Disappointment for Conway in Mexico
Disappointment for Conway in Mexico

It was a disappointing weekend for Mike Conway in Mexico after the #7 TOYOTA TS050 HYBRID failed to make the podium in the fifth round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship.

Action in Mexico saw a change in the timetable, with the second 90-minute practice session being moved from Friday to a packed Saturday schedule.

Friday

The first practice session of the week started at 5.20pm local time, just minutes after the end of a heavy rain shower, which left the track very wet in the opening minutes with standing water in many places.

Air temperatures of 20°C contributed to improvements as the session went on, but the inconsistent track conditions limited the possibilities for aerodynamic and slick tyre evaluations, with only 30 minutes of dry running possible.

Nevertheless, the team could make progress on both cars with hybrid recovery and boost strategies, as well as understanding the behaviour of the wet and hybrid intermediate tyres, which could be valuable considering the forecast for more rain during the weekend.

With only 90 minutes of practice available and time needed between stints to make set-up changes, no driver was able to spend a significant amount of time behind the wheel.

Lap times fell considerably during the final third of the session after the #7 TS050 HYBRID switched to slick tyres but did not represent the full performance potential, with the session’s fastest lap two seconds away from last year’s pole position time.

Mike Conway’s #7 TS050 HYBRID finished the day in third place. A 1:28.029-minute lap time saw the team finish just 1.003 seconds behind the leading #1 Porsche.

“It was good to do some wet running so we are prepared for all eventualities this weekend. There are some improvement points which we didn’t have time to test during the session. It is a decent starting point but we need to work on some areas that will improve our lap time.”

Saturday

Two practice sessions kick started action in Mexico and the #7 TOYOTA TS050 fell just short of the Porsches in both sessions, finishing the two practices in 3rd place and in doing so setting up a close qualifying battle.

In front of the enthusiastic Mexican fans, qualifying started five minutes earlier than schedule  due to the threat of rain but Mike, manning the #7 TS050 HYBRID, waited a few moments before taking to the track.

Mike set only one lap in the #7, which has been on pole three times already this season, and earned second position before handing over to teammate José María Lopez, who was narrowly behind the #1 Porsche after his first flying lap. After he tried another attempt with fresh tyres, José María was blocked by an LMP2 car, taking away the chance of a front-row start.

Narrowly missing out on the front row by just 0.092 seconds, the #7 TS050 HYBRID secured third place on the starting grid for Sunday’s 6-hour race.

“I was quite happy with my lap. We were just a bit down on each sector and that was enough to keep us off the front row. The guys did a great job, made some positive changes from third practice and made a good step. I am happy with how the car feels. We have to see what happens in the race; we need to be smart especially if we get the mixed weather conditions as predicted.”

Sunday

With Mike taking charge of the #7 TS050 HYBRID first, the Englishman got a good start and kept his third place off the line and kept the sister #8 behind.

In the opening stint, Mike in the #7 led the TOYOTA challenge from third with #8 following closely behind in fourth, although both began to drop back from the leading Porsches. A quick change of tyres and a dash of fuel saw Mike briefly losing 3rd place to the sister car, before taking back the place.

Soon after the 90-minute mark, Mike was caught up in traffic which allowed the sister #8 TS050 HYBBRID to move up to third place – demoting Mike and #7 to 4th.

Despite using the high-downforce TS050 HYBRIDs, the team’s race performance was compromised by a relative lack of downforce in the thin air at 2,285m altitude. That put both cars at a disadvantage compared to the opposition and this became evident from the start.

The half distance point was passed with José María at the wheel of the #7 and a battle with the sister #8 saw both cars taking turns to hold third place as the momentum switched between the two.

When Kamui Kobayashi took his stint behind the wheel, he experienced the first full course yellow of the race, when a baseball from the nearby sports complex found its way on track with 90 minutes remaining.

Another followed for debris with an hour remaining and, as the race entered its final 35 minutes, a few rain drops began to fall but the predicted downpour never materialised.

In order to maximise the points total for the World Championship-chasing #8 crew, the team controlled the final stint and Kamui eased off to allow the #8 to take the chequered flag in third despite a short fuel stop in the final minutes.

Mike reflected on a frustrating day for the team in Meixco.

“We were pushing as hard as we could to stay with the leaders but we could not fight at all today which is frustrating. In the end, it was just about doing the best we could and hoping for something, but no rain came and Porsche had a clean race. We will be working hard to be stronger in the next round.”

Mike ends the weekend 5th in the Drivers’ Championship with 48.5 points and Toyota now trails Porsche by 56.5 points in the Manufacturers’ Championship. The team does not need to wait long for the opportunity to improve on the weekend’s result, with the sixth round of the season taking place across the United States border at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas on 16 September

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