TOYOTA GAZOO Racing won an exciting 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 to earn a Hypercar hat-trick for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing from the opening three races of 2023, following the team’s victories in Sebring and Portimão.
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. They now lead the drivers’ World Championship by five points over the #7 crew.
Its seventh consecutive Spa victory means TOYOTA GAZOO Racing takes a 30-point World Championship lead over Ferrari into the centenary edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours on 10-11 June, the mid-point in the seven-race season.
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 the team’s base in Cologne, Germany.
The action began right from the start when Mike led away on dry tyres, despite light rain. 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 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 GR010 HYBRIDs 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 GR010 HYBRIDs 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 GR010 HYBRID’s second win of the season, by 16.637secs from Brendon in a perfect preparation for the Le Mans 24 Hours on 10-11 June.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7):
“That was a fantastic job from the whole team to get the maximum result possible from this race. Thank you to the team and everyone who supports us for their big effort to achieve this. It was absolutely amazing to drive the GR010 HYBRID here at Spa, especially in front of a such a crowd. I really felt a big support today; I have never seen so many spectators around here. It has been a challenging week, particularly in terms of tyre management. When you have new tyres you have massive grip but you get degradation so it was not easy to decide how much to push. We can be very happy to be here with a one-two after no issues during the race, considering how challenging it has been. In my stint I was fighting with the #8 car and it is never easy to fight against your team-mate but I think we made a good show. Now we aim to keep this going for Le Mans.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7):
“It was a crazy race but a great result for both cars. It was a tricky call at the beginning on the tyres but we knew it probably wasn’t going to rain again. We just had to survive as best we could. I lost a lot of positions but when the track dried, we had the right tyres and I picked off the guys ahead. The race went well but it was hard because as soon as we built a gap, it was eroded by a safety car. We made some good calls and Kamui and José did mega stints, pushing all the way to the end. Car #8 did well to finish second, so I am really happy to get such a result for the team.”
José María López (Driver, car #7):
“I am very happy for the team to get a one-two from such a difficult race. As usual here at Spa the track conditions were challenging. We made a tough call to start with slicks on a damp track but it really paid off, thanks to Mike’s great stint. There were different emotions during the race; endurance racing is always like this. At one point I had a comfortable lead then the safety car reset it to zero. I had cars behind me on better tyres so had to deal with that. It was a brilliant performance by everyone on the team; the engineers, pit crew, Mike and Kamui, and of course the #8 car. I am so happy for everyone who worked very, very hard this weekend. It has not been easy but it paid off.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8):
“Second place is a great recovery drive. Starting 36th on the grid and coming back to second place, after actually fighting for the win, is a real achievement. The win for car #7 makes it a perfect day and I am really happy for the team. It was an eventful race, particularly at the beginning with the rain, but I tried to stay out of trouble and just continue to move up the field. This is a good preparation for Le Mans; now we can get ready for June.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8):
“It is an amazing result for the whole team and a big recovery job from our car. Sébastien made an amazing start in tricky conditions and got through the field cleanly, after the team made the right call on tyres. That was a big decision, but it was the right one. Car #7 deserved the victory because they had a little more pace than us today, particularly in the middle part of the race. We went in a different direction on set-up; I couldn’t challenge Kamui in the final stint. We were one set of tyres down after what happened in qualifying so we can be very happy to finish second and take these points.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8):
“Considering our starting position, I am quite happy with this result. It was not easy all week, but we kept fighting and never gave up. Big thanks to the engineers, mechanics and of course Sébastien and Brendon who drove really well, for making it possible to recover a strong result after the disappointment in qualifying. A one-two for the team is the perfect result and the best preparation for Le Mans. Now I am looking forward to that.”
6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps – Result
1st #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 148 laps
2nd #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +16.637secs
3rd #51 Ferrari AF Corse (Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi) +1min 14.439secs
4th #5 Porsche Penske (Cameron/Christensen/Makowiecki) +1min 17.264secs
5th #2 Cadillac Racing (Bamber/Lynn/Westbrook) +1 lap
6th #38 Hertz Team Jota (Da Costa/Stevens/Ye) +1 lap
About Toyota Canada Inc.
Toyota Canada Inc. (TCI) is the exclusive Canadian distributor of Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Toyota has sold over six million vehicles in Canada through a national network of 287 Toyota and Lexus dealerships. Toyota is dedicated to bringing safety, quality, dependability and reliability to the vehicles Canadians drive and the service they receive. TCI’s head office is in Toronto, with regional offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Halifax, and parts distribution centres in Clarington and Vancouver. Toyota also operates two manufacturing facilities in Canada. Having produced more than nine million vehicles, popular Canadian models built at these facilities include Toyota RAV4, Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h hybrid, as well as Lexus NX 250, NX 350 and NX 350h hybrid. The company has sold more than 20 million electrified vehicles worldwide and is the number one seller of electrified vehicles in Canada.