Bending the Rules – Toyota accept defeat after Silverstone exclusion

Still fresh from its triumph at Le Mans, the mood under Silverstone’s darkening skies could not have changed more rapidly for the Toyota Gazoo Racing team.

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Not quite keeping off the kerbs – the #8 car with Fernando Alonso at the wheel, launching on to the Hangar Straight

A legion of fans had arrived at the home of British motor sport, expecting to see a virtuoso display of racing from the Japanese cars, and in particular the #8 of Sebastian Buemi, Fernando Alonso & Kazuki Nakajima. On track, the only major disappointment had been the early retirement of Jenson Button’s podium hopes; but as promised, the two Toyotas made haste for each of the 6 magnificent hours they led, lapping all behind with the fiery intent of the Tatsu.

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It was the #7 Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez that earned pole position

Taking the flag with a four-lap margin over the nearest Rebellion car, it had seemed that the might of WEC’s only works hybrid-powered entries would deliver an all-conquering season for the Japanese manufacturer; that was until post-race scrutineering checks found that the front skid block (a rectangular block that sits under the car between the front and rear axle in order to limit ride-height performance advantages, and aerodynamic infringements) was deflecting under stress at a level more than the allowable tolerance. *

Here’s the important wording from the regulations: –

* Front part of skid block may deflect no more than 5mm vertically when a 2500N load is applied vertically to it at any point of the friction surface. Load will be applied in an upward direction using a 50mm diameter ram.

In defence, Toyota stated that stress, caused by a six-hour pounding from Silverstone’s high and hard kerbs must have brought about the failure, but then as the Stewards so rightly pointed out, these cars had gone through a gruelling 24 hours of racing at Le Mans and the tolerance had been fine. Moreover, the other LMP1 and LMP2 cars that had been racing hard for position had not suffered similarly. Indeed, using the simplest, most pointed wording, officials summarised their judgement by stating that “… the design of the car must be able to withstand the normal rigours of a 6 hours endurance race.”

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Going off-line to pass traffic didn’t seem to worry Alonso

There are times when you must concede, and for Toyota, this was one of them.

In a statement issued by Mr Akio Toyoda, the company’s President, there was an honourable admission of guilt:

“I would like to apologize to the six drivers that we could not make a car with which they can win even though they drove all out.”

. .

“We will make our cars even stronger for the next race so that the drivers can drive all out again at Fuji Speedway and fight for another one-two victory to strengthen our challenge for the World Championship.

For me, this is the most annoying part of the whole episode. If there genuinely was an issue with the cars suffering damage from contact with the kerbs, it was unnecessary. Only two years ago, Audi were disqualified (after finishing first) because of excessive plank wear. And let’s not forget that this isn’t the first outing for Toyota at Silverstone. The team entered its TS030 Hybrid in 2012, and were victorious here with the TS040 in 2014. Everybody knows that Silverstone is hard on cars, but with a four-lap finishing advantage, Toyota’s engineers knew well in advance that they could afford to deliver a set-up that retained the pace to win without compromising the outcome.

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As it stands, Toyota #8 now heads to Fuji with only a two-point advantage over the independent Rebellion Racing car of Menezes, Beche & Laurent (who were handed the win after Toyota’s disqualification).

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The #3 Rebellion was handed an unexpected win

I’m not expecting history to repeat itself, but then neither was I expecting such a basic error from a team that carries such great hopes and expectations.

Steve Hindle

23rd August 2018