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Toyota drivers worried by WEC rivals’ extensive Sebring testing

Toyota World Endurance Championship drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Ryo Hirakawa have expressed concern about the amount of Sebring testing that some Hypercar rivals have done in the US race's build-up.

Toyota GR010 Hybrid

The Japanese manufacturer has unveiled a revised version of its GR010 Hybrid Le Mans Hypercar for the 2023 season as it gears up to defend its WEC crown from new Hypercar class rivals in the form of Ferrari, Porsche and Cadillac.

Both Porsche and Cadillac already have a race under their belts with their new LMDh designs after taking part in January's Daytona 24 Hours.

But the amount of testing that the two IMSA marques, plus Ferrari, which has opted to follow Toyota down the LMH path for its top-flight return, have been able to do as new WEC manufacturers has also caused consternation.

Toyota has so far tested its revised challenger at Paul Ricard and Aragon, but will only be getting its first running at Sebring at this weekend’s official Prologue test.

Kobayashi, who is once again joined aboard the #7 Toyota by Jose Maria Lopez and Mike Conway this season, is concerned that the team’s comparative lack of test mileage could be a hindrance for the Sebring 1000 Miles on March 17.

“I would say the new car feels better,” Kobayashi told Autosport. “Some of the problems we had with the first version of the car, we think we have improved.

“But it’s hard to say because we are testing at tracks that we know well, and that are completely different to Sebring. Also, we have no [tyre] blankets and that changes things.

“It’s clear also we have had less test sessions than the other manufacturers. The other manufacturers have been to Sebring a lot, more than enough I think. Some drivers can drive there with their eyes closed!”

 

Porsche and Cadillac completed endurance tests with their LMDh cars at Sebring last year as part of their build-up to the 2023 season, and were also in action for last month’s IMSA-sanctioned test at the Florida airfield venue.

Ferrari meanwhile has undertaken a pair of two-day tests of its own at Sebring, one in January and the other in February, with its brand new 499P LMH.

Asked specifically if he felt Toyota was no longer the favourite heading into the season, Kobayashi replied: “Last year we didn’t win at Sebring. We know it’s a difficult track for us. 

“For sure we have to improve and work hard. The other manufacturers have more experience at Sebring at the end of the day.”

Hirakawa, who shares the #8 Toyota with Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley for his second season in the WEC, offered a similar assessment to Kobayashi.

“I think everyone made a big improvement in the winter, but it’s hard to say until we race together,” said Hirakawa. “We were testing at different tracks [compared to Sebring], so the performance is difficult to judge.

“We’ll only find out where we are at Sebring, which for us is the toughest track on the calendar. Ferrari and these guys have tested a lot there, so we need to catch up.

“We have to do our job the same as last year. We don’t want to lose to [our new rivals], but we have to trust our history of what we did and hopefully we’ll be ok.”

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