The WEC put on a real show at its maiden appearance at Monza, with six hours of intrigue, wheel-to-wheel action and no shortage of drama. Victory went to the #7 Toyota GR1010 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, but it was by no means plain sailing against tenacious #36 Alpine and #709 Glickenhaus crews.
Toyota Gazoo Racing had dominated qualifying and free practice but the Japanese manufacturer’s rivals in the Hypercar class showed excellent race pace, making for an exciting six hours that went right down to the wire.
The pair of works hybrids made good starts to the race from the front row and quickly established a solid lead in the first stint. However, after 90 minutes of racing the #8 machine of Brendon Hartley, Sébastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima slowed on track and was forced to pit. The technical issue proved costly and cost the championship-leaders some 15 laps, effectively dashing any hopes of a podium finish.
At the halfway stage, the #7 Toyota held a relatively comfortable 25-second lead, but the chasing #36 Alpine and #709 Glickenhaus always remained within striking distance were the leader’s pace to slip. Indeed, in the second half of the race the #36 and #709 cars were regularly quicker than the lead Toyota and were slowly cutting the gap to the front.
Drama then befell the #7 car, which came to a standstill halfway around the circuit and lost around a minute recycling the systems. Toyota Gazoo Racing team manager Rob Leupen confirmed that it was suffering from a brake issue. This incident allowed Romain Dumas in the #709 Glickenhaus to assume the lead of the race after an outstanding stint for the Frenchman behind the wheel of the 007-LMH.
However, joy in the Glickenhaus pit was short-lived, as Dumas pitted shortly afterwards also for brake-related issues. Wear on the fronts was higher than the team had envisioned, so team principal James Glickenhaus opted for a full change for safety reasons. The #709 emerged from the extended pit stop around 4 laps down on the lead pair and ultimately finished fourth.
At the head of the race, the issues for the #7 car had brought the #36 machine right back into contention. The Toyota pitted with around one hour of the race remaining and emerged just 15 seconds behind, with both cars requiring one more stop and setting the race up for an exciting finale.
However, a full-course yellow period for urgent track repairs and debris removal gave the #7 car the cushion it needed to secure its first victory of the season. The #36 Alpine finished in a comfortable second, and the French crew will likely be buoyed by its consistent performance and the technical issues befalling the Hypercars.
The #709 Glickenhaus managed to finish the race in fourth, with the lead LMP2 car of United Autosports snapping up the final spot on the overall podium. Despite missing out on a podium, the Monza WEC weekend was still full of positives for the US squad. The Glickenhaus 007-LMH performed on par with the other Hypercars and the team will take plenty of encouragement ahead of next month’s showdown at Le Mans.
Porsche edge Ferrari in tight GTE Pro battle
GTE Pro provided the Porsche-Ferrari battle everyone was expecting. Barely anything had separated the pair of works teams across the weekend, and so it continued into race day.
The #92 Porsche and the #51 Ferrari, who have been almost inseparable all season, delivered the next round of their head-to-head fight at Ferrari’s home circuit. Porsche led for much of the race, aside for a short period when James Calado in the Ferrari outmuscled Neel Jani at a restart following a safety car period.
As the minutes ticked away, Alessandro Pier Guidi looked to be closing in on the Porsche to pass for the class win. However, the #51 machine had to pit for a splash of fuel with just two minutes of the race remaining, gifting the win to Porsche.
United Autosports with class win and overall podium
United Autosports enjoyed a successful weekend at Monza with the #22 winning the class by a minute ahead of the #31 Team WRT Oreca and the #29 Racing Team Nederland machine. It was only the third time an LMP2 machine had finished on the overall podium – the other two being the 2012 Sebring 12 Hours and the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Polish team Inter Europol Competition looked on course for their maiden class podium for most of the race, but had to settle for their best-ever finish in the LMP2 class of fourth. It was a day to forget for championship leaders JOTA: Multiple issues befell the #38 car and the #28 could only finish fifth, surrendering its championship lead to United Autosports.
Action galore in GTE Am
As WEC fans will have come accustomed to, there was plenty of door-banging racing and on-track action in the GTE Am category. Victory went to the #83 AF Corse crew after a fine recovery drive. Starting from the back of the field following a qualifying infringement, François Perrodo, Nicklas Nielsen and Alessio Rovera put together a flawless performance to win by 44 seconds.
There was final lap drama in the fight for second and third, as the #98 Aston Martin passed the #777 Aston Martin with just minutes remaining. Both teams will be more than happy with their first podiums of the season.
Championship leaders Cetilar Racing in the #47 Ferrari had a tough race following an accident in the opening stages. The all-Italian crew could only finish 14th in class, three laps down on the leaders.
Images © Piero Lonardo