Toyota Gazoo Racing is ready to defend its FIA World Endurance Championship lead this weekend when the 2019-2020 season resumes with the six-hour Lone Star Le Mans race, in Austin.
The WEC returns to the Texas track for the first time since 2017 as a replacement for the cancelled race in Sao Paulo, Brazil which had been scheduled for 2 February. Toyota Gazoo Racing heads to Austin searching for its first-ever win there.
This weekend’s race is the fifth of eight in the 2019-2020 season and Toyota Gazoo Racing begins the second half of the campaign with a 41-point lead over Rebellion Racing in the teams’ World Championship.
The No7 TS050 Hybrid crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López leads the drivers’ standings by eight points from Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley in the No8 car. Consequently, the No7 car will again compete with maximum success handicap in Austin, while the No8 car has 0.56secs per lap less handicap as a result of the championship points gap.
Since the team’s last visit to the Circuit of the Americas, it has won Le Mans twice and earned a teams’ and drivers’ World Championship double with its history-making TS050 Hybrid. The Austin track is one of only three venues, alongside Mexico City and Nürburgring, in the modern WEC era at which Toyota has not won, with a best result of second achieved in 2013.
Unlike previous WEC visits to Austin, which took place in September and were characterised by hot, humid weather with regular thunderstorms, this week will be much cooler, making the practice sessions particularly important to discover Michelin tyre performance and degradation in the February conditions.
The team will have its work cut out to complete its practice programme due to the compressed format in use this week. All track action will take place within two days, meaning four hours of practice and qualifying on Saturday, followed by the race from midday on Sunday.
Hisatake Murata, Team President: “We are looking forward to returning to Austin, where we always get a warm welcome from the city and the American endurance racing fans. It is unusual to visit a track where we haven’t previously won a race, so the target in Austin is clear; we are motivated to finally get our first victory in Texas. Although it is 10 weeks since our win in Bahrain, I know everyone in the team has had a busy start to the year, preparing to finish this season strongly as well as working flat-out on our new car for next season. This will be an exciting and important year for Toyota Gazoo Racing; we are all determined to make a positive start.”
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID No7): “The Circuit of the Americas is one of my favourite tracks because it is really fast and flowing. Sector one is a lot of fun and the rest of the circuit is also pretty challenging. I haven’t driven there since 2017 and it seems like the track surface has got a bit bumper since then; let’s see what it’s like when we get there. Austin itself is a great city so I’m looking forward to race there again.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID No7): “I am happy to be racing again in the US, following my win at the Daytona 24 Hours last month. It’s always fun to race in the States because the fans are very enthusiastic and the atmosphere is really nice. It’s going to be a tough race for the #7 car, like we had in Shanghai, but we know the task facing us and we will be prepared.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID No7): “In our car, we arrive in Austin as World Championship leaders but this means a heavy success handicap for the race. Therefore we have to fight as hard as we can to minimise the loss so our approach to the whole week has to be a bit different to Bahrain. I think everyone in the paddock enjoys visiting Austin, but it’s extra special to me because it’s relatively close to South America.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID No8): “It’s cool that WEC managed to replace Sao Paulo with Austin, which is one of my favourite tracks and favourite cities. It will be a different challenge as a two-day event instead of the normal three. Saturday will be intense with free practice and qualifying all on the same day. I have been in the simulator in Cologne to help us be as ready as possible and I am looking forward to it.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID No8): “It’s been a long time since I raced in Austin. I remember it was very tough last time I raced there because it was very hot and I had a lot of time in the car. In February, the weather will be a bit different which is good news; I’m looking forward to it more than ever. It will be another tough race because the non-hybrid LMP1 competition will be strong again, but we will keep pushing.”
Brendon Hartley (TS050 HYBRID No8): “I like the track; the combination of corners is nice and the uphill stretch to turn one is impressive. There are a lot of high-speed corners, then towards the end of the lap some slower corners with overtaking possibilities, so it’s a good mix with plenty of character. Last time I raced there it was very bumpy but it has been resurfaced so I’m interested to find out what’s changed.”