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Alpine in "another category" to Toyota at Sebring - Kobayashi

Toyota team principal Kamui Kobayashi says Alpine was in “another category” in last weekend’s opening round of the FIA World Endurance Championship season at Sebring.

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez

Photo by: Paul Foster

The Japanese marque suffered its first WEC race defeat in more than two years at the Florida track as Alpine scored a first outright victory with its A480 grandfathered LMP1 car driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Matthieu Vaxiviere in dominant fashion.

In a race interrupted by three red flags, Alpine had built a lead upwards of one minute over the #8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa before the first stoppage, caused by Jose Maria Lopez’s crash in the sister #7 Toyota. 

The French squad enjoyed a similar advantage when the race was stopped again due to lightning storms in the area, before it was finally abandoned in the closing stages.

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Kobayashi, who shares the #7 Toyota with Lopez and Mike Conway, said the Balance of Performance for the Sebring Prologue test and race meant there was no way to realistically challenge Alpine. 

“It was really tough, what they gave us with the BoP,” Kobayashi told Motorsport.com. “We were not as quick as we expected, we couldn’t beat the LMP2s in qualifying. 

“Alpine was 1.2s a lap faster than us on the averages. It’s another category. Even their drivers were not pushing and we were pushing hard, and we are still slow.

“It’s a shame, to be honest. Something called a Hypercar should be a bit quicker than that. It’s all about what the ACO decides [with the BoP]. But it’s not positive for the spectators.”

 

Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon said prior to the start of the race weekend that the new limits placed on the GR010 Hybrid would represent a “big hit” in terms of performance, which he reiterated after the best of the marque’s cars qualified behind the fastest LMP2.

Kobayashi said he felt that Toyota would have been better off running without the hybrid system at Sebring given the circumstances.

He continued: “If we can’t deploy [the hybrid system] until 190km/h, where can you use the four-wheel drive in the corners? Almost nowhere. It’s better to run without the front motor and the battery, and we can reduce the weight. Of course we would be quicker! 

“We don’t want this [hybrid limitation], our package was not designed for it.”

Although Kobayashi was keen to emphasise that the WEC’s rulemakers face a tough job equalising different car concepts within the Hypercar class, he suggested that the limiting factor was the performance of the Glickenhaus 007 LMH.

“The problem is the Glickenhaus is not fast,” said Kobayashi. “We have to adjust to [their level]. And even with this BoP, they are not as fast as us [in the race].

“If the Glickenhaus was quicker, we would not have this kind of BoP. Of course we are not happy with the situation, but there’s not much we can do, to be honest.”

Hirakawa reflects on Toyota race debut

Ryo Hirakawa, who made his Toyota debut as part of the #8 crew at Sebring, suggested that the next round of the WEC at Spa may be more favourable to the GR010 Hybrid in comparison to the lighter, more agile Alpine.

But he still hoped for a change to the BoP that he described as “really bad”.

“We are better at the end of the straights because we have low drag,” Hirakawa told Motorsport.com. “Sebring has many corners that need downforce, and no long straights, so that was good for them [Alpine]. But they shouldn’t be so much faster than us. 

“I hope the BoP will be better for all the Hypercars. It was really hard to pass the LMP2s, because we were only around one second a lap faster. I hope Spa will be easier.”

 

Hirakawa said that even without the mid-race red flag caused by Lopez’s crash, which played against the sole surviving Toyota in terms of strategy, beating Alpine would have been difficult considering the A480’s pace advantage.

He added that beginning his double stint not long after seeing the Argentinian driver’s accident unfold gave him an even tougher task on his race debut in the GR010.

“It was not good to see this crash before I jumped in the car,” said Hirakawa. “Luckily [Lopez] was ok, but it was not a good feeling to jump in the car. The team asked me to take no risks, so the first couple of laps were a bit slow, but step by step I improved the laptimes. 

“Anyway, the Alpine was too fast. Second was the best [possible] achievement, and my stints in the race were good in terms of laptimes, and no mistakes, so I was happy.”

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