Toyota Gazoo Racing posted a dominant one-two victory in the season-ending 8 Hours of Bahrain on Saturday (12 November) to secure a clean sweep of FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) titles.
Success in WEC means that Toyota Gazoo Racing have achieved the feat of winning every available title, eight in total, in the three FIA series they participated in this season: the World Endurance, World Rally and World Rally Raid Championships.Outgoing World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López took a hard-earned win, their second of the season in their No7 GR010 Hybrid, to crown Toyota Gazoo Racing as Hypercar manufacturers’ World Champions.
Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, in the No8 GR010 Hybrid, had started the weekend level on points with their title rivals from the Alpine team but finished second to become drivers’ World Champions, adding to their 2022 Le Mans 24 Hours win.
Buemi and Hartley write their names in the record books as the first drivers to win three titles in the top category of WEC and its predecessor, the World Sportscar Championship. Hirakawa, a Le Mans winner in June, capped a remarkable rookie season by becoming Japan’s third WEC champion.
A perfect result in Bahrain was a fitting end to a successful season for Toyota Gazoo Racing, which now has a fifth world title double from 10 years of WEC competition, adding to a roll of honour in 2022 which includes a fifth consecutive Le Mans win and eighth victory at Fuji Speedway.
The Bahrain race began under bright i sunshine with air temperatures of 35°C, and the on-track action was equally hot. Buemi led from pole while López fought with the No36 Alpine, losing third at the start before regaining the place three laps later, following a safety car period.
Buemi held off the challenge of the No93 Peugeot, with López é in contention in third. Just six seconds covered the top three when the opening pit stops arrived after the first hour, during which López leapfrogged the No93 for second and closed on the No8, before Buemi edged out an advantage.
When a technical problem sidelined the No93 after two hours, a full course yellow allowed both GR010 Hybrids to swap drivers. Hartley took over the No8 car, with Conway in the No7. They battled throughout their first stint, separated by less than a second, until Conway took the lead early in the fourth hour as the sun set.
He pushed hard to build a gap and at half distance led by a few seconds going into the next pit stops, when Kobayashi took the wheel. A lap later, Hartley’s stint ended and Hirakawa brought the No8 back on track directly behind the No7.
Kobayashi gradually extended his advantage to 15 seconds by the end of the fifth hour, doubling the No7 car’s lead over the next hour before López and Buemi returned to their respective cockpits with less than two hours remaining.
Further driver changes with 45 minutes to go left Conway to take the chequered flag, finishing 45.471secs clear of Hartley in the No8..
Akio Toyoda, Toyota Gazoo Racing Team Founder, comment following victory in the 8 Hours of Bahrain and Rally Japan
“On the weekend when we had two world championship events for Toyota Gazoo Racing, and when Rally Japan was finally held, there are so many things I would like to say.
“First of all, we were able to achieve five World Championship titles so it was a great season for us. Thank you so much to our fans and partners who have been supporting us.
“In WEC, the No7 GR010 Hybrid won the last round in Bahrain, No8 came in second and therefore won the drivers’ championship. Séb, Brendon, Ryo, and the whole No8 team, congratulations on the title! Kamui, Mike, José, and the No7 team, congratulations on your win in the final round! And thank you so much for everything!
“It must have been a difficult season for No7, which was fast in all races. I think next year will be a year in which the drivers will add strength to the speed of the No7. Kamui and I have been communicating with each other as a team principal and a team founder. He always lets me know how the team is doing before and after races, and he thanked me. Every time I received a message from him as the team principal while he was having frustration as a driver, I realized that I had asked him to play a very tough role. I am truly grateful to him for his efforts as a team principal, as a driver, and for his help for the future of motorsports, despite these difficult feelings. It was a mechanic who was standing in centre of the podium of the final round of the season. Seeing him holding up the trophy with a big smile on his face, I could feel that Kamui has built a very warm team. I really thank him for that. The team is really strong. Congratulations!
“In Japan, Rally Japan was held for the first time in 12 years and it was Toyota’s first WRC participation in Japan. Rally cars ran on the roads in our home country, local drivers were behind the wheel and I was able to follow and cheer them from up close. As a rally fan, I am truly impressed that this experience, which I have longed for, has become a reality. I would like to thank Mitsubishi, Subaru and Suzuki for keeping the culture of rallying alive. Thank you very much.
“’Roads are tricky, quite slippery with leaves, “poor visibility in tunnel’ … it seemed to be very challenging for all drivers. Fans also had to be patient due to some cancellations and delays. I believe many challenges remained for the first rally to be held in this area, however, I sincerely hope to continue this rally.
“The autumn air blowing through the colourful trees, the Japanese cityscape in the background, and the narrow streets that nurtured small cars such as those which are popular in Japan. The WRC gave the whole world a chance to see the Japanese scenes that we are proud of.
“The people are really warm, the rivers are different from those in Europe, the white guardrails on the roads are unique and that’s very Japanese to me. Team members told me many things. We are also reminded that there are still many Japan-originated things that we are unaware of. We hope that Rally Japan will continue to make improvements in a Japanese way, nurture the culture of rallying, and make Rally Japan an indispensable autumn tradition in Japan in the future.
“It was also great that the team members competing in the WRC finally came to Japan. I was in Belgium as well, but it was so special to see ‘my family’ in Japan. I was so happy to spend time with the team that I wanted to sleep over at the service park. I really thank Jari-Matti who is making a great team.
“The crews already clinched the championship at the previous round in Spain, and they gave it their all for Toyota fans in Japan. And I felt they were trying hard to let me stand on the podium. Seb, Vincent, Elfyn, Scott, Kalle, Jonne, Takamoto, and Aaron, thank you all so much. In the end, we had tyre problems and other issues that made driving difficult. I feel sorry and I wanted them to enjoy Japanese roads more. We will continue to improve the car so that they will enjoy driving on Japanese roads again next year.
“And finally to Takamoto! Thank you for standing on the podium in our home rally! Congratulations! I believe that you returned the favour to the people who have helped you. It was impressive that you were standing on the podium amidst the blessings of these people. However, my dream has not come true yet. I want to stand on the podium with you. You stand in the centre, and I stand beside you. It might be Rally Japan next year, or it might be some other rally, but please continue your challenge from tomorrow to make it come true!”
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car No7): “We achieved a one-two, Séb, Brendon and Ryo won the drivers’ title and we won the manufacturers’ championship so we hit all our targets for this race. I am really pleased with that. The team did a great job today and all season, as did the drivers. Thanks for all their support, as well as the support from our colleagues in Japan and our partners who have helped us all through the season. This year we faced strong competition and we finished with the best possible result. It’s a great feeling to end with a win; Mike and José drove a strong race and the crew performed well as they have done all year. On our car, we missed the drivers’ title but car No8 really deserved it and I am happy for them. All season the team and drivers have worked really hard, with a great team spirit, so I hope everyone can enjoy this moment and celebrate the titles.”
Mike Conway (driver, car No7): “It feels great to win the race and be part of a one-two for the team. Congratulations to Kamui, José and the whole No7 crew who did a stellar job here, and also to car No8 on the championship, they had a really consistent, strong year so fully deserve it. Our race went very well and it was a close fight for much of the eight hours. Car No8 kept us on our toes as always until Kamui pulled out a good gap which made it more comfortable. Everyone on our car performed really well today, with a nice clean race, good pit stops and the right strategy. It’s fantastic to win the manufacturers’ title again; thanks to everyone in Japan, Cologne and all the other people who have made this happen.”
José María López (driver, car No7): “Well done to the guys on car No8 who really deserve this championship after a very strong season. And congratulations to the whole team in Cologne and in Japan, and to all the people and partners working behind the scenes to help us succeed. It has been a year with intense competition but we have achieved our objectives, so I am very happy. Mike and Kamui performed really well which made it easier for me when I jumped back in towards the end. We have a great group and I couldn’t be prouder to be part of it. It is really a pleasure to be part of this team and enjoy moments like this.”
Sébastien Buemi (driver, car No8): “It’s amazing to win the World Championship this year. We maximised all the opportunities and doing the double of Le Mans and the title is an amazing feeling. Special credit to Ryo because he came into the team as a newcomer and he won in his first year. It is not easy to jump into a Hypercar and fight at the front against such strong competition, but he has been an amazing team-mate. Car No7 is always strong and it is never easy to beat them, as they showed today. We wanted to win the race and take the title in style but, despite a competitive start, we just didn’t have enough today. We will enjoy this feeling and then look to next year which will be a really exciting one.”
Brendon Hartley (driver, car No8): “I am really pleased to complete the job here and win both World Championships. I don’t think it has really sunk in yet that we are champions again, but I’m sure it will soon. Thanks to everyone on the team for their fantastic support all year to give us a car to win the title and Le Mans. Today our objective was simply to beat Alpine and secure the title; we couldn’t afford to take any risks just to get the race win. Car No7 had the pace and deserved the victory, so well done to them. They have been tough competitors all year and it has been fiercely fought, also with Alpine who kept us honest. We worked hard for this title and it is a credit to the whole team.”
Ryo Hirakawa (driver, car No8): “Today we achieved everything we wanted to, so I am very happy and I will enjoy this moment with the team, who really deserve it. It has been challenging to race a Hypercar in WEC for the first time; everything was new to me. I didn’t expect to win Le Mans and the World Championship in my first year so thanks a lot to the team and my team-mates for helping me settle in and become stronger over the season. I was really patient in the race today because I knew the championship situation and it was just important that I didn’t take any risks. My target was to hand the car over in a strong position and I achieved that, so I was happy.”
8 Hours of Bahrain – Result
1st No7 Toyota Gazoo Racing 245 laps
2nd No8 Toyota Gazoo Racing +45.471secs
3rd No36 Alpine Elf Team (Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxiviere) +2 laps
4th No94 Peugeot TotalEnergies (Duval/Menezes/Müller) +6 laps
5th No31 WRT (Galael/Frijns/Vanthoor) +8 laps
6th No23 United Autosports USA (Lynn/Jarvis/Pierson) +8 laps