Toyota Gazoo Racing begin their defence of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) titles, and an exciting new era of Hypercar competition, with a trip to Florida for the 1000 Miles of Sebring this week (17 March).
For the first time, the team will compete with their 2023-specification GR010 Hybrid, an evolution of the Hypercar which has won 10 of its 12 races since its 2021 debut. A productive pre-season testing programme has validated the changes, which were made to optimise the car’s reliability and drivability as well as reducing its overall weight.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López team up for the fifth consecutive season at the wheel of the No7 GR010 Hybrid. In the No8 car, Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa will aim to repeat their world title and Le Mans wins from 2022.
Toyota Gazoo Racing enter the 2023 season, their 11th in the WEC, on an unprecedented run of success, having earned five consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours victories and four straight World Championship doubles.
The 1,000-mile race over eight hours at Sebring presents a unique challenge to drivers and cars. The historic venue, home to endurance racing in the United States since it opened in 1950, is famed for its bumpy and unforgiving track surface, while the Florida weather is likely to be hot, humid and unpredictable.
On track, the competition in 2023 will be more intense than ever with new Hypercar rivals Cadillac, Ferrari, Porsche and Vanwall lining up, along with established competitors Glickenhaus and Peugeot. A total of 11 Hypercars will battle for overall victory in the first of seven races this year, the largest top-category grid for a WEC season-opener since the series was relaunched in 2012.
Practice for the 1000 Miles of Sebring begins on Wednesday (15 March) with two one-hour practice sessions, followed by a final 60-minute practice on Thursday. The starting grid will be determined during a 15-minute qualifying session on Thursday evening as the sun sets in central Florida. When the race begins at midday local time on Friday, Toyota Gazoo Racing will begin their fight for a second Sebring victory, having triumphed there in 2019.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car No7): “For all Hypercar teams, Sebring will be a big challenge. We have prepared intensively, and we are fully motivated to defend our World Championship and Le Mans titles. Thanks to the great cooperation and support of our colleagues at Toyota in Japan, as well as our partners, we are a very strong, stable team. Competing against manufacturers with the Le Mans calibre of Ferrari, Peugeot and Porsche, as well as the other Hypercars, will be tough, but it’s also exciting to be part of such a fight at the front. To meet this challenge, we need to work together stronger than ever before, with a big team spirit, starting in Sebring. As drivers, our priority is to be quick and consistent, avoiding any mistakes, and I know the team will work hard from day one at the Prologue to find the best set-up for our car. I am confident we are ready for the first race and now I can’t wait to get started.”
Mike Conway (driver, car No7): “It’s exciting to start the season, particularly at Sebring which is such a cool track. There’s a great atmosphere with all the American fans and this year it will be more special than ever with so many Hypercars on the grid. Everyone involved in endurance racing is excited to see how it will unfold this year; we’re all expecting a great battle and we’ll get the first taste of it in Sebring. With all its history, it’s the perfect place to kick off and I’m sure it will be a fantastic show.”
José María López (driver, car No7): “It’s fun to come back to Sebring, which is an old-school sportscar circuit with the bumps and different track surfaces. It’s not easy for the drivers and the engineers to find the best set-up which means the Prologue was very important to get a feeling for the updated GR010 Hybrid on this track. Pre-season testing has gone well and the modifications are working as we hoped, which gives me confidence for the season. It will be interesting to compare our package to our competitors and Sebring is the first chance to do that, so we are all looking forward to it.”
Sébastien Buemi (driver, car No8): “I can’t wait to start this battle against all of our new Hypercar competitors. It’s a real privilege to be involved in WEC this year and I am looking forward to an exciting challenge. I enjoy racing at Sebring and I know what it feels like to win there as well, following our victory in the No8 car in 2019. I am sure we will be fighting at the front again, although we know the competition will be close. There will be no room for mistakes; more than ever we have to get everything right and execute a perfect weekend. We have the experience and know-how, so I am confident we will be in a strong position.”
Brendon Hartley (driver, car No8): “Sebring is a great way to start what should be a fantastic WEC season. I love the circuit and the atmosphere; you can really feel the passion of the American fans and the history of the place. We’ve got a busy few days coming up, starting with the Prologue which was the first chance to try our updated GR010 Hybrid at Sebring. That was an important test because we needed to evaluate our set-ups and tyres compounds to be ready for race week. We’re all expecting some intense competition from manufacturers who, like Toyota, have a strong record in endurance, so it promises to be a cool event.”
Ryo Hirakawa (driver, car No8): “I am so happy to be racing again with Sébastien and Brendon; we worked together really well last year and we built up a great team spirit. My first season in Hypercar was beyond my expectations; to win Le Mans and then the World Championship was a fantastic experience. I was learning all through the season, adjusting to the GR010 Hybrid and becoming more familiar with the circuits because some, like Sebring, were new for me. With that experience, I feel better prepared for my second season with the team and I know what to expect from Sebring in terms of the track and the conditions. It’s a special place and I really enjoyed racing there last year so I am looking forward to it.”