Toyota Gazoo Racing driver Mike Conway believes the non-hybrid LMP1 cars have a “good shot” of challenging for the 24 Hours of Le Mans pole this week.
The Englishman has suggested that the 1.8-second margin that Toyota put up against the non-hybrids during the pre-event Test Day could be chipped away in qualifying.
Toyota ran similar Test Day times to last year, with Sebastien Buemi’s leading 3:19.400 effort falling a few tenths shy of Fernando Alonso’s 3:19.066 benchmark from 12 months ago.
Conway suggested that Buemi’s time was the best that the Toyota TS050 Hybrid could achieve in the hot Test Day conditions, and said there’s “no reason” for it deviate far from Kazuki Nakajima’s 2018 pole time of 3:15.377 if qualifying runs to similar settings.
He added that the privateers “look strong” despite running slower in this year’s Test Day compared to last year, a stat that Rebellion Racing attributed to the track conditions.
Toyota was handed a 10kg weight increase ahead of this year’s race in the pre-event Equivalence of Technology, while the non-hybrid teams have been given multiple concessions since 2018 including a greater fuel flow rate.
“It looks like it’s going to be pretty tight with the privateers, they look pretty fast,” Conway told Sportscar365.
“I can see them having a good shot at the pole, but you never know if you can get a clear lap or not in qualifying at Le Mans.
“But they look strong and we are expecting a good fight.”
Conway said that the privateer teams “have come on leaps and bounds” since the beginning of the 2018-19 ‘Super Season’, which Toyota has dominated so far.
All but one of the independent outfits entered the current campaign with new non-hybrid cars, while last year’s Le Mans marked only their second-ever race.
The Toyota, on the other hand, is set to participate in the 24-hour race for a fourth time.
“They’ve had a good year of development,” said Conway, who noted that Toyota’s extra 10kg from the pre-event EoT has created a disparity in LMP1 top-end speeds.
“For us, we already knew a lot about the car and had got the most out of it during last year’s Le Mans.
“This year, I think they’ve come on leaps and bounds. We expect them to be quicker on the straights, as always. That’s the way the rules are for them.
“If you look at all the sector times, I think they were quickest – not just SMP, but Rebellion as well. All things considered, based on what we saw [during the Test Day], I think they’re definitely quicker.
“On the straights we did around 335 km/h and they did 350 km/h, so we gain on the first part [of the Mulsanne] and they gain on the second part.
“I think, with what we’ve seen, in all the mini sectors of the track, that they’re well capable of challenging for the front row.”