TOYOTA GAZOO Racing got back on track for the first time following the Le Mans 24 Hours with the opening practice sessions for the 6 Hours of Monza, the fifth round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.
The team made a productive start to practice for a pivotal weekend in the World Championship battle as it prepares to fight for its fourth victory of the season to strengthen its lead in the manufacturers’ and drivers’ standings.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in their #7 GR010 HYBRID, set the pace on day one in Italy with a lap of 1min 36.363secs to top the timing sheets by 0.170secs from the #50 Ferrari. World Championship leaders Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa were third fastest in their #8 GR010 HYBRID, a further 0.153secs back.
Competition was exceptionally close amongst the field of 13 Hypercars at the historic, high-speed Autodromo Nazionale Monza with less than a second separating the top eight.
Work to prepare the GR010 HYBRIDs for Sunday’s race began in earnest late on a warm summer morning, with a 90-minute first practice session. Both cars focused on comparing different aerodynamic and mechanical settings, as well as control systems, to establish baseline set-ups for the rest of the event.
With no repeat of the rain which hit the track on Thursday morning, the session proceeded cleanly until a red flag two minutes before the end. Mike’s early lap was the benchmark for the #7 car on its way to the fourth quickest time, while Sébastien set the best lap in the #8, which finished the session in sixth.
In the late afternoon session, both GR010 HYBRIDs focused on the two compounds of Michelin tyres available in Monza. As well as performance, the durability of the medium and hard compounds was also analysed on an afternoon when track temperatures came close to 50°C.
Early flying laps from Kamui and Brendon proved to be the best of the session for their respective cars, meaning the #7 was fastest in second practice and on the combined timesheets for the day, with the #8 in third.
After three hours of uninterrupted and trouble-free running on Friday, the team has substantial data to work with to optimise set-up around the 5.793km parkland circuit, where top speed and braking performance are key to fast lap times.
Saturday sees a final morning practice before the grid is decided in a 15-minute qualifying, which begins at 15.30 CEST for Hypercars. The Six Hours of Monza begins on Sunday at 12.30 CEST.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “It’s nice to be back in the car after Le Mans. We made a decent start to the week and everything ran well. One of our priorities was to test both tyre compounds to understand which tyres are best for us in the race because this will be a crucial point. We have also made positive progress on car balance and we will keep working on this. The gap between the leading Hypercars is quite small so we need to focus on car performance. We will push hard and let’s see tomorrow who will be on top in qualifying.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “It’s good to be back in Italy, one of my favourite places, at such a historic circuit as Monza. We rolled out with a decent balance, so we spent the day trying to extract more performance. The car feels quite consistent so it will be important to be on the right tyre at the right time. It’s cool to see the Hypercars all within a few tenths of each other. This will make qualifying extremely tight, and it should be exciting. We will do our best and try to bag a good result on Sunday.”
José María López (Driver, car #7): “It was a positive day. We ran without issues, so we put some decent miles on the car. The lap times very tight so it’s hard to know exactly where everyone stands. We had two productive sessions working on trying to find the balance, particularly on things which are important at Monza like braking and aerodynamics. To be quick here you need to have a good car under braking and strong top speed. It was hot out there today and it looks like Sunday could be even hotter.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “I am very happy to be back at Monza, especially on a nice day after the rain of yesterday. It was good to have such conditions so we could do a lot of laps, trying different tyre sets and wing levels. Looking at second practice, we seem to be competitive, but this is just the start of the weekend. We know we have to work hard, study the data and get as much performance out of the car as we can. With the Hypercar field so close, it will be important to execute a clean race weekend with no mistakes.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “It’s been a smooth opening day, with no major issues on the cars. It looks like it is very close at the top and it’s hard to predict at this stage who has the advantage for qualifying. It could be a fight between five different manufacturers. We will focus a bit on qualifying but obviously the bigger priority is the race and that will be an incredibly tight battle as well. We are working through our programme, testing things on set-up and the different tyre compounds. The week has started well.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8): “During today’s two practice sessions we were testing a few different things to improve the car set-up to optimise the balance, as well as tyre testing in the hot temperatures. It looks like it’s going to be hotter on race day so it will be even more challenging for the tyres then. We have made good progress so far and the car feels pretty strong. We will keep pushing to optimise everything and get ourselves ready for the race.”
6 Hours of Monza - Free Practice 1
#51 Ferrari AF Corse (Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi)