TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s GR010 HYBRID Hypercar will make its home debut when the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) returns to Japan for the 6 Hours of Fuji after a three-year absence.
The penultimate round of the 2022 WEC season sees the series return to Fuji Speedway, located 100km west of Tokyo, for the first time since October 2019 and TOYOTA GAZOO Racing targets a fifth consecutive victory on its home track.
Close competition over the first four races of the season sees TOYOTA GAZOO Racing lead the manufacturers’ standings by 15 points from Alpine following a dramatic 6 Hours of Monza in July.
The 2022 Le Mans winners Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, in the #8 GR010 HYBRID, were runners-up in Italy and are second in the drivers’ championship, 10 points behind the leading Alpine crew.
Reigning champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López finished third at Monza after having contact with another car whilst leading the race, and they aim for a second win of the year in their #7 GR010 HYBRID.
Both Kamui and Ryo have already raced at Fuji Speedway this year, in Super Formula. Ryo won the season-opening race there in April to add to his Super GT victory there in 2020.
The GR010 HYBRID will race for the first time in front of Japanese fans and partners this weekend, although the 2021 Le Mans-winning example has been exhibited around the country since it made history by becoming the first Hypercar to win at La Sarthe.
Fuji Speedway is more than a home race for the team. The hybrid powertrain in the GR010 HYBRID is designed, developed and built just a few kilometres from the track and, for many colleagues from Higashi-Fuji Technical Center, this weekend’s race is their first chance to see the car in action.
The 4.563km track, which is the shortest on the WEC calendar despite its 1.5km start-finish straight, is also the most successful circuit for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, which has won seven of the eight WEC races, missing out on the top step of the podium only in a difficult 2015 season.
Historically, Fuji Speedway played a significant role in Toyota’s endurance racing development. The iconic 2000GT sportscar showed its speed with wins in the 1967 24-hour and 1000km races, whilst the Toyota 7 wrote itself into legend with fearsome performances there, including victories in the Fuji 1000km in 1968 and 1969.
The All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, a national series for Le Mans-style cars, brought Toyota back into front-line sportscar competition in the 1980s and it became a regular winner at Fuji Speedway, which also hosted Japan’s first World Sportscar Championship race in 1982.
The circuit, on the foothills of Mount Fuji, was upgraded in 2005 and, while the track lay-out remains unchanged since the first modern WEC race there in 2012, the surroundings will look different thanks to the development of a new motorsport resort, including museum, driving centre, visitor entertainment and hotel.
The always-enthusiastic Japanese fans get their first chance to see the Hypercars at Fuji Speedway on Friday, when two 90-minute practice sessions are scheduled. Final practice on Saturday prepares the teams for an early afternoon qualifying, while the race begins at 11am local time on Sunday, 4am CEST.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “I am excited to race the GR010 HYBRID in front of our Japanese fans for the first time. It was a pity that WEC couldn’t visit Japan for a few years but that only makes this weekend even more special. As well as the race, it is also an opportunity to meet our colleagues at Toyota Motor Corporation, particularly our powertrain division at Higashi-Fuji, and our Japanese partners who are all important members of our team. We are determined to give them something to cheer. Missing out on the win at Monza was disappointing but we didn’t have the pace; we need to be stronger in Fuji. Of course, our target as a team is to retain both World Championships, therefore we want to win this weekend. Our competition is strong and it will be another challenging race, but that helps us to become better as a team. We will do our very best to be back in the middle of the podium in front of our home fans.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “It feels like a long time since our last race at Monza but we have regrouped and will come back refreshed for the last two races. It has not been the best season on our side of the garage so we are all pushing to have a clean race and fight at the front in Fuji. It’s our home race and the team has been successful there in the past, so obviously we want to keep that winning run going. It will not be easy, as we saw in Monza, because the competition in Hypercar just gets tougher, and the #8 car is always strong. But we will push hard to have a good race for our home fans.”
José María López (Driver, car #7): “I am happy to be going back to Japan. It is a great place to race and I love being around the Japanese fans, who are so passionate about motorsport. It is more special to go there as part of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing because it is our home event and we can meet many colleagues who are not able to visit the races in Europe. Fuji is a great circuit and I have some nice memories of racing there. The long straight should suit our car, which has good top speed, and I think we can be strong this weekend.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “Fuji is a special race for us and I have been fortunate enough to win there three times, so it is a good circuit for me. Obviously it is important for the team to have a strong race at Fuji because it is our home race, and the first time for WEC to be there since 2019. Our colleagues at Higashi-Fuji are a big part of the team so it will be great to see them again, and we will push to get a result to celebrate together. It will not be easy and the competition will be tough as it has been all season, so we need to find the right set-up and execute a clean race.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “It’s exciting to finally go back to Fuji after such a long gap since we won there in 2019. The fans always create such a unique atmosphere, particularly as it is the home event for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, and we feel very welcome there. Of course, Fuji is famous for the long start-finish straight and it will be an awesome feeling to drive our GR010 HYBRID flat-out for 1.5km past our home fans. It’s getting to the business end of the season and we are only 10 points behind in the drivers’ championship, so our target is to close that gap, hopefully with a win.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8): “This will be my first home race in WEC so I am really looking forward to racing in front of our Japanese fans at Fuji. I have raced very often at Fuji in Super GT, Super Formula and my junior racing, so I know it better than any other circuit in WEC. I have had many strong races there and I already won a race there this season, so I feel well prepared for this weekend. We have only two races to go and we are still fighting for both World Championships so we will keep pushing. The goal is quite clear; we want to win again so we will give our maximum effort for that.”