Austin will be "non-event" for points-leading Toyota
The FIA World Endurance Championship points-leading #7 Toyota faces a "non-event" in this weekend's Lone Star Le Mans, admits Mike Conway.
The TS050 Hybrid shared by Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi has been slowed by 2.77 seconds a lap at the Circuit of the Americas, courtesy of the trio's eight-point advantage in the standings over the sister #8 Toyota crew.
Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley by contrast have only been hit with a handicap worth 2.21s a lap at the Texan venue.
Conway set the fastest time in the #7 car in both of Saturday's practice sessions, lagging 2.381s behind the pace-setting Rebellion in the afternoon's FP2 session and ending up slower than four of the nine LMP2 runners.
"Unless something happens, for sure," said Conway when asked by Motorsport.com if he felt the #7 Toyota had no chance to win. "I think we expected [to lose] a good second to 1.5s, but at the moment it’s 1.5s to 2s a lap, a bit more than we expected.
"If it’s like that in the race, it will be pretty lonely. And there are LMP2s faster than us.
"I think in the race the LMP2s pace drops. We’ll see what they can do in qualifying, but in the race we should be ok. Our degradation is not too bad and I think theirs is more than us.
"I thought this would be a difficult one for us anyway, and it’s the biggest offset in terms of having the biggest lead in the championship. It’s gonna be a pretty non-event.
"The offset gets bigger for us. It gets to a certain point where we’re fairly even, and then it’s a big drop in terms of power for us. So it’s a bit of a shame."
Rebellion topped both practice sessions with Gustavo Menezes at the wheel, although the Swiss team faces a race against time to change the engine it blew in FP2 for qualifying.
"Rebellion has got a good chance in qualifying, and they just need a clean race," added Conway. "It looks like they are quicker, long runs as well.
"It always gets a bit closer come race day, but I think it’s only gonna be car 8 that’s got a chance to win. We’ll be wherever after that."
Menezes said that both COTA's track layout and the success handicap system, which has slowed the #1 car by only 0.55s a lap this weekend, were helping Rebellion.
The American driver commented: "Toyota is definitely at a disadvantage with quite a heavy success penalty here, so we'll do our best to take advantage of the opportunity we have.
"I think the track suits our car quite well, and we have the advantage with performance. So I think it should be a fun race tomorrow."
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