TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will start the 1000 Miles of Sebring from the front row of the grid after a thrilling qualifying session for the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season opener.
The World Champions took on nine other Hypercars in a tense battle for pole position at the home of endurance racing in the United States. Brendon Hartley’s lap of 1min 45.281secs in the #8 GR010 HYBRID he shares with Sébastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa earned second place, just 0.214secs behind the pole-sitting Ferrari.
Kamui Kobayashi put the #7 GR010 HYBRID third on the grid, a further 0.267secs behind, to put TOYOTA GAZOO Racing in a strong position to challenge for victory in the first of seven WEC races this year.
Earlier, Kamui had bettered the previous Hypercar fastest lap at Sebring in final practice, but the session ended with an incident for José which caused right rear damage to the #7 car. Mechanics worked quickly to replace parts and get the car ready for qualifying and it left the garage when the lights turned green.
Unlike previous seasons, when the best times were typically set during the first flying lap on new rubber, qualifying followed a different pattern. Pre-heating of tyres is no longer permitted, so drivers needed a series of warm-up laps until the tyres gained temperature for the final part of the 15-minute qualifying session.
As the Florida sun set, Brendon was the first GR010 HYBRID driver to record a representative lap and initially took top spot, with Kamui just behind, until the #50 Ferrari set a new benchmark. On their second and final flying laps, both drivers improved but narrowly missed the team’s ninth Hypercar pole position.
Nevertheless, after making strong progress in preparing race set-ups and strategies, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing targets a 40th WEC victory to start its World Championship defence in style when the 1000 Miles of Sebring begins on Friday at midday local time (5pm CET).
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “Today we did our best but Ferrari were a bit quicker in qualifying; they did a great job. We knew they were competitive after the Prologue and free practice sessions, and everyone could see their performance in qualifying. We are definitely part of a fight, and I am enjoying it. We have worked hard over the past days to get our cars set-up for the race, because obviously this is endurance racing so Friday is the most important day for us. I think we have prepared well and we’re in a promising starting position so we have a great chance. It is going to be an exciting race.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “There was a lot of anticipation before qualifying. My heart was beating, and I had the same sensations like before Hyperpole at Le Mans. There are a lot of places on this track where you can make a mistake, and the sun was coming down too, so it was tricky. I did my best. There are always corners where you think it could have been a tiny bit faster but I thought I did a good lap. The Ferrari put in a quick lap so congratulations to them. We wanted to start on the front row, and it was almost the perfect job, but we are happy enough. Now I am looking forward to an amazing race.”
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