The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing team, partnered by Acronis, suffered a rare defeat at the hands of rivals Alpine in the opening WEC race of the 2022 season but still managed a second place in the #8 GR010 HYBRID Hypercar.
Before the 1000 miles of Sebring, the GR010 HYBRID Hypercar had won every race to date. But after a tough qualifying left Sébastien Buemi starting fourth in the #8 and Kamui Kobayashi seventh in the #7 sister car, the team was up against it.
They soon made inroads after their first set of pit stops after the hour mark, Buemi moving up to second place with Kobayashi behind him. The task was now to catch the Alpine ahead. And with José María López overtaking on Brendon Hartley on lap 104 of the 194 lap race, it looked set for an exciting finish.
All of that changed midway through the fourth hour, however, when Lopez was compromised by the lapped Porsche GT car of Julien Andlauer, veering right off the circuit and impacting heavily with the barrier. Thankfully the Argentine emerged unscathed and the race red flagged for 34 minutes.
“I was running well and managed to get ahead of car #8,” reflected López. “Unfortunately, I made contact with a GT car and damaged the front end. I tried to recover as quickly as possible but I misjudged how damaged the car was. As I was approaching turn 14, the front bodywork fell down due to the damage. I wasn’t able to steer or slow down properly, so I went straight into the barriers.
“It was a big one but the car is very safe so I am thankful for that. Thanks to the medics and everyone here at Sebring for looking after me. Everything is fine and I’m ready to race in the 12 Hours on Saturday. I just feel terribly sorry for the team and my team-mates.”
When racing resumed behind the Safety Car, Hartley had to dive into the pits for an emergency fuel stop. And when racing resumed in earnest a lap later, a full pit stop requirement effectively put the #8 car out of the chance of victory before Ryo Hirakawa took over for his debut drive for the team and took the chequered flag for second place.
“We had a pretty clean race,” commented Hartley. “Séb did a good job on the first two stints. I took some older tyres and it was tough against José who put me under pressure. Unfortunately for him he had the incident. Ryo had a fantastic debut in car #8. We already have a good team spirit going, and he delivered a perfect race today. We didn’t have the pace to fight for the win but we did a faultless race and we can be satisfied with second. We’ll take these points and prepare for Le Mans and a World Championship challenge.”
Podium finisher and debutant Ryo Hirakawa added: “I was able to finish on the podium in my first race with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing so I am happy. My first experience of the GR010 HYBRID in a race situation went well. It was not easy and getting through the LMP2 traffic was quite tricky.
“We made no mistakes and earned a podium which is a good result to start the season considering everything. We will keep pushing and now I am looking forward to racing in Spa (May 7).”
Acronis are proud to be the official Artificial Intelligence Partner of the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing team, helping the team perform to the best of their capabilities through machine learning. To find out more, please visit https://www.acronis.com/en-us/lp/msp-sports/