Toyota Gazoo Racing claimed a thrilling one-two victory on home ground in the 6 Hours of Fuji on Saturday (9 September). The result seals the manufacturers’ title for the team in the penultimate round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López took victory in their No7 GR010 Hybrid after an epic Hypercar battle with Porsche, earning maximum points and confirming Toyota Gazoo Racing’s fifth consecutive manufacturers’ World Championship.
In front of a record 54,700 crowd, Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa completed a perfect result by taking second place in their No8 GR010 Hybrid, finishing just 39.119sec behind.
A fourth win in 2023 keeps the No7 drivers’ World Championship challenge alive going into the seventh and final race, with the No8 crew now holding a 15-point lead and a maximum of 39 remaining.
A one-two victory after locking out the front row in qualifying does not reflect the full story of an incredibly close race at the front, which saw the GR010 Hybrids battling through the field and only taking the lead in the fifth hour.
At the start, Conway was pushed down to third and Buemi fell to sixth after being hit by the No50 Ferrari at a chaotic turn one. When racing resumed after a first-lap safety car, Conway was edged off track while fighting for second and dropped to fourth. Meanwhile Buemi overtook the No2 Cadillac for fifth.
An exciting battle between World Championship contenders Toyota Gazoo Racing and Ferrari saw the GR010 HYBRID come out on top. Conway and Buemi both fought their way past the two Ferraris and, when the leading No6 Porsche pitted for fuel, the No7 led from the No8 after the first hour.
The pressure at the front increased after the first driver changes, which came around the two-hour mark. López immediately set the fastest lap of the race and closed to within striking distance of the No6 Porsche during a charging stint, with Hirakawa also closing the gap in the third-placed No8.
López relentlessly looked for a way past the leader and soon the top three were separated by barely a second after a string of fast laps from Hirakawa, who eventually passed López before making a bold overtake for the lead at the end of the fourth hour.
A few minutes later, the final driver changes saw Hartley take over in the lead, with Kobayashi a close second. Kobayashi was the fastest car on track and soon took the lead, stretching his advantage as Hartley fended off brief pressure from the No6 Porsche into the final hour of the race.
Kobayashi controlled the final stages and took the chequered flag after 229 laps to earn Toyota Gazoo Racing’s ninth win in 10 races at Fuji Speedway and extend the team’s unbeaten streak which stretches back to 2016. Hartley crossed the line in second for the No8 crew.
After leading the team throughout the weekend, Toyota President and Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe Chairman Koji Sato joined the drivers to celebrate a hard-earned victory, and world title, on the podium. The season will conclude with the 8 Hours of Bahrain on 4 November.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver car No7): “To finish one-two was our target and it was not easy but our pace was brilliant. Thanks to the team for their hard work, and thanks to Toyota and our partners for being part of this. I was really happy to see so many Toyota Gazoo Racing flags around the track; I truly appreciate the big support from the fans. It was a difficult race, especially after the start when we lost some positions. It is very challenging to overtake Hypercars here and lapping the other cars was also hard, but we handled the situation well, we did what we needed to do, and the team really helped the drivers. We’re happy to win the title at our home race. It has been a big challenge this season, but we had a fast car and a strong team. We didn’t make mistakes and the drivers did a great job. Our first target was to win the manufacturers’ title and we will celebrate this. The next step is the drivers’ title. Our car is a bit behind in the points standings, but we will work hard and do everything we can in Bahrain.”
Mike Conway (driver car No7): “It’s a great day for the team. We came here wanting a one-two to wrap up the manufacturers’ championship and we did that. It wasn’t easy, it was hard fought, and we had to really scrap for position but it’s nice to get the result. José and Kamui did an awesome job. It was a tough race for all of us and each of us had moments when it was difficult to overtake. Our pace looked close with Porsche, so we knew we had a real race on our hands. We had to bide our time and once Kamui got clear it was okay. All our car crew and engineers did a stellar job, not just this weekend but all season. Congratulations to everyone at Toyota Gazoo Racing on the manufacturers’ title, now let’s try to get the drivers’ title in Bahrain.”
José María López (driver car No7): “It feels good to win at Fuji, our fourth win of an incredible year for car No7. I am happy to get the manufacturers’ championship for the team as well. Congratulations to the team here in Japan, at Higashi-Fuji and Cologne; there are so many people behind this project who make this possible. I am very proud to be part of this group. Kamui and Mike drove a fantastic race. I am pretty happy with my race, but it was hard to pass the Porsche and my front tyres eventually gave up. The important thing was to stay close enough so Kamui could fight back. He had the pace and once he got to the front he never looked back. We are still in the fight for the drivers’ championship, so now I am looking forward to Bahrain.”
Sébastien Buemi (driver, car No8): “It’s a perfect team result, everyone did a great job and now we can enjoy winning the manufacturers’ World Championship. It was such a tight race; I am sure the fans will have enjoyed that. Our car lost position at the start and then we lost time coming through the other Hypercars, so we decided to save a bit of fuel. Then Ryo had a very strong stint to put us back in contention, but it was an amazing race from car No7, congratulations to them.”
Brendon Hartley (driver car No8): “A one-two for the team in front of our home fans to win the world title – that was the mission and it was a job well done. Both cars lost positions on the first lap, so it was a big fight to get back to first and second, and that’s thanks to a huge team effort. Kamui had a bit more pace at the end and we couldn’t match it, so we have to analyse where the speed went. Car No7 drove a strong race and deserved this victory.”
Ryo Hirakawa (driver car No8): “We achieved the best possible result in our home race after giving everything today. It was a big fight and not an easy race. On our car, of course we are a little disappointed not to win this race but overall we are very happy with the one-two finish. It’s fantastic to win the manufacturers’ title and our result is good for the drivers’ championship too. There’s only one race to go so hopefully we can have the same result in Bahrain.”
6 Hours of Fuji – race results
1st No7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 229 laps
2nd No8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +39.119secs
3rd No6 Porsche Penske (Estre/Lotterer/Vanthoor) +47.768secs
4th No50 Ferrari AF Corse (Fuoco/Molina/Nielsen) +1 lap
5th No51 Ferrari AF Corse (Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi) +1 lap
6th No38 Hertz Team Jota (Da Costa/Stevens/Ye) +1 lap