TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is ready to take on an exciting field of Hypercar challengers for its FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) title defence following a productive two-day Prologue test in Florida ahead of Friday’s 2023 season-opening 1000 Miles of Sebring.
For the first time, the GR010 HYBRIDs shared the track with new Hypercar rivals from Cadillac, Ferrari, Porsche and Vanwall, as well as last season’s competitors Peugeot and Glickenhaus, to open an exciting new era for endurance racing.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing kicked off preparations at Sebring by setting the Prologue pace with the GR010 HYBRID #7 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López.
José’s Saturday morning lap of 1min 48.208secs was the fastest of the weekend, while Brendon Hartley was second on the combined results, just 0.008secs behind, in the #8 GR010 HYBRID he shares with Sébastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa.
A combined 587 laps of trouble-free running, covering more than 3,500km, was of much greater importance for this test. It gives engineers crucial data to accelerate set-up development prior to race week, when the challenge to become World Champions for the fifth successive season and win a sixth straight Le Mans 24 Hours begins in earnest.
The 2023-specification GR010 HYBRID, which benefits from a lower weight and revised aerodynamics, was making its first visit to Sebring. Drivers and engineers took full advantage to assess set-ups and tyre behaviour on the unique 6.019km circuit which is famous for its bumpy surface.
Testing began on Saturday in sunny, hot conditions with air temperatures hitting a high of 31°C. José set the fastest time of a morning session interrupted by a single brief red flag while Ryo put the #8 car second.
Lap times were marginally slower in the afternoon session, which featured three red flags. Sébastien recorded the #8 GR010 HYBRID’s quickest lap, ending the session second, just 0.014secs behind the pace-setting Cadillac. José set the best time in the third-placed #7 car.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing was the busiest of all the Hypercar competitors on track on the opening day, completing a combined 278 laps, covering 1,673km, emphasising a successful team effort over the winter to be ready for the new season.
Strong cooperation between team members in Higashi-Fuji and Cologne has been complimented by valuable contributions from technical partners. DENSO supplies spark plugs and contributes to the front motor alongside AISIN, while RAYS delivers lightweight alloy wheels, Akebono provides brake callipers and Mobil 1 is the lubricant of choice.
Sunday followed a similar pattern to Saturday, with drivers, engineers and mechanics again working flawlessly despite challenging heat and humidity. Almost 30 minutes were lost due to three red flag periods, but between the stoppages, Mike clocked the quickest morning lap, with Sébastien 0.008secs back in second.
The fourth and final session of the weekend again saw the GR010 HYBRIDs set the standard. This time Brendon put the #8 on top, setting the car’s fastest lap of the Prologue in the process, slightly quicker than Mike’s best effort in the #7. Three red flags disturbed progress but the team again reached the chequered flag after completing more laps than its Hypercar rivals.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will use the next two days to rebuild the cars, as well as fine-tuning set-ups and strategies before the first two free practice sessions on Wednesday. Qualifying, the first competitive session of the new season, will take place on Thursday and the 1000 Miles of Sebring begins on Friday at midday local time (5pm CET).
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “Things have gone smoothly so far here in Sebring. Testing went quite well and the lap times look good but obviously this was only a test; the race week will be different. We need to look at where we can improve. We have new competition this season, but in reality the task does not change during testing and practice. We need to find our own speed and focus on preparing the car by improving the balance and set-up. This year the biggest difference comes in qualifying and the races, when we cannot afford to make any mistakes because of the potential to lose a lot of positions. So, our target for the next days is clear; we want to find more speed to be in the best position for the race.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “We had a pretty solid two days. We had a big list of tasks to get through, comparing set-ups, tyres and testing different things. I feel like we achieved a lot, we learned a lot and it all went quite smoothly. We have just been focusing on our programme and everything seemed to go well in terms of our pace. It’s hard to say how the competition is looking at the moment. We’re looking only at ourselves and it has been positive across the two cars. It has been an important two days and we are as ready as we can be.”
José María López (Driver, car #7): “Things have started well in general. As a team we showed good pace but this is not necessarily a reflection of what could happen in Friday’s race. We saw everyone else improved a lot today and the lap times are much closer. We need to keep working on the car because we know the competition will continue to improve, so we need to find more speed to stay in front. But it is positive to start like this; we showed strong speed, and it was nice to see the two cars at the front so I am looking forward to next week.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “It has been a good Prologue and it was obviously fun to be back in Sebring and fighting with the new Hypercar competitors. It is nice to look at the timing sheets and see so many Hypercars; this is a great moment for endurance racing. We looked competitive over the two days and we showed good reliability on a challenging track and in hot conditions, which is all positive. But we don’t know how hard everyone is pushing, and how much more potential they have. We will see for sure in Friday’s race. We got some good data to look at in the next days so hopefully we can fight for a strong result next week.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “It’s been great to see all the Hypercars on track together for the first time. We have had a trouble-free Prologue and managed to tick off most of our test items, thanks to two smooth days and a lot of hard work from the team. As drivers we have all felt comfortable in the car and we’re all up to speed; it feels like we have made a nice step in terms of car balance compared to last year. We look competitive but we only know our run plan and not what the others are doing. We will keep working to get more out of our package and be ready for race week.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8): “I am very happy to be back in Sebring and pleased with two productive days at the Prologue. It is positive to see the results but it’s too early to say much about the performance because we don’t know the programme of our competitors. But I’m happy so far and I appreciate the hard work of the team to bring an updated car which worked so smoothly this weekend. Now I will take a bit of rest over the next couple of days and then focus fully on the race weekend.”
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