TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will finally resume its defence of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) title after an enforced six-month break, when racing returns next weekend with the Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
The team last competed back in February in Austin, with the following race at Sebring in March cancelled due to the worldwide circumstances. The scheduled races at Spa in April and Le Mans in June were postponed, with a new race in Bahrain added to replace Sebring.
Three months later than planned, the 6 Hours of Spa will take place on Saturday 15 August without spectators. TOYOTA GAZOO Racing makes the short journey from its Cologne base determined to fight for a fourth consecutive victory at the Belgian track to extend its World Championship lead, which stands at 33 points over Rebellion Racing.
The fight for the drivers’ title is closer; the #7 TS050 HYBRID crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López leads by only five points from Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley in the #8 TS050 HYBRID.
Despite the enforced calendar changes, Spa remains the warm-up race for the Le Mans 24 Hours, adding additional importance to next week’s event, when the low-downforce-specification TS050 HYBRID will be used for the first time this season.
Engineers and drivers sharpened their competitive instincts during the racing-free period by participating in the Virtual Le Mans 24 Hours, on the same June weekend when TOYOTA GAZOO Racing should have been aiming for a third consecutive Le Mans win.
The team approached its e-motorsport debut as a relationship-building exercise, strengthening the bond between drivers and engineers following weeks without race events or face-to-face contact. That experience, plus a three-day test at Paul Ricard in July, helps the team feel ready for its return to the circuit.
Track action begins next Thursday evening with a single 90-minute practice session, which Sébastien will miss in order to compete in a Formula E race in Berlin, leaving Kazuki and Brendon to take the first preparation steps. Second and third practice will take place the following day prior to qualifying in the evening, when the 31-car grid will be decided. The race starts at 1.30pm on Saturday 15 August.
Hisatake Murata, Team President: “We are very much looking forward to racing again and I would like to thank the WEC and FIA for their hard work over the past weeks to allow us to get back on track in a safe, responsible way. It has been a difficult period for so many people around the world, but we hope to put a smile on the face of endurance fans next week with the first WEC action since February. Everyone in the team, from mechanics and engineers to drivers, have worked hard since then to stay sharp and ready to race, so we hope to fight for another victory which would be the perfect way to prepare for Le Mans.”
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7): “Our #7 crew has been so strong at Spa over the last few years but we’ve never managed to win the race due to factors beyond our control. So as well as Le Mans, this is a race I really want to win and we will give it our all. It’s an important race as well for our Le Mans preparations so we need to build on the work done at Paul Ricard by getting the most out of our low-downforce package.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “I can’t wait to race again, particularly at a great circuit like Spa. All of us on the #7 car are really motivated to challenge for the win, even though it will not be easy due to the success handicap. Over the last few years we have been particularly strong in Spa but for various reasons we haven’t managed to win the race. So we’ll be pushing hard to finally stand in the middle of the podium.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7): “I really enjoy racing at Spa, especially in the TS050 HYBRID; it’s a great sensation to drive this car around such a fantastic circuit. It’s such a long time since we raced in Austin so I think everyone in the team is impatient to go racing again. I already enjoyed driving again at the test last month; now I cannot wait to be back in a competitive environment again.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It will be interesting to drive our low-downforce car again next weekend. The test at Paul Ricard went well, but nothing compares to a race weekend, so this is an important step on our road to Le Mans. I have some nice memories from Spa over the years and the #8 car has actually won the last three WEC races there, so we will push hard to keep that run going.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “For the last months, motorsport was not the priority so we have been patient until the circumstances were right and now I am really happy to be back. It will be tough competition with the non-hybrid LMP1 cars but we are usually strong at Spa and we will be pushing hard. We are using our low-downforce car for the first time this season, so our target is also to prepare ourselves for Le Mans.”
Brendon Hartley (TS050 HYBRID #8): “I am looking forward to racing the TS050 HYBRID for the first time at Spa. I think Spa is on most racing drivers’ list of favourite tracks and feels like the perfect place to go racing again after the long break. The track has a good combination of corners but the elevation and flow makes it special. We had a successful endurance test last month and we all feel ready to go racing again and continue the fight for the championship title.”