2023 WEC World title for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing after Fuji win
TORONTO, Ontario – September 11, 2023 – TOYOTA GAZOO Racing earned a thrilling one-two victory on home ground in the 6 Hours of Fuji to clinch the manufacturers’ title in the penultimate race of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López took victory in their #7 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 #8 GR010 HYBRID, finishing just 39.119secs behind.
The #7 car’s fourth win of 2023 keeps their drivers’ World Championship challenge alive going into the seventh and final race, with the #8 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, Mike was pushed down to third and Sébastien fell to sixth he was being hit by the #50 Ferrari at a chaotic turn one. When racing resumed after a first-lap safety car, Mike was then edged off track whilst fighting for second and dropped to fourth while Sébastien overtook the #2 Cadillac for fifth.
An exciting battle between World Championship contenders TOYOTA GAZOO Racing and Ferrari saw the GR010 HYBRIDs come out on top. Mike and Sébastien both fought their way past the two Ferraris and, when the leading #6 Porsche pitted for fuel, the #7 led from the #8 after the first hour.
The pressure at the front increased after the first driver changes, which came around the two-hour mark. José immediately set the fastest lap of the race and closed to within striking distance of the #6 Porsche during a charging stint, with Ryo also closing the gap in the third-placed #8.
José 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 Ryo, who eventually passed José before making a bold overtake for the lead at the end of the fourth hour.
A few minutes later, the final driver changes saw Brendon take over in the lead, with Kamui a close second. Kamui was the fastest car on track and soon took the lead, stretching his advantage as Brendon fended off brief pressure from the #6 Porsche into the final hour of the race.
Kamui 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. Brendon crossed the line in second for the #8 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.
Koji Sato (President, Toyota Motor Corporation and Chairman of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Europe)
“Together with our Japanese fans and partners who support our challenge in WEC, at the 6 Hours of Fuji, the sixth round of the season, the #7 car won from pole position and the #8 car completed a one-two victory. To make the victory even more special, we also secured the manufacturers’ World Championship. Thank you to everyone who supported us to achieve this.
Today, many fans were watching the race and waving TGR flags. I myself was watching the race from the pit, and it was very reassuring to see the enthusiastic support and smiling faces of everyone in the grandstand directly in front of me, even though the race was so tough. I think it was a great source of encouragement for the team to take on the challenges of this race, so I really appreciate all our fans here.
What I realized at this race was the team strength that has been built under Team Principal Kamui. Because they are able to communicate on a daily basis, they can think for themselves and act independently for the benefit of the team. The combination of such actions by each individual gave us the strength to win the close battle in the end.
The turning point this year for the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WEC team was the disappointment at Le Mans, and Chairman Toyoda’s words: “I want my team to play sports.” Chairman Toyoda’s thoughts were embedded in this team and ignited their spirit. At our home race, I think we were able to demonstrate the true strength of one team that we have been striving for since then.
This weekend, not only were the WEC team competing but also the All Japan Rally Team competed in their own championship in Hokkaido with Morizo, and TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT drove in Greece in the World Rally Championship. Although the fields of competition are different, what we all have in common is our desire to bring more smiles to people’s faces through motorsport. I want to convey the appeal of cars using all five senses. We want to improve our cars through motorsport and make our customers happy. With this idea as our starting point, we will continue to take on the challenge of creating more smiles through WEC.
We will continue to fight with all our might as one team in the next round in Bahrain, the final race of the season.
Ritomo Miyata, who had the last-minute chance to join the race with Kessel Racing, showed a great performance on the world stage in his first WEC appearance. Congratulations on getting third place and a podium! Thank you to everyone at Kessel Racing for giving Ritomo this valuable opportunity to take on the challenge, and to Mr. Takeshi Kimura for reaching out to us with this opportunity.”
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7):
“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 really 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 #7):
“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 #7):
“It feels good to win at Fuji, our fourth win of an incredible year for car #7. 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 #8):
“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 #7, congratulations to them.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8):
“A one-two for the team in front of our home fans to win the world title. That was the mission today 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 #7 drove a strong race and deserved this victory.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8):
“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
1st #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 229 laps
2nd #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +39.119secs
3rd #6 Porsche Penske (Estre/Lotterer/Vanthoor) +47.768secs
4th #50 Ferrari AF Corse (Fuoco/Molina/Nielsen) +1 lap
5th #51 Ferrari AF Corse (Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi) +1 lap
6th #38 Hertz Team Jota (Da Costa/Stevens/Ye) +1 lap
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