Toyota Motorsport Director Rob Leupen believes the Japanese manufacturer “should have the edge” on Porsche for the FIA WEC title-decider in Bahrain.
The #6 Toyota crew of Stephane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi head to the season finale with an outside shot at title honours, having closed to within 17 points of the #2 Porsche thanks to a second-place finish in Shanghai ahead of the sister #5 car.
Two slow punctures for Conway put out to any chance of the #6 trio challenging the #1 Porsche for victory in China, meaning the #6 Toyota realistically requires a win in Bahrain to have a chance.
But Leupen believes that the likelihood of Porsche team orders, combined with track characteristics more favourable to the TS050 Hybrid, makes Toyota a strong contender for victory.
“Porsche #1 would have been very difficult to beat [in Shanghai],” admitted Leupen. “Two punctures mixed up the strategy a bit, but I think they would have had the edge at the end.
“Nevertheless, we still have a chance at the championship, and I think Bahrain is a circuit that will suit us better than here. So we’ll go for it.
“The #2 started well [before having later trouble], but we know our car improves over the race and it happened this time also. We are the slow starters, but we come in with the pace at the end.
“We should have the edge on Porsche [in Bahrain], as the #1 will make way for the #2, but Audi in their last race will be strong I think. From that point of view it’s something to look forward to.”
Despite the #6 crew recovering from fourth to second in the closing stages after the two punctures, Leupen admitted that the #1 Porsche would have still likely been out of reach in Shanghai even with a
totally smooth run.
“We would have been 10 to 15 seconds [behind at the finish] if everything went as expected, but maybe we could have applied some pressure,” he added.
“We originally planned to splash at the end without changing tyres. The first puncture was then to get rid of the splash, but then we got a second one; Mike should have gone another 10 to 15 laps.
“That put us back to the original strategy, which meant we had to do a splash at the end. So we were back to where we were without the interference.
“Luck was not on our side, but in the end we are happy to be second and third.”