Toyota Gazoo Racing Team Director Rob Leupen admits that the team’s performance in the FIA WEC season-ending Six Hours of Bahrain did not live up to expectations, as the No. 6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid slipped to third in the final standings.
Mike Conway, Stephane Sarrazin and Kamui Kobayashi were the closest challengers to the championship-leading No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid before the race, but were unable to take advantage of a puncture which dropped the Porsche off the lead lap and eventually finished fifth.
That meant sixth was enough for Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas to take the World Endurance Drivers’ Championship, while victory for the No. 8 Audi R18 on its final appearance in the WEC meant Toyota also missed out on second.
Leupen conceded that Audi’s performance had been a surprise after they had struggled in China, and expressed disappointment that Toyota could not capitalize on Porsche’s dramas.
“We had some tire issues, so the car wasn’t as quick as we expected and we couldn’t make it stronger,” Leupen told Sportscar365.
“I think it was temperature. The drivers complained about a lot of understeer and when we moved to the J-tire, we had oversteer. We didn’t get the tires to work here and that’s one of the main reasons, that’s it.
“We haven’t matched our own expectations. Audi was extremely strong, so we needed a win or a second place and be there where they are today.
“They were dominant with both cars; we didn’t expect that here. We were on par in China and apparently they made a big step forward, but all we can say is congratulations to them and congratulations to Porsche with a second world championship this year.”
Despite the sub-par finish to the year, victory in Fuji and a further six podium visits represented a vast improvement on 2015, giving Leupen cause for optimism heading into next season.
“For us, it has not been too bad a season, we are content,” he said.
“We would say proud if we achieved a bit more this year, but the guys in car No. 6 did a great fight and they have shown especially in Fuji but also in Le Mans that they were on the pace.
“They fought back in Mexico and Austin with podium places, so they deserved to be here and challenging [Porsche] at the last race.
“In the second half of the season, they were in front of the Porsche No. 2, so we will stay in front of both Porsches next year and then everything will come okay.
“This year was a good return if you compare it to 2015, with of course two races which we will never forget at Spa and Le Mans.
“Now we are looking forward to next year, unfortunately without Audi, but for sure with a better car than this year and challenge Porsche significantly more than we have done this year.”