joining it and Toyota in the coming years.
Its new SCG 007 was only 11th in qualifying, and although it finished the race, it was 54 laps down on the winner at the flag.
Team orders prove controversial
Previously, Toyota has frozen its cars’ positions at the final pitstops, but this time around, the two cars were allowed to race to the finish. While this meant that the race was exciting to the end, it did also bring about some confusion, as Buemi was first ordered to hand over the lead to López before the positions were reversed again.
It all stemmed from a late full-course yellow, which meant López pitted for a splash and dash, emerging just behind Buemi. When the Argentine closed the gap to the Swiss, the team ordered him past, with team policy “allowing him the opportunity to take the lead and pull away”. But when López himself couldn’t open up a gap, the positions were reversed and Buemi took the flag.
It was a bit confusing to watching fans, but the policy shift was also understandable: allowing the cars to race each other makes the racing more exciting, which will be needed this season, given that the top class is so short on numbers.