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Alonso wins on WEC debut

NEWS STORY
05/05/2018

Totoya Gazoo Racing kicked-off the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season with a one-two victory in the Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima won the race for the second successive year in the No.8 TS050 Hybrid they share with Fernando Alonso, who enjoyed victory at Spa for the first time since an International Formula 3000 triumph 18 years ago.

The No.7 car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez completed a remarkable comeback by finishing second, just 1.444secs behind, despite starting one lap behind from the pit lane due to a qualifying penalty.

That result was Toyota's 17th win from 49 WEC races, its fourth consecutive victory and its third at Spa. Toyota therefore leads both the teams' and drivers' championships going into the Le Mans 24 Hours on 16-17 June.

The race began under blue skies and Buemi made a clean getaway from pole position in the No.8 car, gradually extending his advantage over the chasing Rebellions while Conway took the No.7 car to sixth by the time of the first pit stops. By then Buemi had extended his lead to over 30 seconds but that evaporated shortly after the hour mark due to a safety car.

During the 30-minute delay, Kobayashi replaced Conway in the No.7 car while Alonso took over the No.8 car for his first WEC race laps. His first task when the race resumed was to defend the lead from Rebellion No.1, which he did via a spectacular passing move on several GT cars on the Kemmel Straight.

The Spaniard's stint was interrupted by a full course yellow but when the track was green again he took advantage and built a substantial lead before handing over to Nakajima just before half distance. The No.8 car made an immediate return to pit lane to adjust Nakajima's seat belts and lost more time soon after with a harmless spin at turn one.

Meanwhile, the No.7 car was continuing its impressive progress through the field and started the second half of the race in second position, around a minute behind the leading No.8 when Lopez took over from Kobayashi at the next pit stop.

The two TS050 Hybrids tightened their grip on the race as the last hour approached, with Alonso preparing to take the No.8 car to the chequered flag with a lead of around one minute over its sister car, with Conway at the wheel. But another safety car closed the gap to just six seconds with 50 minutes remaining.

Alonso and Conway stayed at the wheel through a final fuel stop with 25 minutes to go, after which the team chose to hold positions and avoid any unnecessary risks after over 1,100km of flat-out racing.

"I am delighted to get this result," said Alonso. "The whole weekend has been amazing in terms of team performance. There have been a lot of preparations with the winter testing and all the work back at the factory but we have to come to the race and deliver the result.

"We executed the race in the best way we could and I am extremely happy to win my first endurance race. Sébastien and Kazuki made my life a little bit easier so thanks to them."

"I am very pleased with our performance this week," added Hisatake Murata, Team President, "to get a one-two after the problem yesterday required a big team effort. I am proud of everyone for their good work.

"The atmosphere here has been fantastic all weekend so I would like to thank the many fans who visited Spa, including a lot of colleagues from our home in Cologne. I hope they enjoyed the first race of the season. It's a great result to start the season but this is only a small step towards our big target; the Le Mans 24 Hours. We have identified areas to improve, and I'm sure our rivals have too, so we will be working flat-out in the next weeks to be ready for a close fight at Le Mans."

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