Podium for Conway at Fuji
Podium for Conway at Fuji

Mike Conway helped Toyota Racing to a one-two at their home event at the Fuji Speedway on the weekend after an interrupted six-hour race.

Mike headed to Fuji on the back of a disappointing weekend at the Circuit of the Americas where the TOYOTA team couldn’t better the two Porsches. Heading to Fuji, a stronghold for TOYOTA in recent past, Mike was confident of a return to winning ways as he headed to the Japanese circuit.

The opening day’s preparation was heavily disrupted by the weather as persistent rain at Fuji Speedway affected both 90-minute practice sessions – making lap times fairly irrelevant.

Despite warmer conditions earlier in the week, the temperature was down to 12°C for the first session, which took place on a wet track, meaning the #7 TS050 focused on collecting data on the various wet weather Michelin tyre options.

Regardless of the weather, the team still continued with its programme of set-up comparisons to complete in order to maximise the performance of the TS050 HYBRID. This meant aerodynamic and mechanical changes as well as modifications to hybrid recovery and boost strategies.

The intensity of rain varied during the first session and therefore affected lap times. But afternoon practice was even wetter and was interrupted by a red flag after a few minutes when an LMP2 car lost control and hit the barriers, which needed to be repaired.

Heavier rain during the red flag period delayed the green flag and by then track conditions were extremely bad, so the team took no risk and ended the session early. By then the #7 TS050 HYBRID had completed a combined 45 laps over the two sessions on Friday.

“There’s not a lot to say from today due to the weather, unfortunately. We could do some of our programme in the morning but this afternoon there was no chance. Everyone’s in the same boat so we just have to make the best of it and work hard tomorrow, when hopefully the weather will be a little better.”

Qualifying

Kamui Kobayashi and José María López were selected for driving duties for the weekend’s qualifying in Japan. Rain started to fall a few minutes prior to the start of qualifying so José, who was first out in the car, used wet Michelin tyres for his first flying laps.

Struggling for pace in the #7 TS050, the team had to settle for 4th place with an average qualifying time of 1:36.620 but with a six-hour race ahead of the them, the team remained confident in their chances for a good result at their home event.

Race 

Persistent rain throughout the morning meant the race began behind the safety car and with Kamui at the wheel of the #7, the race finally began after four safety car laps.

Rain intensified and fog descended on Fuji Speedway, causing several interruptions to the race. The first came on 40 minutes with a safety car period, then 40 minutes later the race was red flagged, with the #7 running third after stealing the place from the #2 Porsche.

Immediately after the race resumed, the #7 TS050 HYBRID followed the sister car past the #1 Porsche to move into second, setting up a dramatic finale which was regularly interrupted by safety cars due to rain, fog and accidents.

The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing team had a speed advantage over their rivals in heavy wet conditions but with differing fuel strategies and any advantage removed during safety cars, the final order of the podium was unpredictable throughout.

But with the 75% mark approaching, after which full World Championship points would be awarded, more heavy fog came and another safety car was called, at which point Mike held second in the #7.

Visibility was too poor, particularly in the first sector, so the red flags were waved again, with the race not restarting. The #7 car overcame adversity to earn the runners-up spot, despite José earlier needing an unscheduled pit stop to change the steering wheel due to a problem activating the windscreen wiper.

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing now heads to the penultimate round of the season, the 6 Hours of Shanghai on 5 November still with an outside chance of the Manufacturer’s World Championships as TOYOTA trails Porsche by 58.5 points.

“Well done to the car #8 guys; they did a fantastic job. It’s great to get a one-two at our home race and a nice reward for the team for all their hard work. On our car the team did really well to maximise what we had and get second. My stint was relatively short and it was tricky in tough conditions. I was fighting with the Porsche and we had good enough pace to stay in front.”

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