TOYOTA GAZOO Racing dominated the opening round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) to earn a one-two 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 completed a perfect result for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing by finishing second in the #8 GR010 HYBRID, just 2.168secs behind.
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 to lap all competitors twice and earn the team’s 40th WEC victory.
Despite missing pole position on Thursday, the team was immediately in the fight 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, put the battle on hold 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 first driver changes. Kamui took the wheel of the #7 and two laps later Brendon jumped into the race-leading #8, although he immediately came under pressure from the sister car.
As half distance approached, Kamui moved the #7 to the front and soon after, early in the fifth hour, he handed over to José. Ryo took the wheel of the second-placed #8 to resume an intra-team battle for victory, with the pair now a lap clear of the competition.
After Kamui and Sébastien returned to their respective cockpits, the gap at the front began to grow during the seventh hour. When Mike took the wheel of the #7 with 47 minutes remaining, he held a 23secs advantage over Brendon at the start of the final stint.
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.
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.