In the closest World Endurance Championship race in history, Kamui Kobayashi gave Toyota its first win of the season at its home event, the Fuji 6 Hours yesterday.
Tactical strategy in the final hour gave Kobayashi and team mates Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway in the Toyota TS050 Hybrid, victory over the leading Audi driven by Loic Duval and the Porsche piloted by Mark Webber.
Kobayashi was just 1.4 seconds in front of Duval, with Webber 17 seconds back.
“We have come back,” said a delighted Kobayashi. “We were competitive at Le Mans. It’s great to get a result after a difficult start to the year.”
Frenchman Sarrazin had no doubt of the importance. “After Le Mans this is our most important race. Kamui did a great job with a double stint on those old tyres to hold the others off.”
At the last pit stops Kobayashi stayed on the same tyres, while both the German cars made longer stops to change to fresh rubber.
But then they could not catch the leading Toyota before the chequered flag came out after six hours of racing.
During the race all three cars swapped positions regularly, depending on pit strategy. The winning Toyota covered the second greatest distance in a WEC 6 hour’s event in history as the race went “green” for all six hours without any safety car interventions.
With their victory, Kobayashi, Sarrazin and Conway have closed the gap on Marc Lieb, Niel Jani and Roman Dumas, who could only finish fifth, in the driver’s championship. There are two rounds remaining at Shanghai and Bahrain.
Fuji 6 Hours, World Endurance Championship, Round 7.
1, K Kobayashi, S Sarrazin, M Conway (Toyota TS 050 Hybrid) 244 laps;
2, L Duval, O Jarvis, L di Grassi (Audi R18) 1.439 seconds behind.
3, M Webber, B Hartley, T Bernhard (Porsche 919 Hybrid) 17.399 seconds behind.
Drivers.- 1, M Lieb, N Jani, R Dumas, 140; 2, Kobayashi, Sarrazin, Conway, 117; 3, Duval, Jarvis, di Grassi, 111.5; 4, Hartley, Webber, Bernhard, 93.5.
1, Porsche, 263; 2, Audi, 204; 3, Toyota, 174.