Victory for Conway at Fuji
Victory for Conway at Fuji

Mike Conway and the TOYOTA #7 TS050 HYBRID  secured their first win of the season at Fuji, after a sensational race saw the team surge through the field after starting the race from 8th position on the grid in the fourth round of the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship. 

Friday’s first free practice got underway in Fuji in damp conditions,  but despite this, it was yet another productive day for Mike and the  #7 Team, where the pace was set throughout by both TOYOTA teams.

In a session which was disrupted by a red flag due to damage to the trackside kerbs, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, set the second quickest time of first practice, only 1.095-seconds behind their teammates in the #8 TS050 HYBRID.

Second practice was dry throughout but followed a similar pattern to the first session, with a 40-minute red flag period prompting a 10-minute extension of the session, allowing Mike to run through various mechanical, aerodynamic and hybrid settings before an important qualifying session and ultimately the race on Sunday.

“The day went well; we went through our programme and tried out various changes. It’s always tricky here to find the right set-up because the first two sectors are quite fast but the final sector is tight and twisty so it’s hard to get the balance right all the way around. It’s always the challenge here so we will keep plugging away to get it right for qualifying and the race.”

A dramatic qualifying session in Fuji saw Mike and the rest of his team end up in 8th on the starting grid despite initially earning pole position; however the #7 TS050 HYBRID was stripped of that honour, and the World Championship point it brings, due to a pit lane speeding violation.

As Mike’s teammate José María López came into the pits following his flying lap, he did not correctly engage the speed limiter before the pit lane entrance meaning he entered the pit lane 8.7km/h too quickly, causing his lap to be cancelled 90 minutes after the session.

This meant that the sister #8 car was elevated into pole position, whilst Mike and his team were moved back to 8th position. However, despite the disappointment of missing out on starting in pole position, Mike remained keen to reward the home crowd in Fuji with a strong race on Sunday.​

An action-packed start on a wet track saw the #8 car in pole position hold the advantage whilst Mike’s teammate, Kamui put on an overtaking show in the #7, exploiting the advantage of four-wheel drive in the difficult conditions to move from eighth on the grid to second by lap two.

Changing weather added to the ever-present drama, with bright sunshine drying the track towards the end of the safety car period. That left the #7 car on inappropriate tyres for the conditions so the team were the first car to pit for slick tyres after the 30-minute interruption and they took advantage by immediately setting very quick lap times.

The #8 took over the lead when Kamui brought his epic two-and-a-half-hour stint to an end, with Mike taking the wheel for the #7 car in second place, where he began another impressive stint.

Momentum constantly swung between the two leading cars, depending on who had the newer tyres, and Mike was able to keep up with the #8 car in 1st place and put the #7 in a commanding position on strategy and after a full course yellow with two hours remaining, José in the #7 led by around 20 seconds from the #8.

José kept a stable gap at the front until handing the lead to Kamui with just over 30 minutes remaining and Kamui had the honour of taking the chequered flag in the #7 for their first win of the season. This ended Mike’s two-year winless drought as he secured a triumphant victory in Fuji.

“I am really pleased with this result; to get a one-two in TOYOTA’s home race is a nice feeling. It was not an easy race, especially starting from eighth but our car performed really well and my team-mates did a fantastic job as usual; they were solid and consistent which was exactly what we needed. It’s great to get another win after coming so close for the last two years and to get it now at the home race is obviously great.”

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