Mike travelled to his home race at Silverstone this weekend on the back of a positive pre-season test at Monza, Italy, where the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing team set the fastest time on both days of testing. The weekend started with Free Practice 1 and 2 where the #7 TS050 HYBRID finished the sessions in 3rd and 2nd place respectively.
Free Practice 3 saw the #7 end the session in 4th place with a 1:40.656 and leaving room for improvement before the day’s qualifying session. Qualifying took place in sunny but cool conditions, with track temperatures at 17°C. Kamui Kobayashi manned the #7 first and set the fastest lap of the session at his first attempt, putting the team in commanding position prior to Mike taking over the car.
Mike then took over the #7 and needed two flying laps to secure pole position, and the World Championship point that come with it for the Japanese manufacturer. His first lap was deleted due to him exceeding track limits but Mike persevered and grabbed pole for the #7 TS050 HYBRID – delivering a Toyota front row lock out for the first time since Bahrain in 2013, while the team’s 11th pole position in WEC is its first since Fuji in 2014.
The pole-sitting #7 TS050 HYBRID, manned firstly by Mike then Kamui and finally José María López, got a good start in front of the 50,200 spectators and maintained the lead through the first stages of the race. It was towards the latter part of Mike’s second stint when the #7 TS050 HYBRID suffered an anti-roll bar problem which created handling difficulties for Mike and Kamui – who took over driving duties after the second round of pit stops.
Both TS050 HYBRIDs stayed on slick tyres throughout, unlike the Porsches which switched to hybrid intermediates due to a heavy rain shower, and provided a difficult challenge as Kamui then lost time in the gravel when the rain was at its heaviest.
More rain came just after half distance, which caused the end of the #7 car’s challenge. José María, fighting a car with difficult handling, crashed into a tyre barrier at speed, causing extensive damage to the front and rear. Thankfully, a precautionary scan confirmed he suffered no injuries in the crash.
José María managed to bring the heavily damaged car back to the pits and the mechanics worked hard to repair the damage. After 66 minutes in the garage, the Toyota crew did a fantastic job to allow Mike to bring the car back out on track in 26th place.
Mike managed to cross the line in 23rd place, while the sister #8 TS050 HYBRID won the race after a dramatic finale with the #2 Porsche.
Speaking after the weekend, Mike said:“Well done to the #8 crew on the victory; they did a great job. It was a good first couple of stints for me but we had an issue with the anti-roll car so the car didn’t feel right. That affected Kamui’s stint and unfortunately José had an incident in the wet. I’m glad to hear he’s okay. The guys did a great job getting the car back out there so big thanks to the team for that. A tough weekend but we had a good car so now we look forward to Spa”.
The team now prepares for the second round of the season, the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, the final race before the Le Mans 24 Hours. Spa will mark the first time TOYOTA has entered three hybrid-powered LMP1 cars, with Stéphane Sarrazin, Yuji Kunimoto and Nicolas Lapierre competing in the #9 TS050 HYBRID.