Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR) returned to winning ways with a hard-fought victory on its rival’s home ground in an exciting 6 Hours of Monza, the fifth round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).

In front of a passionate 65,000 crowd, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López saw off an intense challenge from the local heroes to win for the third time this season in their #7 GR010 HYBRID, by 16.520secs from the #50 Ferrari.

A determined comeback drive from Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa in the #8 GR010 HYBRID saw the World Champions recover from the back of the field. They crossed the line fourth but were handed a post-race penalty and dropped to sixth.

TGR’s fourth win of the season is the perfect response to a frustrating Le Mans 24 Hours and extends the team’s World Championship lead to 26 points. Victory brings the #7 crew back into the drivers’ title race and they now lie second, 23 points behind their #8 colleagues.

On another warm summer day, the action on track was equally hot from the opening lap when Mike led the 36-car field into the tight first chicane from pole position. He jostled for the lead, but Sébastien, starting third, made contact with the #51 Ferrari and dropped to eighth.

After 15 minutes, Mike led from the #50 Ferrari and #93 Peugeot, when an incident between the #8 and a GT car brought out the safety car again. The #8 was not damaged but its chances were hit when stewards imposed a 10secs penalty for the first incident and a further 60secs for the second.

The safety car brought the chasing pack right on Mike’s tail and when racing resumed he dropped to third. Sébastien took his 60secs penalty and resumed in 34th place, losing a lap to the leader soon after.

Mike put pressure on the leaders as the first pit stops approached at the one-hour mark, but lost valuable seconds when manoeuvring around a car pitting in the adjacent garage. At his stop, Sébastien served his other penalty and began the #8 car’s fightback.

Third-placed Mike was the quickest car on track in his second stint on the hard tyres and moved into the lead during the next pit stops. José continued the battle, fighting past the #5 Porsche to effectively lead the race shortly before an LMP2 incident caused a safety car early in the third hour.

When off-strategy rivals pitted behind the safety car, José hit the front and began building an advantage over the #50 Ferrari, twice setting new fastest laps in the process. Meanwhile the #8, now with Ryo at the wheel, fought its way up to seventh.

Smart strategy and a string of quick laps from Ryo helped the #8 return to the lead lap by the time Brendon took over to push for a top-six finish. At the front, José’s efforts during the fourth hour paid off and he handed over the #7 to Kamui with a substantial advantage over the two Ferraris.

However, a safety car eliminated that 45secs gap and set up an exciting last 90 minutes with Kamui defending a slender lead from the #50 Ferrari. The #8 car’s misfortune continued when they had to make an emergency fuel stop under the safety car, and then a full pit stop when racing resumed, dropping Brendon to eighth.

Kamui set about rebuilding his advantage and led by around 10secs when he made his final pit stop with 45 minutes to go, after minimising the time lost on old tyres compared to the Ferrari on new tyres. An exceptional pit stop by the mechanics helped Kamui return to the track ahead of his rival.

With fresh rubber, Kamui set the fastest lap and pulled clear to win by 16.520secs from the #50 Ferrari. The #8 crew’s never-give-up approach paid dividends as Brendon battled into fourth place in a frantic final 15 minutes by overtaking their World Championship rivals in the #51 Ferrari, and the #5 Porsche. Post-race, the #8 was handed a 50secs penalty for briefly and unintentionally exceeding a powertrain power limit on one lap.

The chequered flag brought the European leg of the 2023 season to a close. Hypercar competition will return on 10 September for TGR’s home race, the 6 Hours of Fuji, the penultimate race of a season which concludes in Bahrain in November.

Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “I am very happy with that result. It was a really close battle, and we had to push hard because the competition was very strong. The key was making no mistakes throughout the race and managing the tyres. I had a long stint at the end which was hard and quite tense. But it was great to fight with Ferrari and, after our result at Le Mans, it is nice to get a bit of revenge over them today. Thanks to the team, as well as our partners and sponsors who really supported us a lot after Le Mans. This was a good team result after car #8 fought back to score good points. They showed why it’s important to never give up. We have two races to go and we will do our best to win both World Championships. I am sure it will be a close fight.”

Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “It’s nice to beat Ferrari on their home ground so big thanks to the crew and my team-mates. The pit stops were really solid and all the calls from the pit wall worked out well too. It feels good to win again and get a decent haul of points for the team. We had to really fight for it. We knew this race would be all about tyre management and there were some different strategies going on out there. We executed our plan well and whenever we lost ground, with getting the hard tyres up to temperature or a safety car, we managed to claw it back. José drove well to build a gap and Kamui put in a very strong last stint to win it.”

José María López (Driver, car #7): “After a tough Le Mans, it was important to bounce back and everyone did a fantastic job. It was a tough race, but the car felt good. We had a strong pace, perfect pit stops and the right strategy. It feels great to get our third win of the year, especially because this puts us back in the game for the World Championship. I felt very comfortable in the car. I could attack, get into the lead and build up a nice gap. At the same time, you always know that in endurance racing the gap can be reset very quickly and the safety car made it tricky at the end for Kamui. He had a really hard job, but we finished on top, and it feels nice to win at a track like this in front of the tifosi.”

Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “It has been a mixed day in terms of emotions. Car #7 winning the race is very good, congratulations to them for a strong performance. For our car it was a difficult race. I had the contact at the start and got a penalty for that, then the incident with the Aston Martin. I’d like to apologise to them for that. Of course, from there we tried to fight as hard as we could to make up positions and we managed to get quite a few points on the board. But it has been a difficult day and we hope for a better race next time at Fuji.”

Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “First of all, massive congratulations to the team for the win. Car #7 did an amazing weekend, starting with Kamui taking pole. They took the fight to Ferrari. On our car we had a tough race with the incidents at the beginning which put us a lap down. We had an amazing fight back and I had a great battle with the #51 who we are fighting against in the World Championship. I enjoyed the wheel-to-wheel action. It was tough doing three stints in these conditions; it was a challenge, but it was great fun. We didn’t stand on the podium today, but we can be happy with the performance.”

Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8): “It’s nice to see car #7 winning, especially at Ferrari’s home race, so congratulations to them for a great drive. Unfortunately, on our car we had the penalties early in the race, but we never gave up and we were able to make up a lot of positions. We kept fighting right until the chequered flag, as you saw with Brendon overtaking the Ferrari and the Porsche in the final minutes. In the end, I am happy with how we performed today and we earned some important points for the World Championship. Now we go to our home race at Fuji and it’s exciting to race in front of our home fans against so many Hypercars.”

6 Hours of Monza - Race

1st #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 200 laps
2nd #50 Ferrari AF Corse (Fuoco/Molina/Nielsen)   +16.520secs
3rd #93 Peugeot TotalEnergies (Di Resta/Jensen/Vergne)  +1min 18.179secs
4th #5 Porsche Penske (Cameron/Christensen/Makowiecki)     +1 lap
5th #51 Ferrari AF Corse (Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi)  +1 lap
6th #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing    +1 lap