The 2023 season of the FIA World Endurance Championship has witnessed another thrilling showdown at the track, with the No. 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 Hybrid Hypercar trio emerging victorious once again. The formidable team of Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez, and Mike Conway secured their fourth win of the season, navigating the twists and turns of the racecourse with precision, leaving their competitors trailing in their wake.
The No. 8 sister car, piloted by Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi, and Ryo Hirakawa, put up a strong fight throughout the race, but ultimately had to settle for second place. The margin of victory was slim, with the winning Toyota team crossing the finish line just 39.119 seconds ahead.
FIA WEC Fuji: HYPERCAR | LMP2 | LMGTE AM
The race began with a burst of high drama as the cars stormed into the first corner. Contact was inevitable, and among the unfortunate victims were the No.50 Ferrari driven by Molina and the No.8 Toyota piloted by Buemi. The No.51 Ferrari of Calado tangled with the No.5 Porsche Penske of Christensen, causing a right rear puncture for Christensen, who had to pit for a replacement tire under the safety car.
As the race continued, Laurens Vanthoor in the No.6 Porsche Penske managed to snatch the lead and build a strong buffer over the Hypercar field in his first stint. The Belgian driver handed over the lead to Estre just before the third hour arrived, allowing the No.7 Toyota driven by Mike Conway and the No.8 Toyota with Sebastien Buemi to take the top positions.
Vanthoor had earlier pitted early, briefly giving up the lead as the Toyotas surged to the front, with Conway and Buemi leading the pack. After the first scheduled stops, Vanthoor regained the lead with a 15-second advantage over the two Toyotas, which ran in second and third place.
The Hertz Team Jota, despite some challenges, held onto fourth place after choosing to double stint their tires. Antonio Felix da Costa had a busy first hour, including two off-track excursions and contact with the LMP2 Jota driven by David Heinemeier Hansson. Da Costa was later forced to take a drive-through penalty for the collision and slipped to the rear of the Hypercar field.
In another part of the race, Harry Tincknell in the Proton Competition Porsche 963 had a strong performance, clearing the two Peugeot TotalEnergies 9X8s and hunting down Molina’s Ferrari in the second hour. He ran fourth and showed impressive pace as he eyed the No.51 Ferrari of Calado.
The No.2 Cadillac V.Series R, driven by Alex Lynn, also showed promise and was in the top six mix. However, its pace dropped off in the second hour, leading to an early pit stop and a driver change to Richard Westbrook.
In the midst of it all, the No.94 Peugeot led the No.93 9X8 after a brief early race contact between Loic Duval and Mikkel Jensen. Floyd Vanwall was in 11th place, occupying the final Hypercar class position, with Esteban Guerrieri and Tristan Vautier splitting the first stints.
Despite a 3-minute penalty for a pit-stop infraction resulting from the first lap incident, the Porsche Penske team continued to lead in the mid-race period. However, they had to withstand immense pressure from both the No.7 and No.8 Toyota cars as Conway and Buemi closed in.
Kevin Estre took over from Laurens Vanthoor but saw the lead diminishing as Jose-Maria Lopez in the Toyota No.7 began to catch up. In the fourth hour, Lopez got to within a second of the Porsche 963 but Estre managed to fend him off. This allowed Ryo Hirakawa to close in third, creating a thrilling three-car battle for the lead.
Lopez briefly lost second place to Hirakawa when he made a mistake and ran side by side, but he quickly regained his position, allowing Estre to pull slightly clear. However, Hirakawa continued to apply immense pressure and eventually made a move on the No.6 Porsche during a pit-stop, adding to the excitement at the front of the field.
Further back in the race, the Ferrari AF Corse cars placed a distant fourth and fifth, with the No.51 499P leading the sister No.50 machine. The No.94 Peugeot TotalEnergies 9X8, with super-sub Stoffel Vandoorne in the cockpit, ran in sixth place, making up ground after a challenging start.
Hertz Team Jota found themselves in seventh place after a troubled opening, with Will Stevens taking the wheel for the majority of the mid-race period. The No.93 Peugeot 9X8 held eighth position ahead of the Cadillac Racing entry and the recovering No.5 Porsche Penske 963.
Unfortunately, the Floyd Vanwall team encountered more trouble when Joao Paulo de Oliveira served a penalty for a clash with the No.23 United Autosports LMP2 car, dropping them further down the order.
To add to the race’s twists and turns, the Proton Competition Porsche suffered a bizarre issue at their second scheduled stop at the beginning of the third hour. Gimmi Bruni took over from Harry Tincknell but was unable to fasten his seat belts properly. The team had to spend four crucial minutes making repairs, causing the No.99 car to drop down the order to 12th. The issue reoccurred later in the race, leading to more time lost in the pits.