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Why Toyota chose Lopez over Miyata to replace Conway at Le Mans

Toyota chose Jose Maria Lopez over official reserve Ritomo Miyata as a late stand-in for the Le Mans 24 Hours because the Japanese driver is still an event rookie.

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid: Jose Maria Lopez

The decision to recall Lopez to the #7 Toyota GR010 HYBRID Le Mans Hypercar for the double-points World Endurance Championship round on 15/16 June was “a very simple one”, according to Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe director Rob Leupen. 

He explained that it was a straightforward move to bring the Argentinian back after Mike Conway broke two ribs and his collarbone in a cycling accident on Thursday “because of his experience and the inexperience of Ritomo”.

Miyata, who won both the Super Formula and Super GT titles in Japan last year was named as test and reserve driver for Toyota’s WEC assault at the start of the year, at the same time as it was confirmed that Lopez would be replaced in the #7 entry alongside Conway and Kamui Kobayashi by Nyck de Vries after six years with the manufacturer. 

“Ritomo has never driven here at Le Mans and he is with Swiss outfit Cool Racing in LMP2, and the other option was Jose,” said Leupen. 

“We discussed it within the team, and with Kamui [who is also team principal of the WEC squad] involved and Akio Toyoda [Toyota chairman] back in Japan, and it was decided it was best for everyone, including Ritomo, for Jose to jump in #7.”

Leupen stressed that Miyata, who will get his first experience of the Circuit de la Sarthe at Le Mans on Sunday in the official pre-event Test Day, would remain on call for Toyota for the remainder of the event. 

“You never know - it is still a long week,” he stated. 

Ritomo Miyata, #36 au TOM'S GR Supra

Ritomo Miyata, #36 au TOM'S GR Supra

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Miyata will get some laps with Toyota on Sunday as well as driving the Cool squad’s #37 ORECA-Gibson 07 LMP2. He is listed in both the #7 and #8 cars for the day-long test. 

Leupen revealed that the harder decision for Toyota was how to replace Lopez at the Auto Sport Promotion Lexus team in which he is contesting the full WEC this year in the new LMGT3 class. 

Expatriate Briton Jack Hawksworth has been flown in from the USA to take the seat for the professional driver in ASP’s #87 Lexus RC F GT3 alongside Esteban Masson and Takeshi Kimura.

Leupen revealed that switching Miyata to the Lexus was considered, but he explained that Ben Barnicoat, who won last year’s IMSA SportsCar Championship GT Daytona Pro title in a Vasser Sullivan Lexus with Hawksworth, was not an option. 

Barnicoat will racing AF Corse’s LMP2 entry with Nicolas Varrone and Francois Perrodo at Le Mans. 

Hawksworth described the circumstances leading up to his Le Mans debut at a “whirlwind”. 

#14 VasserSullivan Lexus RC F GT3: Jack Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat

#14 VasserSullivan Lexus RC F GT3: Jack Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat

Photo by: Brett Farmer / Motorsport Images

He revealed that he was driving to the track from his hotel at Mid-Ohio where he was scheduled to race a Toyota GR Supra GT4 Evo for the Hattori Motorsports team this weekend when he received the call from Lexus on Friday. 

“I was on my way to the circuit and then I got a phone call from Andy Graves from Toyota Racing Development [which oversees the Lexus programme in the USA],” explained Hawksworth. “That was it - I was on my way here!

“I went to the track, picked up my stuff, and then I went back to the hotel, and then straight to Detroit and booked a flight on the way.”

He arrived at Le Mans late on Saturday morning, in time for ASP’s scheduled scrutineering slot at lunchtime. 

“Le Mans was on my bucket list, but not on my immediate radar,” he said. “To be able to do it with Lexus, a brand I’ve been racing with for so long, is kind of cool.”

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