Toyota ‘showed what we can do, but we remain humble’ - Lopez

JEP/Motorsport Images

Toyota ‘showed what we can do, but we remain humble’ - Lopez

Le Mans/WEC

Toyota ‘showed what we can do, but we remain humble’ - Lopez


Toyota’s dominant 1-2 finish in the season-opening Sebring 1000 Miles showed the rest of the FIA WEC Hypercar field what Toyota is capable of, race winner Jose Maria Lopez told RACER after Friday’s eight-hour event.

The Japanese team controlled the race almost from start to finish, with both its GR010 HYBRIDs finishing two laps ahead of the other teams in the Hypercar class. The flawless run has silenced anyone who doubted the team’s ability or the GR010 as a platform, after spending multiple seasons competing against smaller team’s since Porsche’s exit from LMP1 in 2017.

Lopez, who along with Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi, led home the 1-2 finish, told RACER that the team wasn’t surprised that AF Corse’s Ferrari 499P was capable of setting pole, after gradually finding pace throughout the Prologue test and free practice sessions. However, he also said the team, which has a decade of WEC top-class experience, believed it was still the favorite, racing against a field packed with new cars from the likes of Porsche, Cadillac and Ferrari.

“Ferrari taking pole was hard to take, but we knew it would be like this with more competitors,” he explained. “I wasn’t surprised with the pole. They showed they had pace; we knew they’d be capable of that. It was a punch, but we didn’t give up because we knew we had a good car for the race. We have lots of experience too in the WEC. Today the gap doesn’t reflect the real gap to Ferrari, we just made no mistakes and were good in the pits, and had a good strategy.

“At the end of the day, in recent years we’ve had tough competition from within our own team. We have ended up fighting the No. 8 for 24 hours and ended with a couple of seconds between us. The pressure is always high here. We have always worked to improve.

“We know it will be a difficult year. Peugeot, Ferrari, Porsche and Cadillac are going to work. We showed what we can do, but we remain humble.”

The improvements made to the GR010 HYBRID for 2023 also played a significant part in the team’s ability to pull away from the field, Lopez said. For 2023 the GR010 HYBRID is lighter and benefits from a more aggressive aero package and cooling system.

“The car in race conditions is definitely a step forward. Last year our best time was a (1m49.2s); this year we found around 5s. The job the team has done is amazing. Of course, it’s still not easy here because of the bumps, changes in grip, and traffic. It’s one of the most difficult of the year, but I am so proud.”

On a personal level, Lopez’s performance during the race was also significant. During last year’s opener, a mistake from the Argentinian driver cost the No. 7 crew a chance at victory when he wrote the car off in spectacular fashion 111 laps into the race. An error in judgment led to a high-speed, head-on collision with the tire barriers at Turn 11. At the time he was heavily criticized for driving too fast with bodywork rubbing against the front tires following contact earlier in the lap.

This year was an entirely different story. Winning the race, with a faultless performance, has given him a huge confidence boost to start the season and puts him in early contention to win the 2023 world championship.

“Especially after last year, this is great,” he admitted. “I’ve never had it easy here. You need to turn the page and do the job. The most important thing to me is that the team has my back. I have great teammates as well, and I managed to put in good stints and get the victory.”