TOYOTA GAZOO Racing earned a dominant one-two victory in the season-ending 8 Hours of Bahrain to secure a clean sweep of FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) titles.
Outgoing World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López took a hard-earned win, their second of the season in their #7 GR010 HYBRID, to crown TOYOTA GAZOO Racing as Hypercar manufacturers’ World Champions.
Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, in the #8 GR010 HYBRID, had started the weekend level on points with their Alpine title rivals but finished second to become drivers’ World Champions, adding to their 2022 Le Mans 24 Hours win.
Sébastien and Brendon write their names in the record books as the first drivers to win three titles in the top category of WEC or its predecessor, the World Sportscar Championship. Ryo, 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.
Success in WEC ensures TOYOTA GAZOO Racing achieves the unique feat of winning every available title, eight in total, in the three FIA series it participated in this season: the World Endurance, World Rally and World Rally Raid Championships.
The race began under bright Bahraini sunshine, with air temperatures of 35°C, and the on-track action was equally hot. Sébastien led from pole while José fought with the #36 Alpine, losing third at the start before regaining the place three laps later, following a safety car period.
Sébastien held off the challenge of the #93 Peugeot, with José firmly in contention in third. Just six seconds covered the top three when the opening pit stops arrived after an hour, during which José leapfrogged the #93 for second and closed to the rear of the #8, before Sébastien edged out an advantage.
When a technical problem sidelined the #93 after two hours, a full course yellow allowed both GR010 HYBRIDs to swap drivers. Brendon took over the #8, with Mike in the #7, and they battled throughout their first stint, separated by less than a second until Mike took the lead early in the fourth hour as the sun set over Bahrain International Circuit.
Mike pushed hard to build a gap and at half distance he led by a few seconds going into the next pit stops, when Kamui took the wheel. A lap later, Brendon’s stint ended and Ryo brought the #8 back on track directly behind the #7.
Kamui gradually extended his advantage to 15 seconds by the end of the fifth hour, doubling the #7 car’s lead over the next hour before José and Sébastien returned to their respective cockpits with less than two hours remaining.
Further driver changes with 45 minutes to go left Mike to take the chequered flag, finishing 45.471secs clear of Brendon in the #8. That triggered title celebrations to bring the curtain down on an exciting Hypercar season after 58 hours of competition covering 10,620km since the first race in Sebring eight months ago.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing has one remaining appointment in the 2022 season, the official WEC rookie test at Bahrain International Circuit. LMP2 driver Lilou Wadoux has been nominated by WEC to drive the GR010 HYBRID and she will therefore become the first female Hypercar driver during Sunday’s test.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “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 #8 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 #7): “It feels great to win the race and be part of a one-two for the team. Congratulations to Kamui, José and the whole #7 crew who did a stellar job here, and also to car #8 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 a lot of the eight hours. Car #8 kept us on our toes as always until Kamui pulled out a good gap which made it more comfortable. Everyone on our car executed 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 #7): “Well done to the guys on car #8 who really deserve this championship after a very strong season; hats off to them. 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. I really enjoyed starting the race today, it’s good fun to battle closely with all the other Hypercars. 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 #8): “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 #7 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 #8): “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 #7 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 #8): “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 doesn’t feel real yet, I need some time to get used to 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.”