The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez has taken the first victory of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship season with the #8 of Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa making it a Toyota one-two.
In a race where several of the newer Hypercar contenders faltered, Ferrari's qualifying hero – Antonio Fuoco in the #50 AF Corse 499P – took the early lead of the 1000 Miles of Sebring, which ran to its eight-hour time limit. However, just five laps into the race, a sizeable crash for GTE-Am runner Luis Perez Companc triggered the first and only full Safety Car.
Ferrari was the only team in the top class to pit during this pause, with both the #50 and #51 car making a stop. Neither pitstop was completely slick, and with the team willingly giving track position up to Toyota, the prancing horses ultimately set the tone for the race.
The Toyota battle for victory would never be separated by more than a few seconds, and the team's experience and knowledge helped the Gazoo Racing entries put two laps between the GR010s and the rest of the Hypercars by race's end.
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That isn't to say the Japanese marque's race was entirely drama-free. In the fourth hour, Kiwi star Hartley had to make an emergency fuel stop in the #8 while the pits were closed during a full-course yellow.
The gap was out to twenty seconds going into the final hour. Hartley would close the gap to just two seconds by the chequered flag, but that was largely thanks to a conservative final stint from Mike Conway in the winning #7.
The podium would ultimately be rounded out by the #50 Ferrari AF Corse 499P of Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen, with the #2 Cadillac Racing V-Series.R finishing just ten seconds behind. The pair of Porsche 963s from Porsche Penske Motorsport finished fifth and six, with the #5 appropriately leading the #6 home.
The lion's share of incidents and issues fell to the newer teams.
The #51 Ferrari AF Corse 499P was in top five contention all race, until a big collision for Alessandro Pier Guidi in the final sector dropped it through the order. After becoming unsettled by a glancing blow from the #54 GTE car of Francesco Catellacci, who was trying to enter the pits. This would send Pier Guidi into a spin, which collected the #56 Project-1 GTE-Am Porsche of Gunnar Jeannette. All cars would continue, but the #51 and #56 dropped out of contention in their respective classes.
For Peugeot, things were looking bleak even before the green flag flew. The #94 car of Loic Duval was stuck in first gear on the formation lap, and would ultimately lose several hours being repaired in the team awning.
At the start of the second hour, Paul Di Resta brought the #93 Peugeot in, with the car stuck in fourth gear. From there, both cars would effectively be running a test session, navigating electrical and powertrain issues along the way.
The #708 Glickenhaus would run solidly but unspectacularly early on, until an electrical issue for Romain Dumas brought the car to a halt on the outside of the final corner.
The ByKolles-built #4 Vanwall performed solidly for the first six hours of the race, despite contact with the #94 Peugeot as the race went to full course yellow conditions in the third hour.
Ultimately, a suspension issue in hour seven sent Jacques Villeneuve into a spin. The 1997 Formula One World Champion's fastest race lap was 1.4 seconds slower than teammate Esteban Guerrieri, and over two seconds off Tom Dillmann.
LMP2: United's #23 falters as Jota excels
The LMP2 pole-sitting #23 United Autosports Oreca showed every sign of a dominant LMP2 performance in the first-half of the race. Qualifying driver Oliver Jarvis took the start, and built a handy cushion to pass on to American racer Joshua Pierson. Unfortunately, with three hours and 15 minutes elapsed, the #23 ground to a halt; another electrical issue courtesy of Sebring's uniquely abrasive surface, and a retirement for United's victory hopeful.
This left the door open for the #48 Hertz Team Jota entry of Will Stevens, Yifei Ye and David Beckmann to dominate the second half of the race. However, since the car is not a full-season LMP2 entry, full championship points were secured by the second place finishers; the #22 United Autosports entry of Freddie Lubin, Filipe Albuquerque and Phillip Hanson. The #63 Prema entry of Doriane Pin, Daniil Kvyat and Mirko Bortolotti came home third.
A last-minute splash and dash from the #48 – in the hands of Will Stevens – would briefly hand the lead to Bortolotti in the #63, however, it would transpire that Prema also needed a splash of fuel, solidifying the win for the #48 Jota crew and second for the #22 United car.
GTE-Am: Corvette Racing wins on class debut
The #33 Corvette Racing C8.R took GTE-Am honours on the team's debut within the class. Ben Keating, Nicolas Varrone and Nicky Catsburg dominated a majority of the race, after an early surge for the #85 Iron Dames Porsche was scuppered by damage.
Sarah Bovy started the class pole-sitting car, and would have a hugely entertaining scrap with Keating in the race's opening salvo. This was curtailed only by the early Safety Car, forced by Luis Perez Companc crashing the #83 Richard Mille AF Corse out of third in class.
Bovy would ultimately go about building a lead for the #85 crew, before handing over to Rahel Frey. Unfortunately, Frey strayed wide at turn one with just under three hours of the race completed. The resulting trip across the curbs and grass ripped the diffuser and rear bodywork off of the 911 RSR-19, losing the team several laps while repairs were made. The all-female crew would ultimately finish eighth in class.
The #33 Corvette lapped the field twice on the way to the win, finishing ahead of the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche of Christian Reid, Julien Andlauer and Mikkel Pedersen. The #57 Kessel Racing Ferrari ran second late on in the hands of Daniel Serra, but would have to settle for third after a late splash and dash.