Toyota City, Japan, Apr 17, 2023 – (JCN Newswire via SEAPRWire.com) – TOYOTA GAZOO Racing maintained its winning start to the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) with victory in a dramatic 6 Hours of Portimao.
Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, the reigning World Champions and 2022 Le Mans winners in the #8 GR010 HYBRID, delivered a faultless performance in Portugal to dominate the race and win by a lap from the #50 Ferrari and the #6 Porsche.
However, there were contrasting emotions for Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez in the #7 GR010 HYBRID. After winning the season-opener at Sebring four weeks ago, they took a ninth-place finish, after losing 11 minutes when race officials ordered a mandatory sensor to be replaced.
A fourth consecutive Hypercar win means TOYOTA GAZOO Racing extends its World Championship advantage to 18 points over Ferrari with five rounds remaining. Sebastien, Brendon and Ryo move to the top of the drivers’ standings and hold an 11-point lead over the #50 Ferrari crew. Mike, Kamui and Jose are a further two behind in third.
On the warmest day of the event, the on-track action was equally hot and a close race between the GR010 HYBRIDs began from the very start. At the first corner, Mike squeezed ahead of pole-sitting Sebastien, who dropped to third when the #51 Ferrari also got through. However, Sebastien got his revenge with a brave overtake on lap four to reclaim second place.
Mike led by five seconds at that point but soon came across lapped traffic and Sebastien gradually reduced the gap. The two GR010 HYBRIDs swapped positions on lap 33, shortly before the first round of pit stops, which saw the #8 maintain its lead.
The race took a dramatic turn after 80 minutes when the team was instructed to change a rear-left driveshaft sensor on the #7 GR010 HYBRID. According to Hypercar regulations, performance is monitored by standardised torque sensors on the driveshafts, which must function at all times.
Mechanics from both car #7 and #8 worked in tandem to change the complete rear-left corner of the car in an impressive 11 minutes, allowing Jose to resume the race in 34th, seven laps down but with still with hope of scoring points.
That left Sebastien with a half-minute lead over the #50 Ferrari which he maintained through to the two-hour mark, when he handed over to Ryo.
Ryo had further extended his advantage by half distance, and the next round of pit stops, while Jose had fought up to 22nd. Brendon took over the lead with two hours remaining as Kamui moved back into the Hypercar points to continue the #7 car’s recovery.
Brendon kept up the pace at the front and lapped the second-placed Ferrari late in the fifth hour, earning a valuable cushion in the event of a safety car. That proved timely when the Vanwall crashed a few minutes later and a safety car compressed the field.
When racing resumed after a 12-minute pause, Brendon was able to immediately make his final pit stop for fuel without losing the lead and he safely navigated the closing stages to take the chequered flag after 222 laps for the team’s 41st win in its 78th WEC race. Mike, who set the fastest lap of the race in the early stages, completed the last stint at the wheel of the #7 car.
The WEC season resumes in just two weeks with the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday 29 April, the final round before the centenary edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours on 10-11 June.
For more information, visit https://toyotagazooracing.com/wec/release/2023/rd02-race/.
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