WEC: Conway picks up second podium of the season

17th July 2017

Mike Conway and TOYOTA GAZOO Racing took their first-ever podium in the 6 Hours of Nürburgring on a challenging day for the team in the fourth round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship.

Despite being just 90km from TOYOTA’s Cologne base, the Nürburgring has traditionally been a difficult venue for TOYOTA – having never made it onto the podium and only managing a team best finish of 5th place.

This week saw the team opt for its high-downforce setup for both the team’s cars, which helped the #7 TOYOTA take pole position at the opening race of the season at Silverstone.

With two races and extensive testing already completed using the high downforce specification, the team has plenty of experience with it and spent Friday’s two practice sessions optimising the set-up for the specific demands of the 5.137km Nürburgring Grand Prix track.

In contrast to TOYOTA, rivals Porsche ran their high-downforce car for the very first time in an official session, so interest was high to compare relative performance when practice began in bright sunshine at lunchtime in temperatures of around 18°C.

First practice suggested that Sunday’s race could be a closely-fought affair, with just 0.367secs separating all four hybrid LMP1 cars. However, second practice saw the gap increase as the two TS050 HYBRIDs continued with set-up and tyre evaluation.

Finishing the weekend’s first two sessions in 4th place, there was still room for improvement as the action rolled into the weekend.

Mike Conway commeneted on the close start to the action at the Nurburgring

“In session one it looked fairly close between us and Porsche but in the second session they looked a bit quicker so we need to improve some areas. We need to find a bit of lap time. We will look through the data and make changes overnight. The target is to have a competitive race set-up.”

Qualifying

Mike Conway stepped aside for qualifying to allow José María to take part in his first WEC qualifying session and he immediately returned the favour by putting the #7 in first place. Kamui Kobayashi, who set a record-beating pole time at Le Mans last month, completed the job for the #7 with another quick time - beating the 2016 pole position average by 1.326secs.

The team’s 1min 38.118secs average lap time put the #7 TS050 HYBRID on pole for the third time from four races this season.

Race

The pole-sitting #7 TOYOTA got off to a good start in the 6-hour race, fending off the Porsche rivals through the first stages of the race as the sister #8 car encountered problems with the fuel pump and lost eight minutes in the pits – leaving it down to the #7 TOYOTA to take the fight to the Porsches.

After the first stops of the race, Toyota’s lead from the Porsches remained but only by a short distance as the pressure from Porsche increased.

As Kamui Kobayashi handed driving duties over to José María López and 80 minutes of intense racing elapsed, the #7 dropped to third place but José fought back and kept the pressure on. At the end of his second stint, with two hours completed, he was within two seconds of the race leader.

As Mike took the wheel and the race wore on, a change of aerodynamic performance resulted in both the #7 losing balance in the car and its prospect of getting back past the Porsches.

Focusing on completing a clean race to secure more points, the #7 took the chequered flag to secure third place, earning the team’s fourth podium of the season, 1min 4.768secs behind the winner.

Mike Conway reflected on a disappointing day for the team despite earning a first Nürburgring podium.

“It’s always good to be on the podium but we’re not really happy today. There are some positives to take from the weekend; qualifying was good for us and we showed strong speed early in the race. But we dropped off as the aero balance changed. Porsche was very strong today so congratulations to them. I am looking forward to the next races when I am sure it will be better for us.”

Toshio Sato, Team President, believes TOYOTA can push on now as the season enters a crucial stage.

“Nürburgring has again been a challenging race for us. We showed good one-lap speed and we enjoyed the close fight with Porsche in the first, but the car balance changed during the race and this means we lost some performance. Today’s race was really a damage limitation exercise in terms of the World Championship. We believe we will be stronger during the rest of the season when the circuits should better suit our TS050 HYBRID. We have minimised the loss to Porsche and now we look ahead to the flyaway races when the target will be to close the gap and fight for the World Championship.”

The result means TOYOTA stays in touch in the fight for the manufacturers’ World Championship, 39.5 points behind Porsche.

This weekend’s race marked the end of the European leg of the WEC season, with the teams heading to North America next for races in Mexico City (3 September) and Austin (September 16), prior to the final three races of 2017 which take place in Asia.

#7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing (Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, José María López) - Nürburgring 

Friday

FP1: 4th (1:41.979, +0.367)
FP2: 4th (1:41.656, +2.993)

Saturday

FP3: 1st (1:38.969)
LMP1 Qualifying: 1st (1:38.083)

Sunday

Race: 3rd

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