Portimao Victory for Toyota Gazoo Racing

BY Sean Loo

Toyota Gazoo Racing maintained its winning start to the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) with a victory at Portimão.

Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, the reigning World Champions and 2022 Le Mans winners in the #8 GR010 Hybrid, delivered in Portugal to dominate the race and win by a lap from the #50 Ferrari and the #6 Porsche.

However, there were contrasting emotions for Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López in the #7 GR010 Hybrid. After winning the season-opener at Sebring four weeks ago, they took a ninth-place finish, losing a precious 11 minutes when race officials ordered a mandatory sensor to be replaced.

A fourth consecutive Hypercar win means the Toyota Gazoo Racing team extends its World Championship advantage to 18 points over Ferrari with 5 rounds remaining. Sébastien, Brendon and Ryo move to the top of the drivers’ standings and hold an 11-point lead over the #50 Ferrari crew. Mike, Kamui and José are currently third in the standings.

On the warmest day of the event, the on-track action was equally hot and a close race between the GR010 Hybrids began from the very start. The first corner saw Mike squeeze ahead of pole-sitting Sébastien, who dropped to third when the #51 Ferrari also got through. However, Sébastien made his comeback with a brave overtake on lap four to reclaim second place.

Lapped traffic slowed Mike down over time, allowing Sébastien to gradually reduce the gap. The two GR010 Hybrids swapped positions on lap 33, shortly before the first round of pit stops, which saw the #8 maintain its lead.

The race took a dramatic turn after 80 minutes when the team was instructed to change the aforementioned rear-left driveshaft sensor on the #7 GR010 Hybrid. According to Hypercar regulations, performance is monitored by standardised torque sensors on the driveshafts, which must function at all times.

Mechanics from both teams #7 and #8 worked in tandem to change the complete rear-left corner of the car in an impressive 11 minutes, allowing José to resume the race in 34th, seven laps down but still with hope of scoring points.

That left Sébastien with a half-minute lead over the #50 Ferrari which he maintained through to the two-hour mark when he handed over to Ryo.

Ryo had further extended his advantage by half race distance, while José had fought up to 22nd. Brendon took over the lead with two hours remaining as Kamui moved back into the Hypercar points to continue the #7 car’s recovery.

Brendon kept up the pace at the front and lapped the second-placed Ferrari late in the fifth hour, earning a valuable cushion in the event of a safety car. That proved timely when the Vanwall crashed a few minutes later and a safety car compressed the field.

When racing resumed after a 12-minute pause, Brendon was able to immediately make his final pit stop for fuel without losing the lead and he safely navigated the closing stages to take the chequered flag after 222 laps for the team’s 41st win in its 78th WEC race. Mike, who set the fastest lap of the race in the early stages, completed the last stint at the wheel of the #7 car.

The WEC season resumes in just two weeks with the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday 29 April 2023, the final round before the centenary edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours on 10-11 June 2023.