Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Jose Maria Lopez says this weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship title decider in Bahrain gives his No. 7 crew the opportunity for “revenge” after it again missed out on victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi were leading the headline double-points round of the 2019-20 season before a turbo issue sent their Toyota TS050 Hybrid to the garage for several laps and enabled the No. 8 crew to win for the third straight year.
This dropped the No. 7 drivers to second in the championship behind Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, but the return of success handicaps for the final round of the season has given the chasing No. 7 crew an apparent edge in the title race.
The points-leading No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid will be made a theoretical 0.54 seconds per lap slower than its sister No. 7 car for Saturday’s 8 Hours of Bahrain.
Lopez told Sportscar365 that a world title would validate the No. 7 crew’s improved showings in 2019-20 compared with last season when it finished second to the No. 8.
“After the disappointment of Le Mans, having the chance to decide the title here is a big motivation for us, especially with all the things that have happened to our car in the big moments,” he said.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to take a bit of revenge for that. In an eight-hour race anything can happen, but just having the chance is a big boost for us and a big opportunity.
“We know that we have a performance advantage and that is a very important thing on our side of the garage.
“I think we’ve been the quickest car in the championship this year. Unfortunately, because of the problem we had at Le Mans, we find ourselves in second position.
“If we had a clean race at Le Mans, with a win, we would have been champions already.
“We’ve always had big penalties because we’ve been first in the championship [most of the season] so we had to carry a [larger] penalty for the whole year.
“We even won in Spa with the bigger handicap, which was a key point for us. It showed that, at those races, we had better performance.
“Last year we had only a few races where we were quicker. But this year I feel we were competitive throughout the season.”
Lopez said that winning the WEC title for the first time along with Conway and Kobayashi would partially but not entirely make up for losing out at Le Mans.
“It will make up for it, but not fully,” admitted the triple World Touring Car champion.
“It still is a big pain to have lost Le Mans the last two years. It’s a big race and, for us, still a dream. But when you have the possibility to become world champion, it’s always a big thing.
“Now we have this opportunity and if we can take it, we have to.”
Toyota’s No. 8 drivers are aware that the Bahrain success handicaps will make it “very difficult” for them to convert their championship lead into the end-of-season title.
Regardless of who gets the extra point for pole position, a win would be enough for Lopez, Conway and Kobayashi to overturn their seven-point deficit.
“We come here leading the championship, but with the way the success handicap has turned out, it’s going to make it very difficult for us,” Hartley told Sportscar365.
“We’re going to do everything we can, but we know we’re disadvantaged by five to seven-tenths.
“It would have been nice to travel here knowing that we can have a nice, fair fight but that’s how it is. We’re still going to do our best to make the most of it and get the most out of our race.
“We have to try to put them under some pressure, in some way. We know the high level of the two crews, and we respect our teammates, so to make a difference on five to seven-tenths is a bit unrealistic.”
Hartley’s co-driver Buemi, who along with Nakajima is the defending champion, added that he’s heading into the finale with a positive outlook despite the No. 8 car’s success handicap disadvantage being much larger at Bahrain this year compared to 2019.
Last year’s Bahrain event saw the No. 8 car run with a 0.21s theoretical disadvantage, compared to its current 0.54s deficit, while the No. 7 machine went on to win by a lap.
“You’re going to do well over 200 laps so if [the handicap] is five-tenths, it’s more than 100 seconds and more than a lap at the end,” Buemi told Sportscar365.
“In a normal race, in normal circumstances, it is a lot. We don’t go into the week thinking that we have no chance before it’s even started, but obviously it’s unlikely that we can fight car No. 7.
“If you are fully objective, it’s very unlikely. But we will do the best we can and once the race is over, we’ll see.”