10 things we learned from the 2023 WEC 6 Hours of Monza

After a costly non-score at the Le Mans 24 Hours, the #7 Toyota GR010 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi recorded its third win of the season on Ferrari’s home turf.

First corner contact that delayed the leading Toyota and Ferrari protagonists in the world championship aided Peugeot in its bid for a first podium finish of the 9X8 programme, while Proton Competition became the second customer squad to run a Porsche 963 LMDh and even led for a time before retirement.

A return for the WEC’s tyre warmer ban became a moot point in Italy amid hot conditions that made managing tyre wear a stern test, while another crucial factor to navigate was the timing of pitstops around the three safety cars that interrupted an eventful six-hour contest.

That contributed to Jota taking LMP2 victory and Corvette Racing missing out on the GTE Am podium for the first time all season – although Nicky Catsburg, Nico Varrone and Ben Keating still walked away with the title as Dempsey-Proton Competition claimed Porsche’s maiden win of the year.

Here are 10 things we learned from the 2023 WEC 6 Hours of Monza.

1. Ferrari was not a happy bunny after finishing second

No Ferrari technical representative or drivers were made available to speak to media after the race

No Ferrari technical representative or drivers were made available to speak to media after the race

Photo by: Alessio Morgese

“Second is the first loser,” joked a senior engineering figure at Ferrari after Antonio Fuoco had lost out to Toyota driver Kamui Kobayashi by 0.017s in qualifying. The smiles had disappeared after the Italian and his team-mates had trailed home second to the Japanese manufacturer in the Monza 6 Hours.

Ferrari wasn’t happy at all post-race at Monza. It chose not to allow any of its drivers or team grandees to talk to the press and then dithered until after midnight before issuing a short and sharp – in more ways than one – press statement that was clearly critical of the Balance of Performance. The term BoP wasn’t mentioned – manufacturers and teams are barred from talking about it – but the inference was clear. It felt the pre-Monza changes had handed the advantage to Toyota.

“The conditions imposed at Monza put the team at a disadvantage compared to its rivals,” read the statement, which also used the phrase “imposed limitation”.

However you interpret the effects of the new BoP for Monza, Ferrari certainly didn’t stick to its promise to approach its home race with humility. Humble wasn’t a word you could apply to its stance on Sunday night.

2. The BoP debate hasn’t gone away

After its strong hint at dissatisfaction with the BoP, will Ferrari get a redress for Fuji?

After its strong hint at dissatisfaction with the BoP, will Ferrari get a redress for Fuji?

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

The new system of BoP introduced this year was meant to do away with all the politicking that so often blights series and categories that balance the different cars. When WEC promoter the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and co-organiser the FIA imposed changes outside the agreed 2023 framework for last month’s Le Mans 24 Hours, the fear was that it would open the door to the ‘three Ss’ associated with the BoP – screaming, shouting and sandbagging.

The rule makers have insisted the pre-Le Mans tweaks were a one-off and the latest system will be fully adhered to for the rest of the season. Given Ferrari’s criticism – however veiled – the question has to be whether that will be the case. Few manufacturers have as much political clout in motor racing as Ferrari and it hasn’t been averse to flexing its muscles in the world of endurance racing.

3. Toyota was on point once again

Toyota got its execution spot on to deliver another victory

Toyota got its execution spot on to deliver another victory

Photo by: Eric Le Galliot

Alessandro Pier Guidi insisted ahead of Monza that Toyota remains the benchmark in the WEC, whether Ferrari won at Le Mans or not. The events of Sunday’s 6 Hours proved him right.

The Toyota GR010 HYBRID Le Mans Hypercar had the narrowest of advantages over one lap. Kobayashi’s 0.057s margin over Fuoco at the top of the fastest race laps classification was only slightly bigger than the difference between them in qualifying. Yet over a double stint on a set of Michelins in soaring temperatures, Toyota mullered its big rival in the WEC this year. “Killed” was the verb that Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe technical director Pascal Vasselon used.

Toyota opted to run the hard-compound Michelin through the race, until switching both its cars to the mediums on which they qualified (the limitation of 18 tyres for the race includes qualifying) for a final, single stint. Ferrari leaned more on the medium tyre on Sunday. Whether that was a mistake or an attempt to overcome a deficit it believed it faced in light of the new BoP isn’t known – they didn’t talk to us, remember.

Insight: How Toyota took revenge on Ferrari’s home ground

There was a similarity to the Spa 6 Hours at the end of April here. Toyota didn’t have the same advantage it enjoyed at the opening two WEC rounds at Sebring and Portimao, but it got its execution spot on. So much so that the race was more or less done and dusted by the halfway point.

It wouldn’t have been so much different in Italy but for the third and final safety car just after the four-hour mark. The winning Toyota was 45s up the road when the yellows flew.

4. Peugeot is in the game

One year on from its first outing, Peugeot celebrated a maiden podium for the 9X8 programme

One year on from its first outing, Peugeot celebrated a maiden podium for the 9X8 programme

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Peugeot is finally coming good after a difficult entry into the WEC with its avant-garde 9X8 LMH. It followed up on the promise shown at Le Mans last month with a first podium at Monza. The real significance was perhaps that the #93 car shared by Mikkel Jensen, Paul di Resta and Jean-Eric Vergne finished on the lead lap, something the French manufacturer has failed to achieve in its first seven races in the series.

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The 9X8 is in the mix, though a car that had led the race early doors wasn’t quite such a competitive proposition later in the race. The reasons why a machine that looked like a white elephant early in its career is coming good are various. Nothing is ever simple in motor racing.

A helping hand from the BoP is high up among them. The 9X8 received a break on engine power for Monza, while its rival manufacturers were all pegged back under the new BoP to a greater or lesser extent. But there are other factors, too. The in-house Peugeot Sport team is now starting to race on circuits for a second time a year on from its debut in the series, so it is clearly learning how to get the most out of its unusual concept.

5. Cadillac is still a contender

It had a tough race, but the Cadillac wasn't lacking for pace

It had a tough race, but the Cadillac wasn’t lacking for pace

Photo by: Eric Le Galliot

A 10th-place finish for Cadillac doesn’t look very good on paper, but it would be wrong to say that the solo Ganassi V-Series.R wasn’t a competitive proposition at Monza. Far from it.

The car had the pace to be in the mix once again, just not the luck. A series or minor issues restricted the crew of Alex Lynn, Earl Bamber and Richard Westbrook to a single point when by rights they should have been well into the top six or even better.

The Caddy, which has looked strong on tyre wear throughout the season, was up there with the Peugeot on pace – actually quicker than the third-placed #93 car – and definitely quicker than the Porsche.

6. Porsche’s 963 proved its plug-and-play credentials

Despite not testing its new 963 LMDh before the event, Proton impressed on its first time in the Hypercar class

Despite not testing its new 963 LMDh before the event, Proton impressed on its first time in the Hypercar class

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Proton Competition has a long history with Porsche, but it’s new this year to the prototype arena. The first of its two Porsche 963 LMDhs joined a fleet that includes the ORECA-Gibson 07 LMP2 it’s running in the European Le Mans Series and the team far from disgraced itself on its debut at the top of the sportscar racing tree.

The Proton 963 shared by Neel Jani, Gianmaria Bruni and Harry Tincknell led the race at Monza, though admittedly for a couple of laps only during a pitstop cycle. But that needs to be viewed against the backdrop of the team’s unfamiliarity with the car. It had been given a shakedown at Porsche’s Weissach development facility 10 days before the start of the Monza meeting and handed over to Proton a couple of days after that.

Any kind of finish would have been a decent result for Proton, but it was not to be. The car lost drive in early in the fifth hour when the clutch didn’t engage, probably reckoned Porsche the result of an issue with a sensor.

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7. The Isotta is real

Isotta Fraschini gave its Tipo 6 Competizione Hypercar a first public demonstration at Monza

Isotta Fraschini gave its Tipo 6 Competizione Hypercar a first public demonstration at Monza

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Seeing is believing. For all the respected names involved Isotta Fraschini Le Mans Hypercar – Michelotto and Williams Advanced Engineering among them – the project had an air of mystery about it. It is, after all, a marque best known for supplying limousines to silent movie stars and Russian Tsars before World War 2. But the WEC paddock got to see its neat and tidy Tipo 6 LMH Competizione in the flesh at Monza.

And better than that, the car went out on track on both the Saturday and the Sunday of the race weekend together with its close cousin, the Pista. The Isotta now has to be regarded as something real and concrete by the WEC paddock.

We’re probably not going to see it racing this season, but there can be no doubt that it will be on the Hypercar grid come 2024. And on the strength of those partners, a worthy participant to boot.

8. No engine is totally unburstable

The #31 WRT ORECA saw its win hopes dashed by an engine failure in the final hour

The #31 WRT ORECA saw its win hopes dashed by an engine failure in the final hour

Photo by: Paolo Belletti

Gibson’s GK428 V8 engine has been instrumental to the success of the LMP2 category since it became the single powerplant in 2017. Performance and reliability are its calling cards, having been developed to last for 50 hours. But last weekend a rare failure that curtailed the #31 WRT ORECA’s challenge for victory was a timely reminder that even the most proven of engines can sometimes hit trouble.

Technical director Sebastien Viger explained that the problem surfaced before the car’s final pitstop, at which point Robin Frijns lost the lead to the winning Jota ORECA as WRT added a couple of litres of oil in an effort to stem the tide.

“Unfortunately it was not enough and we could see we will not make it to the end of the race,” he said.

That it was a new engine installed after Le Mans only made it more galling for the #31 crew of Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg and Sean Gelael, who had been denied a podium at the 24 Hours by an unexpected late suspension problem.

“This never happens when you are at the back of the grid or if you’re three laps down,” lamented Viger. “It makes it an even harder pill to swallow.”

9. Safety car rules frustrations are mounting

Pitstop timings around caution periods were again a crucial component of the LMP2 race

Pitstop timings around caution periods were again a crucial component of the LMP2 race

Photo by: Eric Le Galliot

It wasn’t hard to find people after the race who were aggrieved at the impact of the safety car rules on the outcome. It’s the nature of sportscar racing that safety cars will aid some while hindering others. But particularly in LMP2, with reduced stint lengths designed to increase its in-race deficit to the Hypercars and therefore pitstops occurring more regularly, there’s a growing frustration that the timing of these pitstops around cautions has repeatedly influenced races more than car speed.

“The last six-hour races all got decided by the safety car or the full course yellow, not by the performance,” complained Inter Europol Competition’s Fabio Scherer. “There needs to be a solution because it can’t be that it always gets decided by that.”

His view was echoed strongly by WRT’s Louis Deletraz: “The rules should be looked at because the last two races in WEC have been decided by luck with who gets their safety cars right nor not.”

Closing the pits for three laps at the start of each safety car window is a sensible measure to avoid a potentially dangerous deluge of cars into the pits simultaneously. But to United Autosports boss Richard Dean, it becomes a “lottery” as some teams gamble in anticipation of a safety car call – which depending on track position is not a luxury affordable to all.

All concerned will hope that Fuji passes by cleanly to settle a few scores.

10. Ferrari fans care about more than just Formula 1

A huge turnout comprising a healthy contingent of Ferrari fans made the trip to Monza

A huge turnout comprising a healthy contingent of Ferrari fans made the trip to Monza

Photo by: Eric Le Galliot

The WEC announced that 65,000 fans attended over the course of the weekend. And of those, unsurprisingly a significant number were Ferrari fans, underlining the impression made by its Le Mans victory.

There have of course been Ferraris in the field when the WEC has visited Monza in each of the past two seasons, but the lure of a home-grown car gunning for outright honours contributed towards a packed-out grandstand on the pit straight that was in full voice when Miguel Molina took second from Mike Conway’s Toyota in the first hour of the race.

Fans milled around the Ferrari hospitality all weekend in the hope of catching sight of their heroes, rendering one set of stairs down from the media centre to the paddock unusable if you wanted to get anywhere on time, while the crowds for the pitlane autograph sessions on Saturday and Sunday were absolutely heaving.

While Ferraris’ travails in Formula 1 continue, the tifosi has plenty to cheer on in the WEC…

The pitlane autograph sessions were mobbed with Italian fans soaking up enduring Le Mans fever

The pitlane autograph sessions were mobbed with Italian fans soaking up enduring Le Mans fever

Photo by: Alessio Morgese

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