WEC: Le Mans agony for Conway

19th June 2017

Mike Conway and the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing team experienced a cruel end to their Le Mans 24 Hours race for the second successive year, as a clutch problem forced the #7 car to retire after ten hours, having led from lap one.

It was bitterly disappointing end for Mike and the team who had worked so hard to bounce back after the frustration of last year’s event. Unfortunately, though, it was an upsetting case of déjà vu for the team as their race ended prematurely despite being seemingly in complete control.

Mike and his teammates, Kamui Kobayashi and Stéphane Sarrazin started the year’s showpiece event of the year from pole position after Kamui set the fastest ever lap-time of the Circuit de la Sarthe in Thursday’s final qualifying sessions.

Chosen to take the seat from the race’s start, Mike negotiated the early period with relative ease in extremely warm conditions. The Thunderhead-sponsored driver safely handed over the #7 car to Kamui some two and a half-hour’s later, with a comfortable lead.

Reflecting on the first stint, Mike revealed that it was a cautious approach that was paying off for the team.

“It was a good first stint. I was just basically controlling things. Keeping up a steady pace and trying not to do anything silly. The track was quite dirty so you have to be careful not get pick up; I had to learn that in the first stint. All in all, the car was feeling good and we just had to keep chipping away.”

The #7 car retained the lead through the second driver stint, extending their lead over the #1 Porsche to more than half a minute before handing over to Stéphane. The Frenchman was the last of the three #7 teammates and again retained the lead as he handed back to Kamui with the TOYOTA leading by just over twenty seconds as night fell at Le Mans.

With everything up until this point having gone smoothly, it was towards the end of the tenth hour when disaster struck. With the car running very well, an unexpected clutch problem hit and despite Kamui’s best efforts to return the car to the pits, he eventually had to park the car at the exit of the Porsche Curves and retire.

In a sad twist of fate, the #9 TS050 HYBRID was forced to retire as well, just thirty minutes after it’s teammate had bowed out as well. With the #8 car running 29 laps behind after a prolonged stay in the pits, TOYOTA Gazoo Racing’s and Mike’s hopes of a first-ever victory at Le Mans had been taken away.

With the rawness of the night’s events still fresh, Mike reflected on a difficult night.

“The race started off well with good pace and we were controlling it from the front. Unfortunately we had the issue which took us out of the race very quickly; from having no hint of trouble to retiring so quickly was tough to see.”

“It was a real pity and to see the other TOYOTAs have problems around the same time is just massively disappointing. We were hoping at least one of us would be on the top step of the podium today but it wasn’t to be.”

Swathes of motorsport fans were quick to express their sympathy for the whole team, acknowledging the sheer dreadful luck that TOYOTA Gazoo Racing has experienced at one of the world’s most coveted races, particularly in the last two years.

Meanwhile, Mike himself remained philosophical in defeat stating that “difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. Until next time Le Mans – you will be conquered one day!”

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