Mike Conway and his #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing teammates returned to winning ways with a hard-fought victory, from pole position, on its rival’s home ground in an exciting 6 Hours of Monza, the fifth round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
The fifth round of the 2023 campaign saw Mike and his TOYOTA GAZOO Racing team head to Italy as they looked to put the disappointment of Le Mans behind them and return to the WEC podium.
The weekend started in perfect fashion for Mike and his #7 teammates, as Kamui Kobayashi set the fastest-ever Hypercar lap of the legendary Italian circuit, to take pole by just 0.017secs, the closest margin ever in Hypercar qualifying, for the #7 GR010 HYBRID.
In front of a passionate 65,000 crowd, Mike was selected to start the race and led the 36-car field into the tight first chicane from pole position and he jostled for the lead as the drama ensued behind him.
After 15 minutes, Mike led from the #50 Ferrari and #93 Peugeot, when an incident brought out the safety car, bringing the chasing pack right on Mike’s tail. When racing resumed, Mike dropped to third but 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.
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. Handing the #7 car over to José María López, he continued the battle as he fought 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. 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.
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. Victory in Monza marks Mike and the #7 GR010's third victory of the season, the most of any Hypercar entries, and brings the #7 crew back into the drivers’ title race and they now lie second, 23 points behind their #8 colleagues.
This victory marks Mike's 20th victory in the FIA World Endurance Championship he becomes only the 3rd driver ever in the series to win 20 races, and further cements his title as the most successful British driver ever in the FIA WEC.
The race also marked Mike, Kamui and José's 14th #WEC win as a trio, making them the all-time record holders for wins by a driver trio.
Meanwhile, in the manufacturers', TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’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
The chequered flag brought the European leg of the 2023 season to a close. Hypercar competition will return on 10 September for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s home race, the 6 Hours of Fuji, the penultimate race of a season which concludes in Bahrain in November.
Speaking after the race, Mike said:
“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, particularly the last one which was mega and helped us stay in front, 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.”