With Scrutineering complete, the first track action at Le Mans during race week beckons for Toyota Gazoo Racing — which, let’s not forget, is still looking to score the Japanese manufacturer’s first victory at La Sarthe.
It’s a big week for the team, with so many unknowns in the class and a lot of pressure on the crew to succeed this time with no other factories in the class. Toyota knows that this year, the focus is completely on its team and that whatever the outcome, historically significant headlines will be written.
Fernando Alonso, who has shifted his focus from the Canadian Grand Prix to the Le Mans 24 Hours since making the trip over the Atlantic, said yesterday that after a tough season so far in F1, it’s refreshing to be competing in France this week with a real chance at winning the race overall.
“I’m definitely very excited to fight for a win,” he said. “In F1 I’m not fighting for the World Championship. But at the same time we’re going in the right direction — we’re 100 times better than last year.
“I have a bit of jet lag, but it’s only Monday; I’ll be good for free practice. Racing here is very special. Now, I’m ready to enjoy every single minute, but because we’re leading the WEC after winning in Spa, it’s an important race for us.
“It’s very special to drive for Toyota, this team, with its experience. We know how competitive we can be. It’s still going to be a challenge to win the race, Toyota hasn’t won here before, but we are committed to change history, and this year we are as prepared as we could be. We’ve done good winter testing, good endurance runs. We hope we can do well this weekend.”
Longtime Toyota driver Mike Conway told RACER that he’s not underestimating the privateer competition in the LMP1 class. He said he wasn’t surprised that Rebellion Racing came within a second of Toyota’s best time at the Test Day with its mildly revised TS050 HYBRIDs, despite its R-13s using the day to run on the full Circuit de la Sarthe for the first time.
“It’s different. There’s no manufacturers with us, but the competition we have is very good — I think Rebellion and SMP look very good. I don’t think they showed everything at the test either so it could be interesting — it should be tight. We’re not going to worry about the competition too much, as we need to concentrate on running our own race.”
He did acknowledge, though, that due to Equivalence of Technology restrictions in place for race week, the Privateer teams will struggle to keep up with the Toyotas if they run clean, because they’ll have to pit more often and spend longer in the pits during each stint.
“Yeah [they may struggle after the opening stint of the race], as they are doing 10 laps per stint whereas we’re doing 11, and they’ll have to spend longer in the pits, so they will miss out there too,” he explained. “But if they make it back up on the track, you don’t know.
“They can be a threat for pole, certainly, from what we saw [on Test Day] from Rebellion, they’re great through Sectors 1 and 3. I expected them to be fast as they can run a lot more downforce than we can. They look pretty close.”