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Sanya Clash: Toyota “Expects” its Drivers to Race at Sebring

Toyota aiming to have both its drivers also racing in Formula E at Sebring, rather than Sanya…

Photo: James Moy/Toyota

Toyota “expects” to have both Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley driving for it in the 1000 Miles of Sebring, which falls on the same weekend as the Formula E race in Sanya next March.

The Japanese manufacturer’s team director Rob Leupen recently told Sportscar365 that while final confirmations are yet to be made, Toyota hopes its two drivers who also race in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship will not miss the American WEC round.

When asked if Buemi and Hartley will prioritize their endurance commitments over the electric racing series, Leupen said, “this is what we expect.”

“For us, Sebring is an important race,” he explained. “We will need to sit together with the gentlemen and clarify the situation.

“We have some opportunities where we are not too adamant on one or the other race, but both gentlemen are in car No. 8, so if both drivers are leading the championship, they will miss out on the championship.

“[Sebring] is one of the more important, difficult and prestigious races, so we would like to have all our drivers there in the lineup.

“It’s also important because we are heading to Le Mans two months after. We have Sebring in March, and then Spa, in order to run up into Le Mans.

“We also put a star next to Sebring on our calendar.”

But when asked about the clash, Buemi said his contract, which previously required the 2015-16 Formula E champion to give Toyota priority, is now “different”.

“I don’t want to say what’s written [in my contract] but I have things that give me priority to do one or the other,” Buemi told Sportscar365.

“It’s different to what it used to be. In the past, I had full priority to Toyota and now it is not exactly like that. It’s different.”

Hartley, meanwhile, confirmed that he is set to be at Sebring to drive the Toyota TS050 Hybrid.

“My priority is Sebring,” the New Zealander said. “It’s a shame [that a clash exists] but there’s not much I can do to control it. If there’s a clash, there’s a clash – it would be nice if there wasn’t one.”

In the previous instance of a Formula E/WEC scheduling conflict – in 2017 between the New York E-Prix and the 6 Hours of the Nürburgring – Toyota drivers Buemi and Jose Maria Lopez both prioritized their LMP1 commitments.

Calado Clarifies his Clash Status

Jaguar Formula E and Ferrari WEC driver James Calado has also spoken about the clash, which will see the Englishman head to Sebring as part of his contract with Ferrari.

Calado joined the Jaguar team in October and will partner Mitch Evans for all but one of the 2019-20 Formula E rounds in his debut season.

“The priority is Ferrari and WEC, so I’ll be doing the Sebring race,” the reigning 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE-Pro winner explained.

“There was a rumor that Sanya may change, so it’s unfortunate that it’s still [where it is on the calendar]. It’s just the way that it is.

“It’s difficult to do two jobs in one and be in two places at the same time, so one’s got to have priority over the other.”

Calado added that he will try to avoid thinking negatively about the clash.

“If you look at the stats of Formula E, the majority of drivers have not finished in one race, so it’s not easy to score points,” he said.

“Missing the one race isn’t ideal, but I can just treat that as a bad race. If I think positively like that, it’s fine.”

Another driver to face the same clash, Nyck de Vries, is expected to contest Sanya with the Mercedes EQ Formula E Team.

De Vries is also competing in WEC for Racing Team Nederland, but the FIA Formula 2 champion appears set to forgo the Sebring round for his role with the German manufacturer.

It’s understood that Racing Team Nederland has other options for drivers to put in its No. 29 Oreca 07 Gibson for the 1000-mile event.

DS Techeetah’s Antonio Felix da Costa, meanwhile, told Sportscar365 last month that he will be skipping his duties with the JOTA LMP2 team to be at Sanya.

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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