Misfortune for Conway at Spa
Misfortune for Conway at Spa

It was a weekend of mixed feelings for Mike Conway as the Toyota Gazoo Racing driver set the fastest lap in qualifying and secured pole position for the 2019 Six Hours of Spa.

The race then saw Mike and the #7 lead the race at a dramatic weather-affected Spa-Francorchamps before a sensor issue ended the team’s hopes of victory. The result in Spa sees TOYOTA crowned the 2019 World Champions with one race remaining.

The #7 crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López got practice underway on Thursday in two rain-hit sessions, which contributed to three red flags in practice two, reducing the time available for preparation but the #7 team diligently went about their business establishing appropriate set-ups for the predicted wet qualifying and dry race.

Qualifying the following day saw Mike steal the show, as the #7 TS050 HYBRID earned the bonus point for pole position to reduce the deficit in the drivers’ World Championship to 14 points. With the sister #8 car lining up alongside them to secure a front-row lockout for the TOYOTA team at the 6 Hours of Spa.

Mike set the fastest lap of the session, having taken over the #7 from Kamui who set the car’s first flying lap. He was tantalisingly close to setting a new LMP1 lap record for Spa, missing the 2017 mark set by Stéphane Sarrazin in a TS050 HYBRID by just 0.025secs but setting the lap record for the fastest average lap.

“It was a nice lap. Kamui was quick – he put in a really good lap this morning and again in qualifying. I knew the pressure was on! The car felt strong all through the lap and I was happy to be a little faster at the end. All credit to the engineers and the team for doing such a good job all weekend. Tomorrow is going to be tricky with the conditions so it’s great to start in the right position.”

History was made in the opening laps when heavy snow hit Spa just a few minutes after the start; the first time that snow has affected a WEC race. Remarkably, racing continued for almost 30 minutes until conditions forced a safety car with Mike leading having started from pole position in the #7.

After 25 minutes, and now in bright sunshine, the race resumed with Mike leading from the #3 Rebellion. Sébastien Buemi in the #8 car, who had lost time in his pit stop, immediately took second place for the #8 and then moved into the lead at the end of lap 19.

Another safety car due to an accident a few moments later triggered drama for both of the TOYOTA cars. Mike, who had used less fuel in the opening stint compared to the sister car, was able to refuel normally and switch to slick tyres when the pit lane opened.

With almost three hours completed, the race took another dramatic turn when Kamui, who had been leading by around 50secs at the halfway stage, experienced a sensor issue on the #7. He brought the car back to the pits where the pit crew worked quickly to rectify the issue and allow José to resume, now four laps behind the leaders and in 19th position.

Entering the last hour, José had fought his way into the top six when more bad weather forced another safety car. The race finished a few minutes early when the red flags were waved due to the treacherous conditions, with Kamui Kobayashi bringing the car home, four laps behind after a valiant fight back to 6th place.