Lopez (Toyota): We “Showed What We Can Do” With Sebring Win
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s dominant 1-2 finish in yesterday’s Sebring 1000 Miles was vital for the team at the dawn of this new era for the FIA WEC, race winner Jose Maria Lopez told DSC after the race.
Toyota controlled yesterday’s season opener, both its cars finishing two laps ahead of the other teams in the Hypercar class. The performance served as an important reminder to the competition that Toyota is very much the benchmark for this season. It has silenced anyone who doubted the team’s ability or the GR010 as a platform after spending multiple seasons competing in a lean field.
Lopez, who won the race with Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi in the #7, told DSC that the team wasn’t surprised that the AF Corse Ferrari 499P was capable of setting pole on Thursday night. However, he relayed that the team was also confident that on what was effectively the ‘first day of school’ for most of the competition in the class, its decade of experience in the top class of the WEC would be a factor in the result.
“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.
The pressure is always high here, we have always worked to improve
“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 #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 49.2, this year we found around five seconds. 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. Last year at Sebring, a mistake from the Argentinian driver cost the #7 crew a chance at victory when he wrote the car off in a spectacular fashion 111 laps into the race. An error in judgement led to a high-speed, head-on collision with the tyre barriers at Turn 11. At the time he was heavily criticised for driving too fast with bodywork rubbing against the front tyres following contact earlier in the lap.
The most important thing to me is that the team has my back
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.
“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.”
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