Toyota Gazoo Racing earned a dramatic double podium finish in the 6 Hours of Monza after an exciting but ultimately frustrating fourth round of the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) yesterday (10 July).
Both GR010 Hybrids were strong contenders for victory in an incident-packed race at the famous Italian circuit, but suffered misfortune in the heat of Hypercar competition.
Fresh from their Le Mans 24 Hours win, Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa overcame an early technical issue on their No8 GR010 Hybrid to finish second, only 2.762secs behind the winning No36 Alpine.
Last year’s Monza winners and the reigning World Champions, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López in the No7 GR010 Hybrid, were leading when they lost time following contact with the Alpine. They finished third, two laps behind.
A spectacular race among four Hypercar manufacturers leaves both World Championships wide open going into the final two rounds. Toyota Gazoo Racing lead the manufacturers’ standings by 15 points from Alpine, while the No8 crew are second in the drivers’ rankings, 10 points behind their Alpine counterparts.
The two GR010 Hybrids were part of a close race from the very beginning. After a clean start, Buemi drove brilliantly to hold second place under pressure from Alpine, while López was close behind in fourth.
Two full course yellows in the opening 30 minutes saw all Hypercars make fuel stops. Smart strategy elevated Buemi into second and López into third, although they were unable to challenge the race-leading Glickenhaus.
Late in the first hour, Buemi’s race was interrupted by an electrical issue. He managed the issue well but could not avoid dropping two positions on track, including losing second to López. A system reset at his next scheduled pit stop cost 30 seconds and put him fifth, but the car was back on the pace and he was able to overtake the No94 Peugeot for fourth.
The complexion of the race changed after two-and-a-half hours when an accident from a GT competitor necessitated a safety car and closed up the field. When the race resumed at half distance, Hartley moved into second and held position until the next pit stops, despite a sustained challenge from the Alpine.
The top three Hypercars were separated by only a few seconds going into the final two hours and the positions alternated at each pit stop as a result of Toyota Gazoo Racing and Alpine changing tyres at different intervals.
Towards the end of the fifth hour, with Kobayashi leading a GR010 Hybrid one-two, Hirakawa heroically held off the Alpine, which was on fresher tyres, for several laps before dropping to third on lap 153. A lap later, Kobayashi was defending the lead on the start-finish straight when the No7 and the Alpine made contact.
The Toyota sustained a right rear puncture and damage to its bodywork, and Kobayashi returned slowly to the pits for repairs. Thanks to a full course yellow, he lost only one lap and returned in third. When racing resumed with an hour remaining, Hirakawa was second and putting pressure on the race leader.
Hirakawa showed impressive speed, as well as skill through the traffic, to keep the pressure on and he closed to within three seconds at the chequered flag. Kobayashi, who served a 90-second penalty as a result of the incident with the Alpine, took the flag in third, two laps behind.
Toyota Gazoo Racing therefore travel to the 6 Hours of Fuji intent on returning to winning ways in their home race. The team have won seven of their eight races at Fuji Speedway and expect to challenge for another victory on 11 September in the penultimate round of the 2022 season.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car No7): “We tried our best to get the win but it was not enough today and we missed the opportunity. Two cars on the podium is the best we could manage. In my stint, I struggled a bit in terms of pace. I tried to retain our position and we took a strategic choice not to change tyres at my pit stop. That gave us track position, but I started to lose pace. Then I had contact with the Alpine, so we had damage, lost a lap and then had the penalty. At the end of the day, I don’t think it really changed our final position. We weren’t quite good enough today, so we need more for the next race. We want to win both World Championships, so we need to win at Fuji. There is a lot of competition in Hypercar now so it will be very challenging, but this is great for the fans and we enjoy it. We still have a chance with both cars and we will not give up.”
Mike Conway (driver, car No7): “This was a frustrating race for car No7 and another blow to our World Championship, unfortunately. We were leading and then within a few laps everything fell apart. I felt we had the pace to potentially win the race with a bit of luck, but the race was going backwards and forwards with the tyre strategies. The contact took us out of contention so third was the best we could do from that point. We have to live and learn and keep working hard until the end of the season.”
José María López (driver, car No7): “In the end, second and third is not a bad result for the team because it was a challenging weekend. Unfortunately, we had this contact and then the penalty, although we had already suffered by going a lap down due to the damage. After that, our race was lost. We were in the mix for the win and it was an exciting race, but it didn’t go our way. The competition will be strong for the rest of the season, so we need to get used to close races like that. We will come back strongly in Fuji and try to win.”
Sébastien Buemi (driver, car No8): “It was an eventful race for both cars. I am bit disappointed to miss out on the win by so little because we had a chance today. I had the issue early in the race and I did the best I could to minimise the time loss, but it was not easy as the car was not driving normally. We got a break with the safety car, which helped us catch up to the leader and gave us a chance. Brendon and Ryo did a good job trying to catch the Alpine, so it was a good recovery in the end.”
Brendon Hartley (driver, car No8): “I think we had a very good race and it’s a bit annoying to miss the win by three seconds after six hours. Séb had the issue early in the race but he managed it very well and we didn’t lose too much time. The pace from all three drivers was strong all day, and the engineers and mechanics did a great job too. Alpine were quick today; we didn’t do much wrong, but we still fell short so congratulations to them. Now we want to come back stronger in Fuji.”
Ryo Hirakawa (driver, car No8): “I am a bit disappointed to be second because I tried everything to get the win. The team reacted really well to the issue Séb had and thanks to their efforts we were not so far behind and had the chance to come back into the race after the safety car. I was always very close to the Alpine, but I couldn’t quite make it, which was frustrating. We only have two races remaining and the next one is our home track. We have to finish ahead of the Alpine to win the World Championship so the goal is clear. We will keep pushing to get back in the centre of the podium.”
6 Hours of Monza – Result
1st No36 Alpine Elf Team (Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxiviere) 194 laps
2nd No8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +2.762secs
3rd No7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +2 laps
4th No41 Real Team by WRT (Andrade/Habsburg/Nato) +6 laps
5th No38 JOTA (Gonzalez/Da Costa/Stevens) +6 laps
6th No10 Vector Sport (Müller/Cullen/Bourdais) +6 laps