Toyota holds off Porsche to win rain-hit thriller

Mike Conway, Nyck de Vries and Kamui Kobayashi won by 7.081s in their #7 Toyota GR010 HYBRID Le Mans Hypercar over the #6 Penske Porsche Motorsport 963 LMDh of Laurens Vanthoor, Andre Lotterer and Kevin Estre, both crews taking advantage of a timely switch to wets when the previously dominant Ferraris attempted without success to keep its dry tyres working.

Starting sixth, Conway overtook Fred Makowiecki’s PPM 963 at the restart following an early safety car, then gained two places at the first round of stops by overcutting Robert Kubica’s customer AF Corse-run Ferrari 499P LMH and benefitting from a slow stop for early leader Nicklas Nielsen’s factory #50 Ferrari — which required a fresh left-rear tyre. 

Running third, Conway tracked Vanthoor to the next round of stops before handing over to de Vries, who swiftly leapfrogged Lotterer.

Nielsen had vaulted back to second behind team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi’s #51 Ferrari by the time the pair finally stepped out of their respective cockpits approaching half-distance, with de Vries by this time close behind.

James Calado (in for Giovinazzi) had to defend hard against Miguel Molina (in for Nielsen) when he climbed aboard with new right-hand tyres, but held off the Spaniard’s determined attacks and had pulled away by the time De Vries then took second. 

The Dutchman responded quickest to the end of a full course yellow, required when Carl Wattana Bennett crashed the Isotta Fraschini at Variante Alta. 

Conditions were becoming tricky, and when Callum Ilott beached his Jota Porsche in the gravel at the first Rivazza, having gone slightly off-line passing the Iron Lynx Lamborghini, it brought out a virtual safety car that would turn into a full safety car.

This came moments after Calado had pitted under green — and once others had made their stops under the caution, he rejoined fourth with Kobayashi now leading Molina and Estre.

Molina immediately pounced on Kobayashi when the race went green amid worsening rain, with the hypercars struggling to warm their tyres to the extent that both cars were overtaken by Joel Sturm’s GT3 class-leading Porsche. 

Crucially, Kobayashi immediately dived into the pits for wets, as did Estre, while all three Ferraris stayed out. It proved the wrong call, with Kobayashi and Estre multiple seconds faster per lap and the track especially treacherous in the final sector.

This prompted the trio of Ferraris to follow Matt Campbell (in the second PPM Porsche) in bailing on the slicks and switching to wets, Calado passing the newly-inserted Antonio Fuoco (in for Molina) for sixth — although they would later swap places again. 

The time the Ferraris had lost could not be recovered to pose a challenge for the podium, although it gambled by keeping Alessandro Pier Guidi (in for Calado) on wets shortly before the remainder of the Hypercar runners pivoted back to slicks. 

Campbell vaulted ahead of the second Toyota driven by Brendon Hartley with a later switch of rubber, after the New Zealander went into the gravel on the exit of the Villeneuve chicane.

Kobayashi also straightlined the Tamburello chicane following his own change of tyres, but kept his lead intact over Estre. 

The Frenchman dipped into the Rivazza gravel while pursuing Kobayashi, and again exiting the Villeneuve chicane, but managed to get within a second entering the closing stages. 

However, a five-second penalty for overtaking under safety car meant he needed to both overtake the Toyota and pull out a gap, which proved an insurmountable task.

Campbell, Makowiecki and Michael Christensen secured third ahead of Nielsen, Molina and Fuoco, the latter passing Hartley on the final lap when the Toyota he shared with Sebastien Buemi and Rio Hirakawa locked up into the Tamburello chicane.

A late drive-through penalty for a pit infringement ultimately had little bearing on the result for the leading WRT-run BMW M Hybrid V8 LMDh of Rene Rast, Robin Frijns and Sheldon van der Linde, who recorded the Bavarian marque’s best finish of its return to the WEC so far in sixth. 

After ditching his aged wets, Pier Guidi repassed the third Ferrari of Yifei Ye, which had earlier served a penalty for a full course yellow infringement during Kubica’s stint, to finish seventh.

The much-revised Peugeot 9X8 LMH recorded points in ninth on its first appearance, courtesy of the #93 car driven by Nico Muller, Mikkel Jensen and Jean-Eric Vergne, while Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn completed the top 10 in the Chip Ganassi Racing-run Cadillac V-Series.R LMDh.

Alpine’s hopes of a strong result were thwarted at the first corner, when Matthieu Vaxiviere clashed with Paul di Resta’s Peugeot and the BMW of Marco Wittmann, whose spinning car forced the second Alpine of Charles Milesi to take avoiding action in the gravel.

Vaxiviere was given a one-minute stop-go penalty for the incident, which followed his damaged car understeering into the barriers on the exit of the Tamburello Chicane and collecting an advertising hoarding.

Wittmann’s car later rejoined after repairs, but spun off in the hands of Raffaele Marciello at the treacherous second Rivazza.

Milesi’s car also found the gravel a second time later on when Paul-Loup Chatin was caught out at the Acque Minerali, the same spot where Julien Andluer rotated the Proton Porsche that later retired to bring out another FCY.

BMW scores 1-2 in LMGT3

#31 Team WRT BMW M4 LMGT3: Darren Leung, Sean Gelael, Augusto Farfus

#31 Team WRT BMW M4 LMGT3: Darren Leung, Sean Gelael, Augusto Farfus

Photo by: Paul Foster

The WRT team enjoyed a day to remember in the LMGT3 class by recording a 1-2 finish with its BMW M4 GT3s.

Darren Leung, Sean Gelael and Augusto Farfus beat the sister car of Ahmad al Harthy, Valentino Rossi and Maxime Martin by 22.838s.

Key to its victory was the timing of its first driver changes, as Leung exceeded his minimum bronze time of 1hr45m by just five seconds, while al Harthy completed only 80 seconds more than was necessary.

Polesitter Alexander Malykhin controlled the early phases of the race in his Pure Rxcing Porsche, but crucially had to get back into the car later after ending his double stint just short of the minimum.

The extra pit visit to cycle back to its silver driver, Sturm, meant he was in turn driving for half an hour longer than WRT’s silvers Gelael and Rossi.

When Sturm came in to hand over to Klaus Bachler, the BMWs then duelled for the lead between them, Martin unable to hold off the attentions of Farfus.

Moments after straightlining Tamburello, Martin got sideways exiting Acque Minerali and the Brazilian pounced to take the lead into the Variante Alta chicane.

A drive-through penalty for not respecting VSC procedure ended any hopes of victory for the #46 BMW, but did not cost it third place to the Manthey-run Porsche of Malykhin, Sturm and Bachler.

The Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage of Ian James, Daniel Mancinelli and Alex Riberas finished fourth on the road ahead of the AF Corse-run Ferrari 296 of Francois Heriau, Simon Mann and Alessio Rovera, but was due to have a pit infringement investigated after the race.

Rovera attempted to wrest fourth place on the road away from Riberas in the closing stages, but the Spaniard firmly shut the door entering the Tamburello chicane and resulting contact prompted both to take to the gravel, the Aston emerging still ahead.

WEC Imola — Race results

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