Toyota turned in its strongest showing of the 2012 World Endurance Championship season, defeating Audi soundly in the Six Hours of Shanghai.
The #7 Toyota TS 030 Hybrid of Alex Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre gained a lap lead by halfway through the race and stayed ahead for the final three hours.
Toyota drove a perfect race. The drivers were clean through traffic, the pit crew was quick, and the mechanics gave the drivers what Nicolas Lapierre called “probably the best set-up we ever had.”
The two Audi R18 e-tron quatros, the #1 of André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler, and Benoît Tréluyer, and the #2 of Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen, stayed out of trouble in traffic (save a slight contact between Fässler and the #21 Strakka HPD) and ran without mechanical faults, but simply weren’t fast enough.
The Audis lost an average of eight-tenths of a second per lap. The German cars were more efficient, but the Japanese machine was able to more than make up for the extras fuel stop it needed.
“It was a good race for us and a 100 percent perfect race weekend; from Friday onwards every step we have taken has been correct,” said Alex Wurz in a team press release. “That was the absolute maximum and it was good enough to win. Maybe it looked easy on TV but Nicolas and I gave it everything.
“It has been a terrific season for us. At the beginning we had some emotional and performance ups and downs but we improved every day and with every step. That is what counts and that’s why we ended the season as race winners.”
Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon also weighed in: “Today has been a great performance from the whole team, with the right strategy, some excellent pit stops and fantastic drives from Alex and Nicolas. Three wins and three pole positions in our first season exceeds our expectations so we can be very satisfied.”
For Toyota this season started rough and improved with every race. The team had to skip the season opener as Spa after a testing crash destroyed the car, then lost both cars in collisions at Le Mans. The rest of the season saw the team beat Audi in three of five races on a budget a fraction of the German giants.
Toyota will be back in 2013 with a second car with updated chassis, and a third at Le Mans. Audi will be working non-stop over the winter to try to make up for the defeats 2012.
Rebellion, which won the P1 Privateer trophy at Fuji, looked to be continuing its winning ways. With half an hour to go, the #12 Lola-Toyota of Neel Janni and Nicolas Prost led the class comfortably, while Andrea Bellichi in the #13 took second in class, passing David Brabham in the #22 JRM HPD-Honda. This luck was not to last.
With five minutes left in the race, the #12 Lola-Toyota dies on the start-finish straight for no apparent reason. The car dropped from fourth overall to 25th in the final few laps. Rebellion still captured the P1 privateer class, but an 1–2 finish for the season would have been far sweeter to reminisce about over the off-season.
ADR-Delta’s #25 Oreca-Nissan took the P2 class victory, finishing eighth overall. Class champion Starworks took second with the #44 HPD-Honda; the car suffered an unfortunate puncture in the first hour and never made up the lost time.
The rest of the P2 field had its share of trouble: the pole-sitting #32 Lotus-Lola lost time to brake issues; the #29 Gulf Lola-Nissan had suspension failure. Jacques Nicolet in the #24 Oak Morgan-Nissan spun while leading the class, the #31 Lotus lost time with a spin, and the #41 Greaves Zytek-Nissan spun and hit the wall and lost a lot of laps.
Aston Martin ended its season on a triumphant note, with the #97 Vantage V8 of Stefan Mücke and Darren Turner winning GTE-Pro by almost a minute over the #77 Felbermayr-Proton Porsche of Richard Lietz and Marc Lieb.
Larbre Competition finally won a race and wasn’t disqualified over some tiny technicality: the #50 Larbre Corvette driven by Patrick Bornhauser, Julien Canal, and Pedro Lamy finished 19th overall and first in class.