TOYOTA GAZOO Racing started the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) with a podium finish from an eventful and ultimately frustrating 1000 Miles of Sebring, which finished early due to a thunderstorm.
The GR010 HYBRID Hypercar’s 100% winning record was brought to an end at the start of its second season of competition. Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa started the campaign with a podium for second place following a valiant battle in their #8 GR010 HYBRID in a race won by Alpine.
But World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López did not see the chequered flag following an accident shortly before half distance. That put the #7 GR010 HYBRID out of the race, the first time that car has failed to finish since Le Mans 2017.
A difficult qualifying left the GR010 HYBRIDs in an unfamiliar grid position, with Sébastien starting fourth and Kamui seventh. That did not last long, however. Within four laps Sébastien moved up to third with Kamui just behind in fourth, joining an all-Hypercar battle for the podium positions.
When the two GR010 HYBRIDs made their first pit stops for a fuel top-up just before the hour mark, both overhauled the Glickenhaus. Second-placed Sébastien therefore led the chase of the leading Alpine, with Kamui following in the #7.
When the race entered its fourth hour, José had closed the gap on Brendon and, on lap 104, he overtook to move into second place. But facing a Balance of Performance deficit to the competition, neither GR010 HYBRID had a chance to challenge for the lead
Midway through the fourth hour, the complexion of the race changed. José clashed with a lapped GT car and made contact with the tyre barrier. He attempted to bring the damaged car back to the pits but impacted heavily against the tyre barrier a few corners later, although thankfully he could leave the car unaided and unhurt.
The race was red flagged for 34 minutes as a result, which proved to be unfortunate timing for the #8 car. Brendon had to make an emergency fuel stop during the safety car restart before a full pit stop as soon as racing resumed a lap later. Ryo took over the #8 car to make his WEC race debut.
He completed an impressive double stint to extend the #8 car’s advantage over the third-placed Glickenhaus before Sébastien took over the wheel for a final stint, which began with a full course yellow for debris on track.
With just over an hour remaining, the threat of lightening caused a red flag and, despite a brief attempt to restart behind the safety car, the race never resumed. The 2022 season continues in Europe, with the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on 7 May.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “Thank you for all your support during the opening round of the 2022 season. In the end, car #8 finished second and car #7 unfortunately had an incident so could not finish the race, but the important point is that José is okay. Both cars were able to compete at the same level but we were missing a bit of performance so we need to consider how to improve and come back as a stronger team together with the drivers. The Balance of Performance this time was tough, but I think it was good that we focused on delivering the best performance as a team, and we were able finish on the podium. For the rest of the season we will continue to fight and push the limits of the car. Unfortunately, I couldn’t win my first race in my new role; I will continue learning to become stronger and lead the team. So please continue to support us. Thank you.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “That was obviously not how we wanted to start our season. It is pretty frustrating because we were looking forward to a solid result. We didn’t have the pace to win but we had enough to be on the podium and that was the aim. I was gearing up to drive just as the incident happened so I didn’t get any laps today. It’s a pity but thankfully the car is strong and José is okay; that’s the main thing. Incidents like this can happen in endurance racing. The car can be repaired for Spa when we’ll pick up our season and push for a much better result.”
José María López (Driver, car #7): “I was running well and managed to get ahead of car #8. Unfortunately, I made contact with a GT car and damaged the front end. I tried to recover as quickly as possible but I misjudged how damaged the car was. As I was approaching turn 14, the front bodywork fell down due to the damage. I wasn’t able to steer or slow down properly, so I went straight into the barriers. It was a big one but the car is very safe so I am thankful for that. Thanks to the medics and everyone here at Sebring for looking after me. Everything is fine and I’m ready to race in the 12 Hours on Saturday. I just feel terribly sorry for the team and my team-mates.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “It was a crazy race, and a tough one for the team with the accident of car #7. We were having a good race with the sister car up to that point. But second was the best we could achieve today so we take those points towards the World Championship fight. We knew before coming to Sebring it was going to be a tough one. When you get points like this it is better than nothing, we want to win but it wasn’t possible today, so we move on to the next race.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “We had a pretty clean race. Séb did a good job on the first two stints. I took some older tyres and it was tough against José who put me under pressure. Unfortunately for him he had the incident. Ryo had a fantastic debut in car #8. We already have a good team spirit going, and he delivered a perfect race today. We didn’t have the pace to fight for the win but we did a faultless race and we can be satisfied with second. We’ll take these points and prepare for Le Mans and a World Championship challenge.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8): “I was able to finish on the podium in my first race with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing so I am happy. My first experience of the GR010 HYBRID in a race situation went well. It was not easy and getting through the LMP2 traffic was quite tricky. We made no mistakes and earned a podium which is a good result to start the season considering everything. We will keep pushing and now I am looking forward to racing in Spa.”