Toyota No.7 crew ‘Need to win’ at Fuji for title defense hopes – Sportscar365
Mike Conway says Toyota Gazoo Racing’s #7 crew ‘must win’ the 6 Hours of Fuji to keep their hopes of defending the FIA World Endurance Championship title alive.
Reigning Hypercar World Champions Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi head into the penultimate round of the season as title underdogs, 30 points behind Alpine’s top three Nicolas Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Andre Negrao, and 10 points behind their Toyota teammates Sebastien Buemi, Ryo Hirakawa and Brendon Hartley.
While the 8 Hours of Bahrain final earns more points due to its longer run, Conway sees Fuji as crucial in the context of the No. 7 team’s WEC bid to retain the crown.
The #7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid has been trying to catch up since a mid-air accident forced it to abandon the season-opening 1000 Miles of Sebring.
Conway, Lopez and team principal Kobayashi won round two at Spa, before finishing second at Le Mans and third at Monza, where they were hit by a 90-second penalty caused by Kobayashi’s contact with Vaxiviere in a tense head battle.
The No.7 formation’s best chance of being in the mix in the final round is to win at Fuji, but they would also need Alpine to finish on the podium in one of the final two races.
“After Fuji we will know what our role will be in Bahrain,” Conway told Sportscar365.
“It could still be wide open, depending on what happens to the other cars. Obviously we need a strong team and have to win at Fuji.
“If our teammates finish second and Alpine finishes third, that still gives a decent points gap for [Alpine] and that’s still a big gap trying to chase.
“It’s a shame that we lost a lot of points at the start of the season, which hurt us a bit, and Alpine has been very solid and consistent.
“Car #8 was unlucky [retiring] at Spa and I lost a few points, which allowed Alpine to stay ahead. All we can do is go maximize every weekend.
“If we come to Bahrain and one team has to help another for the benefit of the championship… we are a team and we will do these things. It may still be a bit early to do so.
“But for Japan, we are going to score as much as possible. That’s all we can do. And then see what Bahrain brings next.
Conway described Alpine’s greater competitiveness this season with its grandfathered LMP1 car, which is much lighter than the LMHs, has been “competitively good” and kept Toyota “on our toes” after the manufacturer has dominated in 2021.
“They struggled more last year but they seem to be in a better window with their tyres,” he said.
“To be fair to them, they did a good job. It’s just hard trying to balance two different cars.
Outlining the takeaways from Monza, Conway hopes the challenges of adapting to the new Toyota GR010 hybrid open differential, which the team has introduced at Monza in preparation for next season when LMDh cars join Hypercar, will be less severe in Fuji.
Toyota’s new differential, which replaced a locking type, caused some handling difficulties under braking at Monza, but Conway considers the circuit characteristics of Fuji to be more appropriate.
“It definitely changed some things with the different differential setup,” he said.
“It takes more riding technique, but we are going to Fuji with something similar, so at least we have some knowledge of Monza.
“The car was difficult to drive at Monza, but I think we improved it over the weekend.
“Monza is a real high-speed, hard-braking circuit. So if that’s going to affect us at any track, Monza is top of the list for that kind of style.
“Fuji is not so bad: we have a big braking zone for Turn 1, but the rest is tight and twisty. It will have an effect, but maybe not as complicated as we had in Monza.
Hybrid GR010 gears up for Fuji’s debut
The upcoming WEC race will mark the Toyota GR010 Hybrid’s first visit to Fuji Speedway, located near the manufacturer’s hybrid racing powertrain engineering home.
While the road-going GR Super Sport concept clocked up 2.8-mile laps of the track, its LMH cousin has largely completed its test mileage on European circuits.
Toyota drivers underwent simulator testing in Cologne on Monday to prepare for Fuji’s debut of the hybrid GR010, although Conway noted that the preview work is no more intense than preparations for a race at a venue that the car has already visited.
“It’s similar to what we normally do, although we haven’t raced there in a while,” he explained.
“We always approach it as another weekend. We have been on this track with the LMP1 car, so we have data on that side.
“Everything is very important. The system stuff that we have to dial in over the weekend…with the simulator you have the ability to pre-do that and get most things in place.
“You can do a lot of things in the simulator, but there are always real world things that will change like tire temperature, how it influences balance and handling, and the aero side.
“But it’s important for systems like braking and traction control, to make sure we have a good base window and can start without a problem. It’s really useful and we do a lot of things.