Toyota Gazoo Racing returned to winning ways with a hard-fought victory on its rival Ferrari’s home ground in an exciting 6 Hours of Monza, the fifth round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
In front of a passionate 65,000 crowd, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López saw off an intense challenge from the local heroes to win for the third time this season in their No7 GR010 Hybrid, ahead of the No50 Ferrari.
A determined comeback drive from Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa in the No8 GR010 Hybrid saw the World Champions recover from the back of the field. They crossed the line fourth but were handed a post-race penalty which dropped them to sixth place.
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s fourth win of the season is the perfect response to a frustrating Le Mans 24 Hours and extends the team’s World Championship lead to 26 points. Victory brings the No7 crew back into the drivers’ title race and they now lie second, 23 points behind their No8 colleagues.
The action on track was hot from the opening lap when Conway led the 36-car field into the tight first chicane from pole position. He jostled for the lead, but Buemi, starting third, made contact with the No51 Ferrari and dropped to eighth.
After 15 minutes, Conway led from the No50 Ferrari and No93 Peugeot, when an incident between the No8 car and a GT runner brought out the safety car again. The No8 was not damaged but its chances were hit when stewards imposed a 10sec penalty for the first incident and a further 60sec for the second.
The safety car brought the chasing pack right onto Conway’s tail and when racing resumed, he dropped to third. Buemi took his 60secs penalty and resumed in 34th place, losing a lap to the leader soon after.
Conway put pressure on the leaders but lost valuable seconds during his first pit stop when manoeuvring around a car in the adjacent garage. During his stop, Buemi served his second penalty and began a fightback.
Third-placed Conway was the quickest car on track in his second stint, running on the hard tyres and he moved into the lead during the next round of pit stops. López continued the battle, fighting past the No5 Porsche to effectively lead the race shortly before a safety car period early in the third hour.
When rivals pitted behind the safety car, López hit the front and began building an advantage over the No50 Ferrari, twice setting new fastest laps in the process. Meanwhile the No8, now with Hirakawa at the wheel, fought its way up to seventh.
Smart strategy and a string of quick laps from the Japanese driver helped the No8 return to the lead lap by the time Hartley took over to push for a top-six finish. At the front, López’s efforts during the fourth hour paid off and he handed over the No7 to Kobayashi with a substantial advantage over the two Ferraris.
However, a safety car eliminated that 45sec gap and set up an exciting final 90 minutes with Kobayashi defending a slender lead from the No50 Ferrari. The No8 car’s misfortune continued when it had to make an emergency fuel stop under the safety car, and then a full pit stop when racing resumed, dropping Hartley to eighth.
Kobayashi set about rebuilding his advantage and led by around 10sec when he made his final pit stop with 45 minutes to go. An exceptional pit stop by the mechanics helped return him to the track ahead of his rival.
With fresh rubber, Kobayashi set the fastest lap and pulled clear to win by 16.520sec from the No50 Ferrari. The No8 crew’s never-give-up approach paid dividends as Hartley battled into fourth place in a frantic final 15 minutes, overtaking their World Championship rivals in the No51 Ferrari and No5 Porsche. Post-race, the No8 car was handed a 50sec penalty for briefly and unintentionally exceeding a powertrain power limit on one lap.
The chequered flag brought the European leg of the 2023 season to a close. Hypercar competition will return on 10 September for Toyota Gazoo Racing’s home race, the 6 Hours of Fuji, the penultimate meeting of a season which will conclude in Bahrain in November.
President Koji Sato comment for the 6 Hours of Monza
In the fifth round of the 2023 WEC season, the 6 Hours of Monza, car No7 was able to win from pole position. The Monza fans cheered throughout the race and we were able to fight in a great atmosphere. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who supported us.
“We want to show our true performance.” With that frustration in our hearts, since Le Mans, we have all worked together as one to move forward towards the next race. It was a very important four weeks. Because of that process, we were able to compete as a true team at Monza.
Mike, Kamui, and Jose in car No7 kept calm and steady even though car #8 faced an unexpected situation. I think it was a lot of pressure to carry the hopes of the team and keep racing flat-out without making mistakes.
Sébastien, Brendon, and Ryo in car No8 continued to push hard until the very end in order to improve their position.
I am proud of all the team members at the track who worked hard for this win.
In the next round at Fuji, we will do our best under the leadership of Kamui. We would like to show the stronger Toyota WEC team in front of many Japanese fans.
Finally, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to D’station Racing’s Mr. Hoshino, Mr. Fujii, Mr. Stevenson, and everyone involved in the team following the dangerous situation caused by the contact from car #8, which took away their opportunity to challenge at Monza. I sincerely apologize for that. The entire team will reflect and be thoroughly aware so that everyone can race safely.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car No7): “I am very happy with the result. It was a very close battle, and we had to push hard because the competition was very strong. The key was making no mistakes throughout the race and managing the tyres. I had a long stint at the end which was hard and quite tense. But it was great to fight with Ferrari and, after our result at Le Mans, it is nice to take some revenge today. This was a good team result after car No8 fought back to score good points. They showed why it’s important to never give up. We have two races to go and we will do our best to win both World Championships. I am sure it will be a close fight.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car No7): “It’s nice to beat Ferrari on their home ground so big thanks to the crew and my team-mates. The pit stops were really solid, particularly the last one which was mega and helped us stay in front, and all the calls from the pit wall worked out well too. It feels good to win again and get a decent haul of points for the team. We had to really fight for it. We knew this race would be all about tyre management and there were some different strategies going on out there. We executed our plan well and whenever we lost ground, with getting the hard tyres up to temperature or a safety car, we managed to claw it back.”
José María López (Driver, car No7): “After a tough Le Mans, it was important to bounce back and everyone did a fantastic job. It was a hard race, but the car felt good. We had strong pace, perfect pit stops and the right strategy. It feels great to get our third win of the year, especially as it puts us back in the game for the World Championship. I felt very comfortable in the car. I could attack, get into the lead and build up a nice gap. At the same time, you always know that in endurance racing the gap can be reset very quickly and the safety car made it tricky at the end for Kamui. He had a really hard job, but we finished on top, and it feels nice to win at a track like this in front of the tifosi.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car No8): “It has been a mixed day in terms of emotions. Car No7 winning the race is very good, congratulations to them for a strong performance. For our car it was a difficult race. I made contact at the start and was penalised for that, then the incident with the Aston Martin. I’d like to apologise to them for that. Of course, from there we tried to fight as hard as we could to make up positions and we managed to get quite a few points on the board. But it has been a difficult day and we hope for a better race next time at Fuji.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car No8): “We had a tough race with the incidents at the beginning which put us a lap down. We had an amazing fight back and I had a great battle with the No51 Ferrari, who we are fighting against in the World Championship. I enjoyed the wheel-to-wheel action. It was tough doing three stints in these conditions; it was a challenge, but it was great fun. We didn’t stand on the podium today, but we can be happy with the performance.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car No8): “Unfortunately, on our car we had the penalties early in the race, but we never gave up and we were able to make up a lot of positions. We kept fighting right until the chequered flag, as you saw with Brendon overtaking the Ferrari and the Porsche in the final minutes. In the end, I am happy with how we performed today, we earned some important points for the World Championship. Now we go to our home race at Fuji and it will be exciting to race in front of our home fans against so many other Hypercars.”
6 Hours of Monza – race results
|No7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing
|No50 Ferrari AF Corse (Fuoco/Molina/Nielsen)
|No93 Peugeot TotalEnergies (Di Resta/Jensen/Vergne)
|No5 Porsche Penske (Cameron/Christensen/Makowiecki)
|No51 Ferrari AF Corse (Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi)
|No8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing