Champion Buemi on title defence and stronger opposition
Photo: WEC

Champion Buemi on title defence and stronger opposition

Sebastien Buemi is WEC’s most successful driver having won 24 WEC races and four titles (2014, 2018-19, 2022 and 2023).

Hunting a fifth title, the Toyota Gazoo Racing driver sat down with to talk about his ambition for a fifth crown and some of the key challenges ahead for 2024 with the No.8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid Hypercar.

Why 2024 Will be Toyota’s Toughest Ever Title Defence

With an expanded Hypercar grid featuring nine manufacturers and 19 cars on the grid, the jeopardy for enhanced challenges to their title winning status is greater than ever for Toyota this season.

Last season Buemi and his teammates Ryo Hirakawa and Brendon Hartley won two races at Portimao and Bahrain on their way to back-to-back drivers’ crowns and another manufacturer title for Toyota. But it was far from a breeze for the trio, as Buemi explains.

“Some people thought it was not a tough fight for us in 2023 because we won all but one race but it wasn't east at all,” he said.

“The other manufacturers have a margin to improve that is bigger than us 100% and I expect them to be closer and more capable of winning races in 2024.

“We will work hard and try to improve, of course, but the regulations do not allow you to develop the car really, some small things yes.

“The season is long, eight races, one more, here it is a long race, after Le Mans, so it's going to be important to get to do the best we can from the start.”

The strength in depth of the Hypercar grid is perhaps the most competitive since 1999 when a multitude of manufacturers entered Le Mans. However, the class of 2024 is committed to a whole season meaning a new and sustained level of quality throughout the grid.

“It is now 19 Hypercars  and an extra race in the championship it dilutes, the margin for a bad result,” added Buemi.

“So, still being able to have a championship fight it's more possible now for others to do that and stay in the fight.

“Of course, when we had six races and double the points in Le Mans last year, if you didn't score in Le Mans, unless a miracle happened then normally you don't be in the best place to win the championship.

“38 points (for a win in Qatar) is really significant. So, we need to give it a big push from the start, which we will aim for.”

Will LMGT3 Make a Difference in Traffic Management?

One of the more intriguing aspects of this season will be how the Hypercars manage the traffic now that LMP2 cars are not part of the WEC landscape (Le Mans apart) and the new LMGT3 cars hit the track for the first time.

“It's hard to say exactly how getting through traffic will be because it's a new dynamic that we've not experienced with LMGT3,” says Buemi.

“I mean on one hand, you will have a lot less traffic, because there is no LMP2 cars but on the other hand, you have you have more GT cars now

“So, it's a bit difficult to understand how it's going to influence the dynamic of the race plus we come on this track in Qatar that has a lot of sand off the line.”

As well as the competitors on the track, there is also challenges off and on it with the elements perhaps playing a major role in the outcome of the Qatar Airways Qatar 1812kms race.

“We experience sand on track in Bahrain but I think this could be a different deal here and much more extreme, as the wind is strong,” added Buemi.

“I never really experienced it and here it's the first time that off track, you have no grip or very limited here.

“I don't know if, with saw 37 cars driving, that's going to clean it effectively or if it's going to make it even worse, I have no idea.

But it's going to be a new challenge and a little bit hard to predict how it's going to impact or influence the racing.”

On the specific topic of the LMGT3 cars, Buemi is hesitant to commit to predicting how the flow of the traffic management will be changed from lapping LMGTE cars.

“I didn't really race against GT3 much other than once in Daytona, maybe they'll have less differences between the amateur and experienced drivers because of the ABS, let’s see.

“Maybe the amateur drivers will feel ready to brake later, I don't know. It's a little bit too difficult for me to comment accurately right now until we get out there, but yes it's going to be a different kind of racing for sure.”