Mike Conway says the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid is a “third-placed car” despite beating its sister machine to a front-row grid spot in qualifying for today’s 6 Hours of Circuit of The Americas.
Conway and Jose Maria Lopez managed to overturn their larger success handicap to beat the No. 8 Toyota in the qualifying averages, although they were still 1.6 seconds shy of the pole time set by Rebellion Racing’s Gustavo Menezes and Norman Nato.
Ahead of the race, Conway admitted that he doesn’t think the No. 7 Toyota will be able to mount a challenge on either of its two LMP1 class rivals in Texas.
“We only went quicker [than Toyota No. 8] only because their lap got deleted, but they were faster,” Conway told Sportscar365.
“We’ll take it and start on the front row, and hopefully have a cleaner first few corners. After that, I don’t expect us to stay where we are.
“I think we’ve got a third-placed car but we’ll see what happens. The LMP2s were nearly outpacing us on the single laps, so it’s tricky.
“I think Rebellion have got the car to do it. They’re very quick. I knew this circuit would favor them with the high-speed sector one, sector two and the top speeds on the back straight.
“If we can get a 1-2 here it will be very good. If [Rebellion] have the kind of pace they had at Shanghai, they could win the race no problem.”
Conway reckons that there will be some performance overlap between the No. 7 Toyota and the LMP2 front-runners at certain stages of the race.
During the two Free Practice sessions, the Conway/Lopez/Kamui Kobayashi car struggled to climb higher than the LMP2 mid-pack while the LMP2 pole time in qualifying was less than a second off the Toyotas.
“They’ll be difficult when they’re coming out on new tires and we’re on older ones,” said Conway.
“They should be able to pull away, especially with the top speed they have. But on the general race pace, our tire degradation is better than theirs so it should be OK.”
Lopez added that the No. 7 Toyota crew’s aim at COTA is to minimize the damage to its eight-point championship lead.
“Of course, the reality is that we are not going to be able to fight the sister car and the Rebellion in the race,” he told Sportscar365.
“We hope that car No. 8 can fight them and for us, in terms of the championship, we hope that we can finish P3 at least which I think is possible.
“The only thing we cannot afford is to have a DNF here because even if we do well in Sebring and Spa, we will not be able to catch up in the championship.
“At the end of the day, it’s probably going to end up, if nothing goes wrong, to be very similar on points when we get to Le Mans and it’s all going to be defined there.”
Hartley: Combination of Factors Made No. 7 Quicker
Brendon Hartley offered an explanation for why the No. 8 Toyota, which has a more advantageous handicap than its sister car, was the slowest of the two TS050s in qualifying.
After Kazuki Nakajima went faster than Lopez in the first set of runs, Hartley’s flyer was compromised by a red flag followed a mistake that led to a lap time deletion.
“I ran wide and abandoned the lap, knowing it wasn’t going to be counted, but we didn’t have enough time to do another proper lap,” Hartley told Sportscar365.
“We can’t do two consecutive laps in qualifying because we charge our battery up, use all the energy that we have for that one lap, and then we need another lap to recharge.
“I couldn’t do it, and then they told me on the radio that I just had to go for that lap because we didn’t have enough time to do another one, so it wasn’t a proper qualifying attempt.
“But we had a really smooth day. The Rebellion is quicker on ultimate performance, but over the course of one or two stints, we think that we can fight back and hopefully challenge for the victory.”