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Toyota WEC Drivers Unavailable to AXR Until Race Day Morning

Toyota requiring No. 7 drivers to remain stationed in WEC paddock until end of Friday…

Photo: Jamey Price/Toyota

Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez will be unable to drive their Action Express Racing DPi cars for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring until race day morning due to a rule laid down by their FIA World Endurance Championship employer Toyota.

The Japanese manufacturer is mandating the drivers of its No. 7 WEC entry to fully focus on that program until after the 1000 Miles of Sebring concludes at 8 p.m. on Friday.

The reigning world champions will then be free to switch over to the Cadillac DPi-V.Rs that they are driving in Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race.

However, they will only be able to take part in Saturday morning’s 20-minute warmup before launching into the 12-hour race which starts at 10:40 a.m.

Kobayashi and Lopez are sharing the No. 48 Cadillac with Mike Rockenfeller, while Conway is part of the No. 31 lineup alongside Tristan Nunez and Pipo Derani.

“Until the end of our race on Friday, they are here. And then after, they do what they want,” Toyota’s WEC technical director Pascal Vasselon confirmed.

“They don’t move from here. It means they are not jumping from one paddock to the other. We are happy and allow them to race, but it cannot be to the point that it interferes with our weekend.

“During our weekend, they are with us 100 percent. Then when the race weekend is finished, they do what they want.

“We are always discussing with our drivers to find our best interests. It is quite straightforward.

“It is something we have put in place a while ago, that yes you can race in the IMSA race but after our weekend. Whether it is possible or not, they discuss it with the IMSA teams.”

Action Express Racing is prepared for the task of only having half of its driver lineup available for the IMSA practice and qualifying sessions, according to the team’s director of race operations Chris Mitchum.

“We’re focused on making sure their regular day job is their priority,” he said. “But we knew that coming in. We were fortunate enough to be able to test here.

“We were able to test here with the cars and Rocky along with our other guys in the 31.

“There’s some commonality in the setup and stuff that’s been learned but they’re going to rely on their track time in the Hypercar and come over and get in the DPi.

“They’re trying to win two races this weekend. It would be fun.”

Mitchum added that Action Express is “planned out” for the “potential strain” caused by all members of the No. 48 crew competing in both Sebring enduros.

Kobayashi and Lopez’s co-driver Rockenfeller is also taking part in the WEC race for LMP2 outfit Vector Sport, but is able to take part in the IMSA build-up sessions.

“There is certainly a potential for strain but we’re planned out,” said Mitchum.

“The concept is that Rocky’s focus is actually DPi because they’ve already had the Prologue [last weekend] and there’s more drivers there.

“He’ll be 100 percent with us for all of our sessions. It won’t interrupt us at all. Whereas on the Hypercar side, those guys are fully focused there until the warmup. 

“And we’ll just have to manage it between [Kamui and Jose Maria] in the warmup.

“The morning warmup will be critical. But really it’s a 12-hour race. You’ve got top-level professionals like that, their first stint, they’ll get comfortable. 

“We’re worried about the checkered flag at the end, not the green flag.”

Toyota Drivers “Comfortable” with Sebring Rule

Conway, Lopez and Toyota WEC team principal Kobayashi all feel at ease with the fact that they won’t get behind the wheel of a Cadillac DPi until race day morning.

“I am fully committed to WEC,” said Kobayashi, who is a two-time Rolex 24 winner in the Cadillac prototype. “Then on Saturday I will go to the DPi car for the warmup.

“I’ll drive for ten minutes and then race. It’s fine. I think I’m a guy who doesn’t need the practice. This is what I do myself. I’m quite comfortable with this.

“I’m happy with full commitment [to] WEC and after the WEC is done, I’ll do DPi and just race.”

Conway will have the benefit of the full 20-minute warmup to himself, whereas Kobayashi and Lopez will need to share the No. 48 Cadillac during that time.

“It’ll be a late finish for us on Friday and then an early start on Saturday,” the British driver told Sportscar365.

“Not much rest in between and they’ll both be hard races. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve tried to do it a few times actually, just couldn’t get the calendars to work before.

“It should be OK because we drive on the track all week. And then we obviously know how to drive the other car.

“We’ll keep an eye on what’s going on and we can talk on the phone to the team and see what they’re up to and how things go.”

Lopez has the least DPi experience out of the Toyota trio, having only made his category debut less than two months ago in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“There was a test [for Action Express] but I was testing in Europe for Toyota, so I couldn’t come. So I haven’t really had much time to prepare,” he said.

“But I’m always looking at the videos. There are a few things you can do.

“I know it’s going to be tough, physically speaking because we are finishing the race late on Friday and have to be here very early on Saturday.

“I’m driving a different car which we are not going to drive before. It’s going to be difficult. But I drove the car and know the track; no worries about it.”

John Dagys contributed to this report

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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