TOYOTA GAZOO Racing earned its first win of the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season after a dramatic, weather-affected 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, driving the #7 GR010 HYBRID, overcame a strong challenge from Hypercar competitors, as well as the notorious Ardennes weather, to win round two of the 2022 season, the final event before the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The team celebrated its sixth consecutive victory at Spa-Francorchamps with the #7 bouncing back from an accident at Sebring to make it seven wins out of eight races since the GR010 HYBRID was introduced at Spa in 2021.
Unfortunately, only one GR010 HYBRID reached the chequered flag at Spa. Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa were leading the race in their #8 car when an issue on the hybrid system forced its retirement after 90 minutes.
The race had started full of promise for the #8, with Sebastien moving up from fourth on the grid to second on the first lap. Mike was close behind in third, having briefly lost a spot when he was boxed in at the exit of the first corner.
On lap 16, the GR010 HYBRIDs hit the front, both overtaking the race-leading Glickenhaus on the same lap. Sebastien therefore led in the #8, but the race changed quickly when rain began to fall around the hour mark, followed by an LMP2 accident which caused a red flag.
After a 25-minute delay, the race resumed behind the safety car but the leading #8 stopped on the side of the track. As Sebastien stepped out of the car to retire, the rain got heavier and Mike brought the #7 into the pits for wet tyres, dropping to third.
Conditions worsened and caused further interruptions, including two more red flag periods, until the race restarted properly with just over two hours remaining, and Kamui running in second. He wasted little time in overtaking the #31 WRT for the lead as the rain stopped and track conditions started to improve.
Inside the last hour-and-a-half, Jose took the wheel of the #7, now on hybrid intermediate tyres, for the final stint. He resumed in the lead of a close battle for victory among the three Hypercar competitors until three full course yellows late in the race disrupted the fight at the front.
Jose controlled the final stages of the race as track conditions improved continuously and he crossed the line after six hours to win by 27.473secs from the #36 Alpine.
The team now makes the short journey back to Cologne to prepare for the highlight of the WEC season, the Le Mans 24 Hours on 11-12 June when it will challenge for a fifth consecutive victory.
Sebastien Buemi (Driver, car #8):
“I am obviously disappointed for our car because I think we had a very good race developing. We started fourth and made it up to first, then managed to save fuel and go a lap longer on our first stint. This is always helpful at tracks like this when you can get lots of full course yellows. But then we had an issue on the car and obviously had to stop. I am really happy for car #7. They have done a great job, and this is the first win of the year for the team so that’s fantastic. We need to understand better what happened on our car so that we can fight for the win at Le Mans next time out.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8):
“Clearly it’s disappointing not to score points today. It was looking really good. Seb had a great start in the first stint, then we had the issue. That’s racing sometimes. It’s obviously better that it happens here than at Le Mans but it’s a pity and it hurts our championship chances. On the other hand, I’m very happy for the team to win for the first time this season. Car #7 drove a great race to bring home the victory for the team. Now it’s full focus for the whole team on Le Mans.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8):
“Today was not our day on the #8 car, unfortunately. Like Brendon, I didn’t get to drive the car in the race. Seb had driven really well and put us in a strong position. But as a team it was a good performance and it’s great to get the first victory of the season. Congratulations to Mike, Kamui, Jose and everyone on the #7 car. Now we are fully dedicated to preparation for Le Mans. I am really looking forward to being part of the team at Le Mans for the first time, and fighting for the win at the big race.”
1st #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 103 laps
2nd #36 Alpine (Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxiviere) +27.473secs
3rd #31 WRT (Gelael/Frijns/Rast) +1min 6.185secs
4th #41 Realteam by WRT (Andrade/Habsburg/Nato) +1min 40.676secs
5th #38 JOTA (Gonzalez/Da Costa/Stevens) +1min 48.571secs
6th #5 Team Penske (Cameron/Collard/Nasr) +1min 57.610secs
DNF #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing
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