As Steve McQueen famously said: “Racing is Life. Everything else is just waiting.” With motor racing events cancelled for the immediate future, we took the opportunity to catch up with Mike Conway, one of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s World Endurance Championship (WEC) squad, to find out how he is keeping in good physical and mental shape during the Covid-19 lockdown. Conway, 36, originally from Sevenoaks in Kent, is currently living in Los Angeles. The break in the WEC series came as he leads the drivers’ championship together with Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, his team-mates in the No7 TS050 Toyota Hybrid.
A seasoned participant in the WEC, Conway drives at circuits across the world but the season highlight is undoubtedly motorsport’s greatest endurance race, the Le Mans 24 Hours. Conway along with his teammates has to pilot one of the most technologically advanced race cars in motorsport with driver stints lasting up to three hours. The Toyota TS050 hybrid requires constant driver feedback throughout each lap to utilise the charge obtained from the hybrid battery system and then release this at the appropriate points on the circuit. Conway needs to be at the peak of mental and physical fitness to manage the extreme forces that the 1000bhp all-wheel-drive Toyota TS050 can deliver while concentrating on safely negotiating slower traffic from the different participating classes in WEC, not forgetting this continues day and night.
With all sporting fixtures affected by the current outbreak, we wanted to find out more about how Conway remains racing ready and focussed and what we can learn from this by staying safely at home and following government guidelines.
How are you dealing with the situation?
“Like everyone I’m adjusting to this new life that we’re living. I came here the week before the 1000 Miles of Sebring and then obviously the race was cancelled. I was due to stay here until the end of March and rather than fly home and self-quarantine for 14 days, I have chosen to stay with my girlfriend so we can be together.
“It goes without saying that I’m missing racing a lot but it’s really important to maintain perspective; in light of what’s going on around the world, racing is pretty unimportant at the moment.”
What strategy have you put in place to keep focused?
“I’ve tried to keep a steady routine, so I’m getting out early and cycling on my own each morning. I’ve been cooking and reading a lot more.
“With this extra time we have, it’s always useful to try to learn some new things, or do some things you’ve been putting off for a long time. For the first couple of weeks I was doing lots of odd jobs and then started tie-dying socks and customising shoes! It’s stuff that I’d wanted to do, but never had the time during the intensity of the racing season.
“My girlfriend is going to start painting, so I might join in with that as I haven’t picked up a paint brush since my school days. I’m just trying to keep it fun, rather than sit around doing very little.
“I am also into a writer called Ben Mezrich. I’ve read quite a few of his books, he usually writes about true-life events. He wrote Bringing Down the House, about card counters in casinos, which was made into the film 21. There’s another book by him called Sex on the Moon, which is about someone who stole moon rocks from NASA. I’ve also been skimming over articles on Le Mans and looking through some race data to keep me connected to motorsport.”
Many office workers around the world are getting used to a new regime of virtual meetings. Is it the same for you? Are you in regular contact with the team?
“It’s pretty quiet at the moment. We have group chats and the team keeps us updated. That’s all we can do right now. They want to know where we are and what’s happening with us. We’re all scattered around the globe, because everybody wanted to be with their loved ones. A lot of my fellow racers are passing the time by participating in e-motorsports, but I don’t have a games console here – that’s all back in the UK.”
The WEC season is scheduled to resume with the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on 15 August. Presumably you have to maintain peak fitness in readiness for pre-race testing?
“I like to keep in shape anyway, so it’s not a big problem for me. With the extra time we have on our hands, we all should be super-fit by the time we get back to racing. There are no excuses! During the week we’re doing some indoor workouts via Facetime with some of the trainers who work for the team. I’m also using YouTube videos for other workouts and then I’m getting out cycling.
“I’ve got a few different bikes, but I can’t ride off-road at the moment, so I’m getting my daily exercise by road riding. Once you’re out of the city you have some really nice roads to get some space and feel like you’re away from everything.”
How does the regime compare with what you’d undergo during the race season?
“Normally you’ll have a week or two weeks where you’ll cram in as much training as you can because you know you’re not going to do any for a couple of weeks, or you don’t know how long it’ll be, depending on the race and test schedule. But now I have to motivate myself a bit more, which is why I’ve been trying to keep a structure in my life, getting up early and riding in the mornings, because otherwise it would be easy enough to let it tail off and become demotivated. It’s going to be a long one, but once we have some testing or racing as a target, we’ll be able to focus on getting ready for that.”
This isn’t the first enforced layoff you’ve had in your racing career; 10 years ago you spent a long time on the sidelines in very different circumstances, recovering from injury after a serious Indycar accident.
“After the 2010 accident I had seven or eight months off. That was a long recovery; it took a lot longer than I thought it would to recover, to heal the bones and the muscle loss. You go through some mental and physical battles all the way through something like that, but one of the positives was that I felt like I had a reset. Once I got through it, I felt good and very motivated. One of the positive things that could come out of this current dark situation is that hopefully some people will be able to use it as a way to reconnect with loved ones and catch up with things that they only usually manage to find time to do during the holidays.”
Motorsport is usually about people coming together, but right now it’s important that every racing fan follows official guidelines in their country to help beat Coronavirus.
“It’s massively important for everyone to listen to the official advice from the government in their country. It is difficult and tough, but we’ve got to do our bit and think about everyone, not just ourselves.”
Notes to Editors, this interview was conducted on 2 April and complied with government recommendations applicable at that time.