Toyota Motorsport director Rob Leupen says Audi’s pace in the FIA WEC season finale at Bahrain took the Japanese team by surprise, as its slim hopes of taking the drivers’ title disappeared.
The #6 Toyota crew of Stephane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi arrived at the Sakhir track 17 points behind the #2 Porsche squad, and therefore in need of at least a second place finish to have any chance of taking the title.
But, both TS050 Hybrid cars struggled for pace in the six-hour event, eventually finishing fourth and fifth, while Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb took the title with a sixth-place finish.
Speaking to Motorsport.com after the race, Leupen said the fact Audi had the speed to be able to take a one-two finish in the German marque’s farewell race came as a big shock to Toyota.
"It was a really disappointing race for us,” admitted Leupen. “We expected more. Audi was incredibly strong, we didn’t count on that.
“This was a race where we thought we could have had a good chance to fight for victory but that it turned out that this wasn’t the case.
“We actually expected that the Porsche #1 was the car that we needed to beat, but there were two others in front of us who put on quite a show. There was not more possible here.
“We had some problems with the tyres, but the drivers did everything they can and the entire engineering team and mechanics did everything they can. But this was it.”
Speaking on Sunday, Sarrazin said the fact Toyota couldn’t at least maintain its streak of podium finishes was a big source of disappointment, even if snatching the title from Porsche was a long shot.
“The problem was the balance in general,” the Frenchman told Motorsport.com. “We never generated good grip, we were not as fast as Audi. We did our best, but it was difficult.
“After all the last races where we were very fast, here we expected a high level of performance. Clearly we were not on the pace of the Audi, and not on the pace of the Porsche.
“It’s a shame we didn’t fight for the podium in the last one, we did so many podiums this season. This has been my best season at Toyota for sure.”
Sarrazin is understood to be making way for three-time WTCC champion Jose Maria Lopez next season in what is otherwise set to be an unchanged full-time line-up for Toyota in 2017.
Additional reporting by Erwin Jaeggi and Khodr Rawi