TOYOTA GAZOO Racing maintained its winning start to the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) with victory in a dramatic 6 Hours of Portimão.
Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, the reigning World Champions and 2023 Le Mans winners in the #8 GR010 HYBRID, delivered a faultless performance in Portugal to dominate the race and win by a lap from the #50 Ferrari and the #6 Porsche.
However, there were contrasting emotions for Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López in the #7 GR010 HYBRID. After winning the season-opener at Sebring four weeks ago, they took a ninth-place finish, after losing 11 minutes when race officials ordered a mandatory sensor to be replaced.
A fourth consecutive Hypercar win means TOYOTA GAZOO Racing extends its World Championship advantage to 18 points over Ferrari with five rounds remaining. Sébastien, Brendon and Ryo move to the top of the drivers’ standings and hold an 11-point lead over the #50 Ferrari crew. Mike, Kamui and José are a further two behind in third.
On the warmest day of the event, the on-track action was equally hot and a close race between the GR010 HYBRIDs began from the very start. At the first corner, Mike squeezed ahead of pole-sitting Sébastien, who dropped to third when the #51 Ferrari also got through. However, Sébastien got his revenge with a brave overtake on lap four to reclaim second place.
Mike led by five seconds at that point but soon came across lapped traffic and Sébastien gradually reduced the gap. The two GR010 HYBRIDs swapped positions on lap 33, shortly before the first round of pit stops, which saw the #8 maintain its lead.
The race took a dramatic turn after 80 minutes when the team was instructed to change a rear-left driveshaft sensor on the #7 GR010 HYBRID. According to Hypercar regulations, performance is monitored by standardised torque sensors on the driveshafts, which must function at all times.
Mechanics from both car #7 and #8 worked in tandem to change the complete rear-left corner of the car in an impressive 11 minutes, allowing José to resume the race in 34th, seven laps down but with still with hope of scoring points.
That left Sébastien with a half-minute lead over the #50 Ferrari which he maintained through to the two-hour mark, when he handed over to Ryo.
Ryo had further extended his advantage by half distance, and the next round of pit stops, while José had fought up to 22nd. Brendon took over the lead with two hours remaining as Kamui moved back into the Hypercar points to continue the #7 car’s recovery.
Brendon kept up the pace at the front and lapped the second-placed Ferrari late in the fifth hour, earning a valuable cushion in the event of a safety car. That proved timely when the Vanwall crashed a few minutes later and a safety car compressed the field.
When racing resumed after a 12-minute pause, Brendon was able to immediately make his final pit stop for fuel without losing the lead and he safely navigated the closing stages to take the chequered flag after 222 laps for the team’s 41st win in its 78th WEC race. Mike, who set the fastest lap of the race in the early stages, completed the last stint at the wheel of the #7 car.
The WEC season resumes in just two weeks with the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday 29 April, the final round before the centenary edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours on 10-11 June.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “Overall it is great for car #8 to win the race. They did an absolutely amazing job, without any mistakes so they deserved this win. Congratulations to the whole crew. It was unfortunate for car #7 because after spending that time in the garage we had no chance to get a strong result. Thank you to both car crews for their great work to change the parts in just 11 minutes; I was really proud to see this strong team effort. The car felt good all through the race, we just didn’t have the luck today. So, we need to get ready for the next one and keep working hard. Spa is only a few days away and this is an important race for all of us to prepare for Le Mans. We will put today’s misfortune behind us and focus on coming back even stronger, because we know the competition is closing the gap.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “Unfortunately it was a tough day for car #7 with the issue which put us out of contention. We came back and at least scored a couple of points but at the end of the day it was a disappointing outcome. Congratulations to everyone on car #8. They drove a great race and deservedly got the win, which is nice for the team. It’s a good day for one side of the garage and a bad one for the other but we will come back fighting in Spa, and Le Mans is coming up fast.”
José María López (Driver, car #7): “It was looking very good for car #7, as well as for the team to repeat the one-two from Sebring but unfortunately we had the problem. That was really unlucky and it put us out of the picture. But we never stopped fighting and at least came back for a couple of points; you never know how that might affect the World Championship later in the season. Looking at the bigger picture, it is a good result for the team and congratulations to car #8; they drove a great race.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “My team-mates and the whole crew did a brilliant job. I feel sorry for car #7 with this small issue which took away their chances. It would have been another tough fight, like in Sebring. We came very close to winning there but we made it today, so it is a very good feeling. We are continuing to work hard, and we’ll try to come back even stronger in Spa. The competition keeps improving so we need to take as many points as we can when we have the opportunities. I’m happy to win again and we’re pushing to keep that momentum.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “I am really happy. It has been an awesome weekend right from the start of practice. It was a great race, and everything went perfectly; no mistakes by the drivers or on pit stops, we had the right strategy and the car was faultless. It was nice to drive from start to finish so a massive thanks to the team. I feel proud of their great work over the first two races. We have maximised our performance using all the experience we gained over the years because the competition is getting strong. I feel for car #7. They were pushing us hard and I am sure it would have been another close finish between us as it usually is.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8): “The team did a perfect job, and I am very happy with this win today. Our car felt good, and it was very satisfying to win for the first time this season after missing it in Sebring by two seconds. When I started my stint, we were already leading but I managed to create a bigger gap over the Ferrari to make it more secure. It was not easy to manage the race on a short track like this with the traffic. I had to stay sharp so I am pretty happy with my performance. I feel bad for car #7, which had been competitive all weekend. Spa is coming very soon, and we will try to come back even stronger as a team.”
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