Toyota Gazoo Racing Takes Home Spa One-Two

BY Sean Loo

Toyota Gazoo Racing dominated with a one-two victory in the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps after a spectacular third round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) in Belgium.

Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López won the race from pole position in the #7 GR010 Hybrid, cementing a Hypercar hat-trick for Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR) from the opening three races of 2023, following the team’s victories in Sebring and Portimão.

In the sister car, a remarkable fightback from a back-row start saw Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, in the #8 GR010 Hybrid, earn an unexpected second place. Interestingly, they now lead the drivers’ World Championship by five points over the #7 crew.

With seven consecutive Spa victories under their belt, TGR takes a 33-point World Championship lead over Ferrari into the centenary edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours on 10-11 June, the unofficial mid-point in the seven-race season.

And the race was jam-packed with action too. Multiple incidents, changing weather and close battles throughout the 37-car field entertained a 72,000-strong crowd as a record 13 Hypercars fought for supremacy around the spectacular 7.004km Spa circuit, located just 120km from TGR’s team base in Cologne, Germany.

The action began right from the start when Mike led away on dry tyres, despite the impending inclement weather. He dropped to seventh against competitors on wet tyres, but soon had a grip advantage and took sixth prior to a safety car period. Sébastien, also on dry tyres, made up an impressive 15 places on the opening lap.

The GR010 Hybrids charged through the field at the restart. Mike went from sixth to the lead in just over a lap whilst Sébastien cleared the LMP2 field and took seventh by lap 10. He maintained that momentum, passing the Glickenhaus and #5 Porsche on his way to fourth before the first round of pit stops.

Mike extended his lead to 30secs until the second-placed #3 Cadillac crashed after the 90-minute mark, and the resulting safety car closed the field. That incident put Sébastien into third and the pair were soon running one-two after the Porsche #6 suffered a technical issue early in the third hour.

José took the wheel of the #7 and stretched his lead over Ryo, who was struggling with balance issues in the #8. He led by around a minute at half distance, but the gap was again reduced by another safety car period, midway through the fourth hour.

José held a slender lead when he handed the #7 to Kamui with just under two hours remaining. Brendon replaced Ryo in the #8 and briefly led, until Kamui overtook thanks to his hotter tyres, but the battle was put on hold moments later due to yet another safety car.

That set up a grandstand finish between the pair of cars, with little separating the pair in the closing stages. With 45 minutes remaining, they made their final pit stops and Kamui resumed just behind Brendon, but closing fast after setting the fastest lap of the race.

A thrilling overtake at Raidillon put the #7 back in front and Kamui stretched his lead, taking the chequered flag after 148 laps to earn the #7 car’s second win of the season, by 16.637secs.