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No. 7 Toyota Crew “Need to Win” at Fuji for Title Defense Hopes

Mike Conway says defending champions “need a strong one” at Fuji to keep title hopes alive…

Photo: MPS Agency

Mike Conway says Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No. 7 crew “need to win” the 6 Hours of Fuji to maintain their hopes of defending the FIA World Endurance Championship title.

Reigning Hypercar world champions Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi head to the penultimate round of the season as title outsiders, sitting 30 points behind Alpine’s leading trio of Nicolas Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Andre Negrao, and 20 points off their Toyota teammates Sebastien Buemi, Ryo Hirakawa and Brendon Hartley.

While the 8 Hours of Bahrain finale yields more points due to its greater race length, Conway views Fuji as crucial in the context of the No. 7 squad’s WEC crown retention bid.

The No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid has been trying to make up ground since an airborne accident forced its retirement from the season-opening 1000 Miles of Sebring.

Conway, Lopez and team principal Kobayashi won the second round at Spa, before finishing second at Le Mans and third at Monza, where they were impacted by a 90-second penalty caused by Kobayashi making contact with Vaxiviere in a tense lead battle.

The No. 7 lineup’s best chance of being in the mix at the final round is to win at Fuji, but they would also need Alpine to finish off the podium at one of the last two races.

“After Fuji, we’ll know what our role will be in Bahrain,” Conway told Sportscar365.

“It could still be wide open, depending on what happens to the other cars. Obviously, we need a strong one and need to win at Fuji.

“If our teammates finish second and Alpine finishes third, it still gives a decent points gap for [Alpine] and is still a big gap to try and chase down.

“It’s unfortunate that we lost a lot of points early in the season, which hurt us a bit, and Alpine have been very strong and consistent.

“Car No. 8 was unlucky [retiring] at Spa and lost some points, and that’s kept Alpine in front. All we can do is go and maximize every weekend.

“If we get to Bahrain and one team needs to help out another for the benefit of the championship… we’re a team and will do those things. It’s maybe a bit early to do that yet.

“But for Japan, we’re going to score as much as possible. That’s all we can do. And then see what Bahrain brings after.”

Conway described Alpine’s greater competitiveness this season with its grandfathered LMP1 car, which is much lighter than the LMHs, has been “good in terms of competition” and has kept Toyota “on our toes” after the manufacturer dominated in 2021.

“They struggled more last year, but they seem to be in a better window with their tires,” he said.

“To be fair to them, they’ve done a good job. It’s just difficult trying to balance two different cars.”

Outlining takeaways from Monza, Conway hopes the challenges of adapting to the Toyota GR010 Hybrid’s new open differential, which the team introduced at Monza in preparation for next season when LMDh cars join Hypercar, will be less severe at Fuji.

Toyota’s new differential, which replaced a locking type, caused some handling difficulties under braking at Monza but Conway views Fuji’s circuit characteristics as more suitable.

“It definitely changed some things having the different diff setup,” he said.

“It takes more driving technique, but we’re going into Fuji with something similar, so at least we’ve got knowledge from Monza.

“The car was tricky to drive at Monza, but I think we improved it as the weekend went on.

“Monza is a real high-speed, high-braking circuit. So if it’s going to affect us at any track, Monza is high on the list for that kind of style.

“Fuji isn’t so bad: we have a big braking area for Turn 1, but the rest is tight, twisty stuff. It will have an effect, but maybe not quite as tricky as we had it at Monza.”

GR010 Hybrid Gearing Up for Fuji Debut

The next WEC race will mark the Toyota GR010 Hybrid’s first visit to Fuji Speedway, which is located near the manufacturer’s racing hybrid powertrain engineering house.

While the road-going GR Super Sport Concept has turned laps of the 2.8-mile track, its LMH cousin largely completed its testing mileage at European circuits.

Toyota’s drivers underwent simulator testing in Cologne on Monday to prepare for the GR010 Hybrid’s Fuji debut, although Conway noted that the preview work is no more intense than preparations for a race at a venue that the car has previously visited.

“It’s similar to what we normally do, even though we haven’t run there for a while,” he explained.

“We still approach it like another weekend. We’ve been at this track with the LMP1 car, so we have data from that side of things.

“It’s all really important. The systems stuff that we have to dial in throughout the weekend… with the simulator you get the chance to pre-do that and get most things in place.

“You can do a lot in the simulator, but there are always real-world things that will change like the tire temperatures, how that influences balance and handling, and the aero side.

“But it’s important for systems stuff like braking and traction control, to make sure we have a good base window and can start without issues. It’s really helpful and we get a lot done.”

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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