TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is ready to defend its FIA World Endurance Championship lead this week 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 and 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 #7 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 #8 car. Consequently, the #7 car will again compete with maximum success handicap in Austin, while the #8 car has 0.56secs per lap less handicap as a result of the championship points gap.
“I like the track,” commented Hartley, “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.”
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.