Brendon Hartley believes the 1000 Miles of Sebring will be a “different story” for Toyota Gazoo Racing compared to its struggles at Circuit of The Americas due to the Toyota TS050 Hybrid’s superior handling on the bumpy Sebring International Raceway.
The Japanese manufacturer enters the sixth round of the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship season on the heels of a dominant run by Rebellion Racing at Circuit of The Americas, which picked up its second overall win with its LMP1 non-hybrid.
It came, however, due to the size of the FIA and ACO’s Success Handicap on the of Toyota TS050 Hybrids in Texas, which saw both the Nos. 7 and 8 cars unable to match the pace of the privateer Swiss squad.
While heading into Sebring with an expected similar Success Handicap to Sebring, Hartley said he feels that the Toyota’s advantage in suspension setup will play into their hands.
The Kiwi took part in last year’s WEC race at Sebring in one of SMP Racing’s BR Engineering BR1 AERs, which finished third overall behind the two Toyotas.
“I think Sebring may be a different story [to COTA],” Hartley told Sportscar365. “Sebring, which is the second biggest race behind Le Mans, of the year. I think we’re all very motivated to try and take a victory there, like Toyota last year.
“I think there, particularly with such a bumpy track, I think the Toyotas are incredibly good on the bumps. We saw how dominate they were last year.
“Even with a tough Success Handicap, we think it’s going to be a nice race there for us.”
While admitting it will still be a “tough job”, Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon acknowledged that its independent double-wishbone and torsion bar system, which the ORECA-built Rebellion R13 Gibson is not equipped with, could again play into their hands on the 3.7-mile airfield circuit.
Toyota won the race last year by ten laps, although it came prior Success Handicap, which was rolled out for this season.
“There is no suspension-related handicap so hopefully this one does not change!” Vasselon said with a laugh.
“We are still at this very big handicap but the handicap of Rebellion has increased. Still it will be a significant job.
“Sometimes when it’s cold, we have so much less powertrain energy. We’re struggling to use and warm up the tires. It’s one of the side effects which we face when it’s cold.
“It will be another tough one with a high level of handicap.
“It’s difficult to make this kind of anticipation but we should be in better shape in Sebring with a bit less handicap, a track where we have been looking quite good last year.
“Definitely we will go to Sebring trying to win again, for sure.”
The No. 7 Toyota crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez has seen their championship lead reduced to five points over the sister car, which finished second at COTA, courtesy of a smaller handicap to the No. 8 car.
Conway, who described the COTA race as one of the most frustrating from a drivers’ perspective, doesn’t share as optimistic of a view to teammate Hartley.
“If we go in there with a big deficit already, it’s even longer [of a race],” he told Sportscar365. “At least with a longer race, more can happen. There it is quite hard on the car. We’ll see.
“It was pretty good [last year]. We’ll be better [over the bumps]. I think Ginetta will be quick, as long as they’re there!”