Toyota Gazoo Racing‘s first victory of the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season came courtesy of faultless driving and an intelligent team strategy. Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Nyck de Vries took their #7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid to a tense victory and edged closer to the lead in the manufacturers’ and drivers’ championships. How did the team achieve this WEC 2024 result?

WEC 2024 Round 2: free practice

It has been more than 40 years since Imola hosted a top-level endurance race, so the Italian circuit represented uncharted territory for Toyota Gazoo Racing and its GR010 Hybrid race car. However, most of Toyota’s drivers had raced there in other championships and were able to offer valuable input for tackling the 4.9km loop.

Although the TGR drivers had put in many hours on the simulator in advance of this event, Friday’s two 90-minute free practice sessions saw preparations intensify. Rather than aiming for quick laps, the wheel-time was used to become familiar with the specifics of the layout and track surface, and how these affected the performance and degredation of the tyres. Data was also analysed to find optimal mechanical and aerodynamic settings.

WEC 2024 Round 2: qualifying

This year’s revised qualifying format meant that all 19 closely matched Hypercars were required to take to the track for a 12-minute opening session. The top ten finishers then progress into the Hyperpole shoot-out to decide their positions on the starting grid.

The order changed frequently as the drivers endeavoured to find clear space to capture their fastest qualifying time. It was a tough challenge for the TGR team, with the GR010 Hybrids once again facing weight, balance of performance and tyre issues. Nevertheless, Brendon Hartley waited until the final few minutes to secure third in the #8 car, one place above Kamui Kobayashi’s best in the #7 car.

Both cars were confirmed into the Hyperpole, and during this hectic, ten-minute session managed to secure sixth and eighth grid positions for the #7 and #8 respectively.

WEC 2024 Round 2: 6 Hours of Imola

Starting in sixth as the #7 car’s first driver of the race, Mike Conway wasted no time trying to move up the order. Similar efforts were being made by Sébastien Buemi in the #8 car but overtaking proved difficult on the narrow Imola circuit. So the team gained positions using smart strategy and perfectly executed pit stops.

At around the two-hour mark, Conway was in the top three and used the first round of driver changes to hand over to Nyck de Vries. Ryo Hirakawa took over from Buemi who had also progressed into fifth. Nyck set an intimidating presence behind the two lead Ferraris before rain and different strategies in the fourth hour threw the race wide open. The Dutch driver pulled an audacious move to take second immediately following a full course yellow, and then moments later was gifted first when the lead car pitted, just prior to a safety car period.

The rain intensified during the safety car period, so when the green flags were waived both Toyotas immediately pulled in for wet tyres. This proved to be a masterstroke as the cars returned to lap significantly faster than their rivals, building up a lead of more than 20 seconds for the #7 before the rest of the cars had been able to pit for wet tyres. Meanwhile, Brendon Hartley had capitalised on this extra grip to get up into third in the #8.

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With an hour remaining, the GR010 Hybrids made their penultimate pit stops and reverted to slicks. Other rivals had similar ideas, yet team principal Kamui Kobayashi had been able to return to the front, while Hartley struggled to get his new tyres up to temperature on the still-damp track. But when the heat finally penetrated the compound, Hartley put in a string of fast laps to move up into fourth.

The final 30 minutes was extremely tense as the two Toyotas were forced to drive more efficiently to maximise their range as they were carrying less fuel than others. Kobayashi fought valiantly to hold on to the lead under intense pressure from the second-placed Ferrari. The #8 crew had to settle for fifth after being overtaken on the final lap.

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WEC 2024 result in Round 2: 6 Hours of Imola

1 #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Kobayashi / Conway / de Vries
#6 Porsche Penske  Estre / Lotterer / Vanthoor   + 7.081s
3 #5 Porsche Penske Campbell / Christensen / Makowiecki + 25.626s
4 #50 Ferrari AF Corse Fuoco / Molina / Nielsen + 31.469s
5 #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing  Buemi / Hartley / Hirakawa + 33.777s
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WEC 2024: manufacturer standings

Porsche  57
2 Toyota 48
Ferrari 31 
BMW 17
Alpine  15 

Where is the WEC heading next?

This year’s WEC calendar has been expanded to eight rounds across four continents, each of which is hosted by a different country. The following table provides the order of events.

Qatar 1812km  Qatar  2 March 
6 Hours of Imola  Italy  21 April 
3  6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps  Belgium  11 May 
24 Hours of Le Mans  France  15-16 June 
6 Hours of São Paulo  Brazil  14 July 
Lone Star Le Mans  USA  1 September 
6 Hours of Fuji  Japan  15 September 
8 Hours of Bahrain  Bahrain  2 November 
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