Toyota Sebring masterclass sets standard for new Hypercar era

Toyota offered up an impressive demonstration of their Hypercar credentials at the first round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship season at Sebring International Raceway, Florida. The Japanese manufacturer, now in its 12th season of WEC competition, showed the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and Cadillac how to put together a perfect race.

Despite missing out on the first pole position of the season, the pair of Toyotas made an excellent start to the race and remained within striking distance of the leading #50 Ferrari in the opening stages.

A full-course-yellow period for a stricken Ferrari GTE Am car saw both Ferraris pit, handing the track-position advantage to the Toyotas. The two GR010 Hybrids remained close on track throughout the race, with the gap rarely extending beyond 15 seconds. Ultimately, the team managed the second half of the race to record a comfortable one-two finish.

Starting the season with maximum points is the #7 GR010 Hybrid crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María Lopéz, with reigning champions Buemi/Hartley/Hirakawa in the #8 Toyota in second position.

Ferrari quickest of the new teams

Ferrari made a promising start to their FIA WEC odyssey with a podium finish at Sebring International Raceway. Having already made waves with pole position on Thursday, the #50 of Fuoco/Molina/Nielsen stayed largely out of trouble to prevail ahead of Cadillac and Porsche.

Amato Ferrari, owner of the AF Corse team running the cars, was pleased with the performance in the US: “I am delighted with the cars reliability and the performance. The pole secured on Thursday was a magical moment for us. We leave Sebring knowing we are on the right track and have a wealth of information to work with.”

The #51 Ferrari was involved in a collision with a GTE Am car, which damaged the rear of the car and cost the team multiple laps in the pits. The car was able to be repaired and finished the race 11 laps down.

Cadillac and Porsche serve up wheel-to-wheel racing

Some of the most exciting in the 1000 Miles of Sebring was delivered by newcomers Cadillac and Porsche with their brand-new LMDh machinery. Cadillac, making its debut in the WEC with the Cadillac V.Series.R, appeared to have the advantage on tyre wear over the Porsches, with the #2 car of Alex Lynn, Richard Westbrook and Earl Bamber finishing just 10 seconds behind the third-placed Ferrari.

Porsche, on the other hand, appeared to struggle quite significantly at various stages of the race, particularly at the rear. The team cited “huge challenges” at the WEC season opener, as the new Porsche 963 made its series debut.

“We did the best we could with what we currently have today and made significant progress compared to the IMSA series season opener at Daytona,” said Thomas Laudenbach, Vice President of Porsche Motorsport. “The reliability of our two Porsche 963 was not an issue this weekend. However, it became very obvious that we still have some catching up to do in many areas. Compared to the competition, we lack performance.”

The #5 963 of Cameron/Christensen/Makowiecki finished in fifth position and the #6 machine of Estre/Lotterer/Vanthoor came home in sixth.

Peugeot’s race to forget

Peugeot made a nightmare start to their 2023 campaign with a disastrous 1000 Miles Sebring. Lack of downforce due to the unique characteristics of the Floridian track may have been expected, but issues with the transmission on both cars certainly won’t have been.

The #94 9X8 ground to a halt on the first lap and was forced to pit, while the #93 machine had a hybrid issue that required repairs. Both cars crossed the finishing line, gathering valuable data for the team, both only the #93 car was classified, finishing 26 laps down on the winning car.

Mixed fortunes for the Hypercar privateers

Floyd Vanwall Racing made a positive start to their FIA WEC season with the Vanwall Vandervell 680. The car ran smoothly, albeit not at the pace of the leading hybrid-powered hypercars, for much of the race until a mechanical issue cost the team 30 minutes in the pits. 

Glickenhaus Racing’s lack of winter testing showed at Sebring, with the car struggling on pace compared to the rest of the field. The team retired two hours into the race after suffering a terminal engine issue.

LMP2 goes down to the wire

Hertz Team Jota continued their preparations for their Porsche 963 Hypercar programme later this year with victory in the LMP2 category, despite a late pit stop for fuel. The margin of victory ahead of the second-placed #22 United Autosports entry was just 2.8 seconds. The #63 Prema Racing Oreca of Dorian Pin, Mirko Bortolotti and Daniil Kvyat came home in third on their first start as an LMP2 trio.

Keating Corvette dominant in GTE Am

Ben Keating made a winning start to his 2023 season in the #33 Corvette C8.R together with Nicky Catsburg and Nico Varrone. The pole-sitting #85 Iron Dames Porsche suffered underfloor damage after an off-track incident for driver Rahel Frey. The team eventually finished eight.

Rounding out the GTE Am podium were the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche and the #57 Kessel Racing Ferrari.

The next round of the FIA WEC takes places on 17 April in Portimão, Portugal.

A full list of results can be found here.