Kurt Verlin
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Toyota Sets the Pace Ahead of Competitive 2023 WEC Season

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Toyota GR010 Hybrid at 2023 WEC Prologue
Photo: Toyota

Toyota Gazoo Racing ended the World Endurance Championship Prologue fastest overall in three of the four pre-season testing sessions, with José María López and Brendon Hartley setting the quickest times in the Toyota GR010 Hybrid prototype. Separated by only 0.008 seconds, they were just over two tenths ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing and the Cadillac V-Series.R, their nearest rival.

Toyota also completed the most laps throughout the four days of testing, covering over 3500 km around the Sebring International Raceway in Florida. That’s already more than double the distance its cars will have to travel during the 1000 Miles of Sebring that kicks off the 2023 WEC on March 17. Toyota’s sights, however, will be set on the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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Only half a decade ago, Toyota had never won Le Mans, though it had come extraordinarily close while battling with Porsche and Audi. But after both German automakers left the series, Toyota was left alone in the top LMP1 category. Lacking any real competition, it easily snatched that elusive Le Mans win in 2018 and did it again in the following two years.

In 2021, new regulations phased out the unpopular LMP1 division and replaced it with the current Le Mans Hypercar class. Many competitors promised to join, but most would only do so starting in 2023. That meant that for two more years, Toyota remained relatively unchallenged on the track. Its only competition came Glickenhaus, a small American outfit, and Alpine, which fielded a modified LMP2 car.

Toyota now has five Le Mans wins, but for fans of hard competition, they may seem hollow. Fortunately, the Japanese manufacturer will have a chance to prove itself this year, yet again, as a surge of rivals finally join the sport. Cadillac, Porsche, Ferrari, Peugeot, Glickenhaus, and Vanwall will all be competing at Le Mans as well as in the overall World Endurance Championship. Additional competitors such as Acura, BMW, Alpine, and Lamborghini may also join with their parallel LMDh prototypes.

By leading the Sebring pre-season tests both in mileage and lap times, Toyota seems to have the measure of its new challengers. That said, its advantage is slight, and anything can happen over the course of a race last lasting up to 24 hours. But if the Toyota Gazoo Racing team triumphs in 2023, even the most ardent naysayers won’t be able to take away its glory. And no matter what happens, it’s looking like a great time to watch endurance racing.