PORTIMAO, Portugal—Toyota Gazoo Racing made it two wins out of two races Sunday afternoon, but only one of the Japanese cars made it to the hypercar podium, with the team of Sebastian Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Rio Hirikawa taking the victory over the number 50 Ferrari AF Corse machine of Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen. Penske Porsche Motorsport achieved their first podium as a team, with Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor taking third place.
The race began with the Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobyaschi and Jose Maria Lopez taking the lead from their sister car and holding a lead as high as four seconds for the first three quarters of an hour. But the number eight was quickly catching up, and just before the finish of the hour, Buemi had passed Conway, and kept the lead for the rest of the race. But the chances for the rest of the hypercar grid increased when Conway midway through the race, suffered a sensor issue that put them out of contention for good. This gave the Ferraris and the number six Porsche a chance to move up the grid. But with the race winding down, the 51 Ferrari driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi, lost a good portion of his brakes, and had to cruise home, losing a chance to make a podium, after battling its rival car for a good portion of the race. It did not make it any easier for the number five Porsche, who had a power steering issue and, like Conway and Pier Guidi, dropped out of podium contention.
Late in the race, a safety car came out when former F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve, had his brakes explode in the Vanwall, which caused the Canadian to veer off the track. Luckily, Villeneuve was on a slow part of the circuit, and hit the barriers at slow speed and was unhurt.
While the hypercar class was with low action, the other two classes produced the most action for the day.
The LMP 2 class had the Prema team take the lead, with Frenchwoman Doriane Pin at the wheel. But Pin lost the lead very quickly within one hour, and the United Autosports 23 entry, with Giedo Van De Grade, lost the lead until the final hour, when first place Prema had to pit, losing their chance for not only a race win, but also a podium. Along with his teammates, Van de Garde and Joshua Pierson, Oliver Jarvis led the team to its first victory of the season, ahead of the second United Autosports entry, driven by Britons Fredrick Lubin, Phillip Hanson, and Ben Hanley. Taking the last podium spot was the Belgian WRT team with Sean Galeal, Ferdinand Hapsburg-Lothringen and Robin Frijns.
But the most exciting event was in the GTE AM division, where Ben Keating and his team Corvette, along with Nicholas Varrone and Nicky Catsburg held off a charging Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari with the all-female Iron Dames crew in third. It was a tense battle that had Catsburg take the last drive, just holding off Alessio Rovera for the victory. But along with the three women driving for Iron Dames, it was the first time that another Frenchwoman, Lilou Waddoux, stood on the podium in second, proving that the females in this division are beginning to have an impact in the World Endurance Championship.
For the next race, it will only be another two weeks before the WEC races again, this time at the famous Spa-Franchorchamps track in Belgium.
By Mark Gero