1000 Miles of Sebring: Preview
Season starts at Sebring for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will defend its FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) titles with an updated GR010 HYBRID Hypercar, which begins with the 1000 Miles of Sebring in Florida next week where Fujitsu Limited and JFE Steel will join as partners.
A successful debut season in 2021 saw the hybrid-powered, 700PS Hypercar win the Le Mans 24 Hours and both World Championships. It returns to action for the six-race 2022 WEC season with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing determined to retain those crowns.
The 2022-specification GR010 HYBRID will utilise different tyre and wheel sizes compared to its predecessor. At the front, 12.5 x 18inch magnesium alloy RAYS wheels will hold 29/71-18 Michelin tyres while at the rear, 34/71-18 rubber is fitted to 14 x 18inch wheels.
As a result of this change, small modifications were required to the bodywork to maintain air flow and stay within the aerodynamic performance window required by regulations, the most visible being the enlarged rear wind end plates and engine cover fin.
While the GR010 HYBRID remains essentially unchanged under the bodywork, the settings of its 3.5litre engine have been adjusted to accommodate new 100% renewable fuel which is introduced to WEC for 2022. The fuel, made from wine residues and agricultural material, reduces CO2 emissions by at least 65% and contributes to ongoing efforts to increase sustainability in motorsport.
As well as adjustments to the car for the new season, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing also benefits from a revised management structure. At Sebring, Kamui Kobayashi will participate in his first race in his new dual role, as Team Principal and driver of the #7 GR010 HYBRID, alongside fellow World Champions Mike Conway and José María López.
Kazuki Nakajima began his role of Vice Chairman at TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Europe, the operational base of the WEC team, in January following his retirement as a race driver. He will support team operations at races, as well as mentoring Ryo Hirakawa who joins the #8 line-up of Sébastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley. Ryo, who competed in the LMP2 class at Le Mans in 2016 and 2017, is ready for his first WEC season following comprehensive preparations at tests and in the driving simulator.
The team’s challenge in WEC is enhanced this season by two new partners, Fujitsu and JFE Steel, whose logos will be prominently displayed on the GR010 HYBRID and driver overalls. TOYOTA GAZOO Racing welcomes Fujitsu and JFE Steel, and extends its sincere thanks to all partners whose loyalty is vital to its success in WEC.
The 2022 season officially kicks off with a two-day Prologue test on 12-13 March, which represents the first time for the GR010 HYBRID to drive at the 6.019km Sebring International Raceway, the historic birthplace of American sportscar racing.
Race week sees a true festival of endurance racing, when huge crowds gather at the former military airfield to enjoy an eight-hour WEC race on Friday evening, followed on Saturday by the 70th running of the legendary Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, part of the US-based IMSA series.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s only previous visit to Sebring came in 2019, when a record crowd witnessed Sébastien, Kazuki and Fernando Alonso take victory, with Mike, Kamui and José completing a one-two for the TS050 HYBRID. The team targets a repeat of that result to make a perfect start to the 2022 season.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7):
“Everyone in the team is looking forward to start the 2022 season, especially at Sebring which is such a famous place for endurance racing. Last year we won Le Mans and the World Championships, so this is our target again. We found some areas to adjust the GR010 HYBRID last season so we have worked on those and I think our car will be more consistent now. Thanks to everyone in Toyota, our partners and the team members for the hard work and support to be ready for the 2022 WEC season. I am sure it will be an exciting year in the Hypercar class. We welcome the challenge from Peugeot, Glickenhaus and Alpine, and we look forward to giving the fans many memorable battles in the coming months. Thank you in advance for your support.”
Pascal Vasselon, Technical Director:
“The whole team is excited to be racing again and we feel in good shape following a very efficient pre-season testing programme. Development in the Hypercar class is tightly controlled by homologation rules. Consequently there are relatively few changes for our GR010 HYBRID in 2022. Hypercar manufacturers can choose between 31-31 or 29-34 tyres and this year we have moved to the 29-34 option, triggering some bodywork changes for cooling and to maintain aerodynamic performance within the homologation window. We expect this change to address challenges we faced last season with management of the rear tyres. Additionally, the introduction of the new renewable fuel meant the engine settings had to be adjusted to account for slightly different characteristics. This new fuel is an important step on the journey towards carbon neutrality for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing and WEC, so we are very supportive of such innovation. We have validated all changes during our winter tests and we will take the final preparation steps this weekend with the Prologue in Sebring before racing begins; we are impatient to get started.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7):
“Sebring is a fantastic circuit and a real highlight of the season for everyone. It’s great to see so many fans there to support us, and I enjoy being around the IMSA guys as well. It feels like a festival of sportscar racing and it’s a really positive atmosphere. It’s not an easy place for the first race of the season because it’s our first time there with the GR010 HYBRID and the track is pretty tough on the cars. It’s good we have the Prologue before to get familiar with the track and be ready for race week.”
José María López (Driver, car #7):
“I am looking forward to being in Sebring, especially after we missed the race for the last two years. It is always a special event, and it’s a special venue with the old-school concrete and bumps. It is going to be the first time to be there with the GR010 HYBRID so that is something to look forward to. And it’s the first race of the season which is always an exciting moment. We have our expectations but this is the first time to see how we are doing and how the others will perform.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8):
“It’s always exciting to start a new season and to do this in Sebring is really special. I have been looking forward to racing there again ever since our last visit in 2019. The fans are just great and they create a unique atmosphere with their enthusiasm for sportscar racing. But Sebring is also a very demanding circuit as the track surface is very bumpy which is tough on the car, and it’s usually hot and humid. So it will not be easy but we will work hard to prepare the car to allow us to fight for the win.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8):
“I am really looking forward to getting the 2022 WEC season underway. Sebring has an amazing history in endurance racing and it’s a unique track that brings many challenges. I think as drivers we all enjoy racing there and meeting the American fans. This will be our first race together with Ryo so we welcome him to the car #8 line-up. He has been doing a great job in testing and I’m confident this is the start a great partnership together with Séb.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8):
“It is very exciting to prepare for my first race in a Hypercar and my first trip to Sebring, which I heard is an incredible place with many passionate fans. I am looking forward to experiencing this, and being part of the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing team for the first time at a WEC race. Since the end of last season, I have done a lot of preparation in the simulator and at tests. There is a lot to learn but thanks to the support of the team, and particularly the other drivers, I feel ready for the challenge.”
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