New circuit challenge for Toyota Gazoo Racing

16 April 2024

Toyota Gazoo Racing head into uncharted territory for the second round of the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season at the inaugural 6 Hours of Imola this week.

After a determined performance at the season-opener in Qatar last month, the team travel to Italy holding second place in the manufacturers’ World Championship and determined to return to the podium.

The Cadillac team’s disqualification four weeks after the chequered flag in Qatar elevated Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Nyck de Vries into fifth place in their No7 GR010 Hybrid while defending World Champions Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa were classified eighth.

This week’s second round marks Toyota Gazoo Racing’s first visit to the three-mile Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, located around  south-east of Bologna in the Emilia-Romagna region. The circuit replaces Monza, which is undergoing renovations, as Italy’s representative on the 2024 schedule. Imola is one of motorsport’s best-known circuits and has hosted World Championship endurance racing three times since its opening in 1953. The most recent was back in 1984 when Hans-Joachim Stuck and Stefan Bellof won the 1000km of Imola.

After its 40-year absence from top-level endurance racing, Imola will host a fierce battle among 19 Hypercars, featuring competitors from Alpine, BMW, Cadillac, Ferrari, Isotta Fraschini, Lamborghini, Peugeot and Porsche for honours this weekend.

Although this is a new track for the team, most of its drivers have competed there before. Hirakawa is the most recent winner having triumphed in a European Le Mans Series (ELMS) race in 2016, while both Kobayashi and de Vries won junior formula races there early in their careers. Neither Conway nor Buemi have raced at Imola before, while Hartley did so just once, in an ELMS race in 2013.

Toyota Gazoo Racing will begin an intense programme of preparation on Friday with two 90-minute free practice sessions. Hypercar qualifying takes place from 3.25pm local time on Saturday to determine the grid for the inaugural WEC 6 Hours of Imola, which begins at 1pm on Sunday 21 April.

Team quotes

Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car No7): “I had a great experience in NASCAR at Austin last month, but now it’s back to WEC business and I’m fully focused on Imola. I raced quite a lot in Italy as a young driver, so I know the track well, and I’ve won races there too. It will be a challenge to win this weekend on a new track for our car, but we are pushing hard as one team to get the best possible result. As always, the key will be to make a strong start in practice and quickly find a good set-up direction for our car, then execute a clean race, using our experience and team spirit.”

Mike Conway (Driver, car No7): “This weekend will be a new experience for me because I haven’t raced at Imola before, although obviously it’s one of the classic motorsport circuits so I’ve seen plenty of races there and I drove it on the simulator recently. Now I am looking forward to finally having the chance to race there. In Qatar we scored good points for the World Championship and now we need to keep the pressure on, taking advantage of every opportunity we get. It will not be easy, against tough competition, but we’ll keep fighting.”

Nyck de Vries (Driver, car No7): “I’m looking forward to the start of the European season and we’re expecting a lot of Italian fans, so the atmosphere should be special. It’s a new track on the WEC calendar, and it’s very narrow and challenging,. It’s a short event compared to Qatar, and we don’t get that much track time prior to the race, so we need to hit the ground running. Hopefully we can have a good weekend and fight at the front.”

Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car No8): “It’s interesting to discover a new track in a Hypercar. I did a Formula 1 test at Imola over 10 years ago, but my only recent experience has been to prepare for this weekend in the simulator in Cologne. It will be fun to drive the GR010 Hybrid on this track in front of all the Italian fans, but I am also expecting quite a challenge, especially dealing with traffic in the race. We had a hard time in our car in Qatar so we are hoping for a stronger performance at Imola.”

Brendon Hartley (Driver, car No8): “The Italian passion for motor racing is legendary and we’re heading to home territory for Ferrari, so the atmosphere at Imola should be amazing. I’m expecting a special weekend, and a particularly tight battle at the front. In Qatar we saw how close the battle is in Hypercar and that will be the case again. No-one can afford to make even the smallest mistake in qualifying or the race because, with such close competition, you can lose a lot of positions. We all need to be on top form to challenge at the front.”

Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car No8): “Imola is another new track to learn with our GR010 Hybrid, but I tested a Formula 1 car there last month and raced an LMP2 in ELMS a few years ago so I am quite familiar with the layout. I expect it will be exciting to drive with a Hypercar and it should be spectacular for the fans. I hope this track will be more suited to our car compared to Qatar, which was a difficult weekend. The team has worked hard to prepare and find ways to come back stronger. I can’t wait to get started.”


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New circuit challenge for Toyota Gazoo Racing


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