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.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “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 under-estimate 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.”
|1000 Miles of Sebring – Result|
|1st||#7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||239 laps|
|2nd||#8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||+2.168secs|
|3rd||#50 Ferrari AF Corse (Fuoco/Molina/Nielsen)||+2 laps|
|4th||#2 Cadillac Racing (Bamber/Lynn/Westbrook)||+2 laps|
|5th||#5 Porsche Penske (
|6th||#6 Porsche Penske (Estre/Lotterer/Vanthoor)||+4 laps|