TOYOTA GAZOO Racing's #7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid claimed the top step on the podium at this weekend's 1000 Miles of Sebring, first round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship season.
The #7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid shared by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López triumphed after a race-long duel with the #8 sister car. The Japanese marque's two Hypercars swapped the lead several times, but the #8 was unable to keep the pace, trailing at the chequered flag by 2.1 seconds. Toyota was keenly aware it was facing tough competition at the 1000 Miles of Sebring and managed to kick off the season in impressive fashion both in pit lane and on the track.
Kamui Kobayashi: "It is a fantastic feeling to win this race and I would like to thank everyone for their big support, particularly everyone back in Japan, including Toyoda-San and President Sato-San. The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing family has worked really hard to be ready for this season. We had a tough time yesterday, but we came back strongly and in the race we showed our philosophy to be one team, with everyone working very hard together. A one-two was the best result we could hope for, but this is just the start of a big fight this season. We deserved to win, but we do not underestimate the other manufacturers. Today our experience helped us, but we will face a big challenge this season, so we have to get stronger and fight even harder. This championship is getting really exciting, and I am happy to be part of it."
Toyota definitively took the helm of the race from Ferrari AF Corse in the fifth lap, with the pole-sitter #50 499P rounding out the podium two laps behind the winners. The Ferrari Hypercars lost time in traffic, the #51 was delayed in pit lane for a long time during a refuelling and the #50 was penalised with a drive-through and a five-second penalty for overtaking under the safety car regime and breaching a Full Course Yellow. Despite the setbacks, the Ferrari camp seemed satisfied with its results and particularly with the reliability of both 499Ps.
Antonello Coletta, Head of Attività Sportive GT: “We surpassed the goals we had set ourselves, considering that we wanted a podium finish, and to this we added a splendid pole position. We are happy and at the same time aware that we have a long way to go. In the championship, we are up against some highly experienced and quick opponents and others who have recently entered the Hypercar scene, like us, but just as fast. We celebrate these results, thanking the entire team for the work carried out over the last eight months, which allowed us to race on a demanding track like Sebring with no reliability problems."
Cadillac Racing's #4 Cadillac V-Series.R ended the race in the fourth spot ahead of Porsche Penske Motorsport's #5 and #6 Porsche 963s. Peugeot TotalEnergies suffered several mechanical problems with the #94 9X8 stuck in its garage for three hours to repair a failure in its hybrid system. American team Glickenhaus Racing's Hypercar was forced to retire before mid-race with mechanical troubles. Floyd Vanwall Racing Team's #4 Vanwall Vandervell 680 finished in 30th place.
A breathtaking finish in LMP2
Prior to its move to the Hypercar class with a private 963, Hertz Team JOTA triumphed in the LMP2 class after a stunning race end. The car driven by David Beckmann/Yifei Ye/Will Stevens executed a perfect splash and dash to snatch the victory from the #63 Prema of Doriane Pin/Mirko Bortolotti/Daniil Kvyat. The LMP2 was forced to stop almost three minutes from the end of the race, with Prema finishing third on the heels of the #22 of United Autosports.
In LMGTE Am, the only Corvette C8.R on the track turned in a flawless round. Corvette Racing's #33 shared by Ben Keating, Nicolas Varrone and Nicky Catsburg beat Dempsey-Proton Racing's #77 Porsche 911 by two laps. Kessel Racing's #57 Ferrari rounded out the podium in the class.
The second round of the 2023 FIA WEC season is set for Portimão, Portugal on 16 April.
Check out this photo gallery of highlights from the 1000 Miles of Sebring: