13th March 2019
The second half of the 2018/19 World Endurance Championship Super Season kicks off this weekend with the 1000 Miles of Sebring being the first of the final three races of the campaign.
Momentum is currently with Mike and the #7 TS050 after back-to-back victories in Fuji and then Shanghai brought Mike and his teammates to within five points of the sister #8 car heading to Sebring this week.
The one-two victory last time out in Shanghai in November ensured Toyota led both the drivers' and teams' World Championships going into the four-month winter break and the team returns to action at Sebring determined to extend that advantage with a fifth win of the season.
Unlike teammate Kamui Kobayashi who is a Sebring rookie, José María López and Mike have both raced previously at the legendary track, with Mike earning an overall podium for third place finishes in the legendary 12-hour race in 2017 and 2018.
Mike got his first chance to experience the 17-turn, 6.019km Sebring International Raceway from behind the wheel of the TS050 during a three-day test in early February. Over 4,000km of running was completed on the famously-bumpy circuit, including an endurance test at night.
The team then got another chance to get up to speed in Sebring with a two-day test at the weekend where the TS050 HYBRID unofficially set a new lap record at Sebring International Raceway thanks to a time of 1min 41.152secs from Mike on Saturday afternoon.
Mike’s blistering lap beat the official record for the current track layout set by Peugeot in 2009 by 2.122secs. At an average speed of 214.22km/h, Mike’s lap was only 0.04km/h slower than the fastest in Sebring’s 69-year history, a record set in 1986 on a previous track lay-out.
“When we had the test here a few weeks ago we were doing similar lap times so we knew it was looking good to beat the lap record. To have done that is pretty cool but we have to do it again in qualifying or the race for it to count. It’s a nice feeling to go around Sebring quicker than anyone has before. There could be even more to come during the race week; we might be able to go quicker again. The main thing this weekend was to get ourselves well prepared for race week and we have done that.”
This month's WEC race in Florida will run within the same event as the Sebring 12 Hours. For the first time ever, a WEC race will take place on a Friday, with the 1,000 miles to run from 4pm to midnight local time prior to a Saturday morning start for the IMSA race.
With only five points separating the two Toyota cars heading to Sebring, Mike will be using this weekend as a great chance to take the championship lead for the first time this season with more points on offer for this race due to its length.
“Going into Sebring my expectations are high. We would like to keep up the good run of form we have had in #7, which means continuing to score well and win more races. Sebring is going to be a challenging one because it's a new track for the team. I know the circuit well from IMSA racing and testing in IndyCar. I hope that my experience there will help the team to speed up the process and get the car into a good window. I'm looking forward to going back there and earning a good result.”
Track action starts in Florida on Wednesday with the first practice session at 19:00 (GMT). Qualifying then takes place on Friday at 02:00, with the 1000-mile race getting underway on Friday at 20:00 and finishing on Saturday morning at around 04:00.