TOYOTA GAZOO Racing secures Sebring 1-2

BY Sean Loo

Toyota Gazoo Racing dominated the opening round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), securing a 1-2 victory in the 1000 Miles of Sebring in the face of strong Hypercar competition.

The GR010 Hybrid #7 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López bounced back from a practice accident on Thursday to take victory after a hard-fought 239 laps at the home of endurance racing in the United States.

After a tense race-long battle at the front, World Champions and 2022 Le Mans winners Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa also clinched a perfect result for Toyoto Gazoo Racing by finishing second in the #8 GR010 Hybrid, with a gap of just 2.168 seconds.

Relentless consistency, flawless team operations and strong tyre management combined as Toyota Gazoo Racing overcame the challenge of new Hypercar rivals from Cadillac, Ferrari and Porsche. Toyota managed to lap all competitors twice, earning the team’s 40th WEC victory.

Despite missing pole position on Thursday, the team was immediately back in the heart of the action at the front when the green flags waved in midday Florida sunshine. Sébastien kept pressure on the pole-sitting #50 Ferrari through the opening laps, while Mike held off a challenge to his third position.

An early safety car, due to a fifth-lap accident for a GT car, postponed the ensuing battle for 25 minutes. During that interruption, the lead Ferrari pitted for fuel, moving the GR010 HYBRIDs to the front and defining the pattern of the race. Sébastien set a new Hypercar race lap record as he and Mike edged clear of the competition.

At the two-hour mark, little separated the GR010 HYBRIDs and their gap over the chasing pack was enough to keep them ahead through the rest of the race. As the sun set on Sebring, Mike ticked off the remaining laps without taking risks and Brendon reduced the gap steadily.

The chequered flag flew in darkness and Mike crossed the line 2.168secs ahead of the #8 to conquer the biggest-ever top-class grid for a WEC season-opener and earn maximum race points.

If you missed the action, fret not! The hypercar battle resumes in Portugal in a month’s time with the 6 Hours of Portimao on 16 April, the second of seven races this season.