6th November 2017
Mike Conway and the #7 TOYOTA saw their dominating weekend in Shanghai end in frustration as a late-race accident cost the team victory in the penultimate round of the season.
As the FIA WEC grid headed to China for the eighth round of the 2017 season, TOYOTA were needing a one-two finish at the Shanghai International Circuit in order to extend the fight for the Manufacturers’ World Championship into the finale in Bahrain.
Dry conditions set the scene for the opening day of the weekend on Friday as free practice one and two were contested around the 5.451km circuit. A delayed start to proceedings was caused by a lack of radio communication between race control and marshals, causing a 90-minute delay. Despite the delay, the sessions remained at full length and the team eventually got to work on a busy programme of tyre and set-up comparisons.
Unlike the previous round in Fuji, where wet weather hampered evaluations, the weather was dry throughout Friday allowed both TOYOTA cars to test a range of Michelin tyres. Shanghai International Circuit is particularly punishing on tyres and this creates a challenge due to 2017 regulations which require at least one set of tyres to be used for two stints during the race.
A busy first day also included fine-tuning of the hybrid boost and recovery settings to the specific demands of the circuit, which features long straights and a variety of corners, from very slow hairpins at the beginning and end of the lap to faster, to sweeping turns in the middle section.
Getting off to an encouraging start, the #7 TS050 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López topped the timesheets in the first session of the weekend with a 1:47.182 lap time. Going even quicker in second practice, the #7 TOYOTA’s lap time of 1:44.741 secured 1st place as the team set the fastest lap time of the day.
Heading into Saturday, the #7 TS050 HYBRID remained on the pace as the team set the fastest lap time in free practice three to top the timesheets for the third time in as many sessions. This left Mike confident heading into qualifying.
“It has been a decent start to the weekend. We have been continuously improving the car and working out which tyres to use. This circuit is very hard on tyres so that is an important point for us. We still have some homework to do in a few areas but it’s been an encouraging start overall.”
After being fastest in all three-practice sessions, Mike Conway and the #7 TS050 HYBRID kept up the pace in qualifying and, after waiting in the pits for the perfect gap in traffic, Mike immediately put the #7 in contention for pole position with a highly competitive lap time.
Handing over to Kamui for the second run, Kamui had his eyes on pole position and with fresh tyres on his #7 TS050 HYBRID, he delivered another pole position to earn one additional World Championship point.
“We have topped every session so far this weekend so I’m really happy. My lap was okay but I felt I could have been a little quicker because there was a lot of grip. I was expecting Kamui to go quicker and he did. It’s a great start; hopefully we can stay at the front through the race.”
Starting on pole for the fourth time in 2017, José María López was handed driving duties for the opening stint of the race and got off to a good start but had to remain vigilant as the #1 Porsche applied the pressure through the opening lap of the race. Eventually pulling out a healthy lead to the Porsche, the #8 sister car managed to pass the #1 Porsche to put TOYOTA in a dominant position with their cars running first and second.
With 26 cars on track, traffic was always going to provide a challenge for the drivers and José discovered this when he made contact with the #26 G-Drive LMP2 car after 30 minutes, sending José into a spin and losing eight seconds - dropping down the order to 3rd place.
As the pace of the #7 TOYOTA was clear to see, José soon recovered from his accident and passed the #2 Porsche to move into second place. As the hour-mark approached the first pit-stops took place, with José handing the #7 TS050 HYBRID over to Kamui.
After two hours, all leading cars had made their second pit stops and Kamui led in the #7 with the #8 just behind. Both were well clear of the #2 Porsche while the #1 Porsche was now one lap behind.
As the #7 and the #8 were on different strategies, Anthony Davidson in the #8 put on new tyres and put them to good use as he passed Kamui for the lead of the race as the #7 TOYOTA fell back to second just before a full course yellow, during which both TOYOTAs pitted – with Mike jumping in the car for his double stint with two fresh tyres on.
TOYOTA continued to lead and were consistently faster than the competition when the final pit stops came with just under an hour to go. This stop saw the #8 come in for new tyres while José, in the #7, only refuelled.
The quicker stop meant José now led the race in the #7 but with just 30 minutes left on the clock – disaster struck. Contact with the #91 Porsche GT damaged the left rear of the #7 and cost the team the lead of the race and 13 minutes in the pits were required to repair the damage.
The team eventually crossed the line in 4th place, seven laps behind the winning sister car. This meant TOYOTA lost their one-two and subsequently meant both the title battles were over, with Porsche and drivers Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley confirmed as World Champions.
“It was not easy to manage the tyres today, particularly on the second stint but we hung in there. Unfortunately, we lost the lead twice due to incidents. It could have been a one-two today and big points for the team; but that didn’t happen. Congratulations to car #8; they deserved the win so all credit to them.”
Sat 5th in the Drivers’ Championship with 91.5 points, next up for Mike is the final round of the season at Bahrain International Circuit in two weeks’ time on November 16th – 18th.
Round Eight - Shanghai
FP1: 1st (1:47.182)
FP2: 1st (1:44.741)
FP3: 1st (1:44.88)
LMP1 Qualifying: 1st (1:42.832 (average))