Toyota Opens Hypercar Convergence Era With Sebring 1-2
Toyota's Gazoo Racing Le Mans prototype program has not faced factory competition in its top class since 2017. They have essentially run unopposed in the years since, winning every 24 Hours of Le Mans and FIA World Endurance Championship held from 2018 to 2022. All of that changed when Porsche, Ferrari, Cadillac, and Peugeot joined the category this year, but, through one race, the results have not.
While Ferrari driver Antonio Fuoco took a surprise pole on the debut of the company's much-anticipated 499 P, the AF Corse team running both cars chose to pit each on a caution for a rolled GTE-Am car just five laps into the race. That cleared the way for both leading Toyotas, who exchanged the lead throughout the day and never faced a serious challenge from any of the other four manufacturers in the field again. The No. 7 GRo10 of Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez, and team-principal-slash-driver Kamui Kobayashi would go on to take the race win, with the No. 8 collecting a solid haul of WEC points in second.
Two laps back, the No. 50 Ferrari completed the podium in the company's first factory-backed, top-level sports car race since the early 1970s. The team No. 51 car ran competitively throughout the day, but late contact with a GTE-Am Ferrari would knock it down to seventh in class and 15th overall. Cadillac's lone Chip Ganassi Racing-run V-Series.R and the pair of full-season Porsche Penske Motorsports 963s finished fourth through sixth, respectively, after struggling to match the Toyotas on pace and maintain grip late in tire stints throughout the day. All seven cars from the four manufacturers would finish, though, and that marks a successful day.
It was a less successful event for Peugeot, which saw mechanical issues strike both of its 9X8s early and often. One 9X8 also struck the ByKolles-run Vanwall hypercar, while the lone Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus 007 slowed repeatedly with powertrain issues.
In LMP2, the No. 48 Jota entry beat the No. 22 United Autosports car to the line by three seconds. Corvette Racing's No. 33 won GTE-Am by two laps, now the only GT class after the official end of professional GTE-spec racing last season.
The FIA World Endurance Championship races twice more, first at Portimao and then at Spa, before the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The next race is in mid-April.
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