December 10, 2023

How Toyota took revenge on Ferrari’s home ground

#7 TOYOTA GAZOO RACING Toyota GR010 - Hybrid Hypecar of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez

Toyota gained something approaching revenge on Ferrari for its Le Mans 24 Hours defeat in the Italian manufacturer’s backyard at Monza. Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez took what on paper looked like a narrow victory, but in reality they had a clear advantage in last Sunday’s World Endurance Championship round. And that explained its big rival’s disquiet after the race.

Toyota won the Monza 6 Hours not because its GR010 HYBRID Le Mans Hypercar was the fastest car over a single lap of the 3.6-mile Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. There was little to choose between the Japanese machine and Ferrari’s 499P LMH: Kobayashi pipped Antonio Fuoco in the 499P that finished the race in second position to pole position by just 0.017 seconds and in fastest race laps he was just 0.057s ahead of the Italian at the top of the charts.

But when it came to pace over the second half of a double stint on a set of Michelins, on a day when track temperatures topped 50C, Toyota blitzed Ferrari. The victory was much more comfortable than the final 16.5s margin made it look.

Kobayashi and his team-mates would have been much further ahead when the chequered flag fell but for a proliferation of safety cars. The third and final full yellow flag period was the crucial one in explaining how and why Toyota had this one in the bag long before the flag flew.

Just after the race was four hours old, Kobayashi was 46s up the road from Fuoco in the Ferrari he shared with Nicklas Nielsen and Miguel Molina. Virtual safety car conditions were imposed to deal with a car stopped just after the first chicane and then the real thing was surprisingly sent out in a move that cynics would no doubt suggest was motivated by a desire to bring Ferrari back into this one.

Kobayashi’s gap was down to four seconds when the race went green. The Toyota didn’t initially pull away, but when the top two made their next pitstops, the gap grew: the leader didn’t take tyres, his pursuer did. The fresher rubber allowed the Ferrari to close down the post-stop deficit from 18 to 12s, a gap that closed further when they came into the pits for the final time with 45 minutes remaining. Kobayashi was given tyres, while Fuoco got fresh rubber on the hard-used left side of the car. The difference between the two cars came down to as little as 6.5s, but the truth was the leader always had things under control.

Toyota was always able to keep Ferrari at arm’s length during the Monza 6 Hours

Photo by: Alessio Morgese

The advantage of the Toyota on Sunday was best illustrated when Lopez went up against Nielsen over a double stint during the middle hours of the race. The Toyota had been 7s ahead when they both made fuel-only stops in the middle of their respective doubles, but when they handed over to Kobayashi and Fuoco respectively, that advantage stood at well over half a minute.

“We killed the opposition on the second stint – in tyre management,” said Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe technical director Pascal Vasselon. “That is really where we created a big, big gap.”

Toyota went for what could be termed a conservative tyre strategy. It ran the hard-compound Michelin throughout the race on both its cars, until the final stint when it pressed into service the mediums on which Kobayashi and Brendon Hartley had qualified the two cars. Ferrari on the other hand relied more on the medium despite the searing temperatures. It ran a more varied strategy, which sometimes involved a full set of the softer of the two compounds and sometimes a mix of the two tyre choices available, with the hard on the left of the car or sometimes just the left rear.

The new BoP probably didn’t close things up right at the sharp end of the grid, but it did further down. Witness Peugeot making it onto the podium for the first time with its avant-garde 9X8 LMH

Ferrari chose not to talk to the media after the race to confirm what it had used and to explain why, but it appeared that it knew it couldn’t beat Toyota in a straight fight and went creative to mix things up.

A cursory statement from Ferrari issued long after the race had finished implied dissatisfaction with the new Balance of Performance introduced for this event. It claimed it raced at “a disadvantage compared to its rivals” and that there was an “imposed limitation” on the 499P. The term BoP wasn’t mentioned: manufacturers, teams and drivers are precluded from talking about it in the regulations.

What needs to be pointed out, however, was that the Toyota was the heaviest car in the field. Its minimum weight remained at 1080kg – the maximum allowed in the rules – after its controversial 37kg increase before Le Mans, while the Ferrari got an extra 5kg for Monza, bringing it up to 1069kg. Toyota lost 6.7bhp and Ferrari 16bhp under the latest BoP.

Ferrari closed ranks after the race, with grumblings over BoP considered to be at the heart of the matter

Photo by: Eric Le Galliot

The second entries from Toyota and Ferrari – the two cars at the top of the points table after Le Mans – finished sixth and fifth respectively after up-and-down races. Both were then penalised after the chequered flag! The Japanese car came back to fourth after losing time with two penalties — a one-minute stop/go and a 10s hold in the pits — after Sebastien Buemi endured a disastrous start to the opening stint.

The Swiss, who shared with Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, tagged Giovinazzi into the first corner in what might easily have been adjudged a racing incident to get the added 10s and then eight laps later tagged the D’Station GTE AM Aston Martin between the second Lesmo and the Ascari chicane, sending it into the barriers and instant retirement. It was a clear misjudgement that merited the one-minute stop/go.

Giovinazzi had been tipped into a spin by the earlier contact, which explained why Ferrari chose to take the car off sequence when the safety car was deployed after Satoshi Hoshino’s off in the Vantage GTE. The subsequent safety cars allowed the Toyota to get back on terms with the #51 after its penalties, Hartley overtaking Giovinazzi on lap 189 of the eventual 200.

They crossed the line in fourth and fifth positions, before Giovinazzi dropped a position for overtaking Frederic Makowiecki’s Porsche 963 LMDh beyond the limits of the track with 12 minutes left. The Toyota then had 50s added to its time and fell to sixth – and crucially behind the Ferrari – when it was penalised for going over the maximum permissible powertrain output for a second time in the race. So instead of Buemi and co increasing their championship lead from 25 to 29 points, it decreased to 23.

The new BoP probably didn’t close things up right at the sharp end of the grid, but it did further down. Witness Peugeot making it onto the podium for the first time with its avant-garde 9X8 LMH. Perhaps more to the point, Mikkel Jensen, Paul di Resta and Jean-Eric Vergne were only a minute behind the second-placed Ferrari at the end.

Jensen was able to lead the race for 15 laps after the first safety car, getting a run on Fuoco out of Parabolica to move to the front. Twenty or so seconds were lost at the first pitstops when the car had to be pulled back into position after an overshoot, but Jensen and his team-mates, who like their opposite numbers at Ferrari did much of their running on the medium Michelin, always looked to be in with a chance of a podium.

The Peugeot crew would have faced a stern challenge from the Porsche Penske Motorsport entry Makowiecki shared with Dane Cameron and Michael Christensen had not the car required a late splash of fuel. The roots of that need could be traced back to a triple stint from Christensen at the start: it had to be brought to an early end as his tyres went away.

Peugeot bagged its first WEC podium – a year on from its Hypercar debut

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Olivier Jansonnie, technical director on the 9X8 programme, called the podium finish “quite logical and well deserved”. He explained that it was a natural result of the increase in pace compared with its rivals that Peugeot showed through practice and qualifying in Italy. He made much of the fact that the in-house Peugeot Sport team wasn’t racing at a circuit for the first time – this was the first anniversary of the 9X8’s WEC debut. Of course, the BoP played its part, too. Peugeot had been a winner twice over: its manufacturer rivals have all been slowed, while it had received a little help in terms of engine power.

The other Peugeot lost 17 minutes early in hour three when the gearbox activator needed replacing. That was a part, remember, that received a major redesign over the winter, the revised component coming on stream at Algarve in April.

The second factory Porsche shared by Kevin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor and Andre Lotterer ended up seventh after PPM split its strategies during the first safety car. It pitted under the yellow and ended up making two more pitstops than the sister car.

There were encouraging days for the two customer Porsche teams, even though the results didn’t suggest as much

There were encouraging days for the two customer Porsche teams, even though the results didn’t suggest as much. The Jota team again showed its pace, a ninth-place finish two laps in arrears resulting from the steering wheel freezing on Antonio Felix da Costa. Not only did it need changing, but it stopped on circuit and required a full reboot after the car – another early stopper – needed to make a so-called emergency fuel stop for five seconds’ worth of fuel when the pits were closed under the safety car. With no pitlane speed limiter, da Costa got pinged for speeding during the stop.

Proton Competition’s car, which had received only the briefest of shakedown at Weissach less than two weeks before the race, ran strongly and even led for a couple of laps during a pitstop sequence. It eventually went out in hour four with clutch problems.

Glickenhaus took a decent eighth with its solo Pipo-engined 007 LMH shared by Olivier Pla, Romain Dumas and Nathanael Berthon, only encumbered by the need to look after its brakes in the face of rising temperatures in the latter stages of the race. Brake cooling issues also delayed the Vanwall-Gibson Vandervell 680 LMH on the way to 20th overall.

Ferrari may have suffered defeat on home ground but still remains in the thick of the WEC title fight

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Would you like to receive notifications on latest updates? No Yes