TOYOTA GAZOO Racing returns to Japan seeking a fourth consecutive victory on home ground in the 6 Hours of Fuji, the second round of the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.
Since the team’s last visit to its home track, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing has won Le Mans for a second time and the 2018-2019 teams’ and drivers’ World Championships. It heads to Japan on the back of six consecutive race victories, including the first win of the new season at Silverstone last month.
The #7 TS050 HYBRID crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López took maximum points in Great Britain following an exciting four-hour battle at the front, but this triumph comes at a cost for them at Fuji Speedway.
As championship leaders, they will have incurred the maximum success handicap of 1.4secs per lap, while Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley in the #8 TS050 HYBRID are penalised by one second per lap at Fuji Speedway.
The success handicaps come in addition to the established Equivalence of Technology, which already means the TS050 HYBRIDs are both up to 108kg heavier than their non-hybrid LMP1 rivals, who additionally are allowed to use up to 61% more fuel.
That means the large Japanese crowd, some of whom are part of the TS050 HYBRID powertrain development at nearby Higashi-Fuji Technical Centre, can expect an exciting race as TOYOTA defends its near-perfect record at Fuji Speedway since returning to WEC competition in 2012, having won every race except 2015.
This weekend’s race marks the final time for the iconic TS050 HYBRID to compete in Japan. Fuji Speedway has a special place in the history of TOYOTA’s most successful endurance race car as the location of its first victory, in 2016 when Kamui Kobayashi took a tense victory alongside Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin. The car, which has won a total of 14 WEC races since then, is undefeated at Fuji Speedway.
Practice begins on Friday with three hours of action split into two sessions prior to qualifying on Saturday. Racing begins with a relatively early 11am start for WEC’s return to a six-hour format following the season-opening 4 Hours of Silverstone.
Hisatake Murata, Team President: “It is always a pleasure to race at Fuji Speedway in front of our home fans and this year is even more special, as we will be competing with the TS050 HYBRID for the last time in Japan. I am sure we will again see a big crowd to enjoy this occasion and I expect they will see an interesting race, particularly because everyone in LMP1 is experiencing the success handicap system for the first time. For our team, the 6 Hours of Fuji is a rare chance for many of the powertrain engineers at Higashi-Fuji to spend time with their colleagues from Cologne and it’s always great to experience that strong team spirit. I know everyone is working flat-out with the aim of celebrating another one-two together on Sunday.”
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7): “I love going to Fuji Speedway, not only because it is our home race and we have had a lot of success there over the years. It’s also great to see everybody at Higashi-Fuji who put together our hybrid powertrain; that is always a cool experience. Obviously we are looking for another victory after starting the season with the win at Silverstone. It’s the last time for the TS050 HYBRID to race at our home track so I hope it’s a special weekend for the fans.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “I am looking forward to meeting all the Japanese WEC fans again at Fuji. Over the last years, because of my racing projects in Japan, I have got to know the circuit really well and it’s one of my favourites. It’s an unusual lay-out with the very long front straight but the tight middle section before the last sector which is quite tricky. It will be even harder for us than normal due to the success handicap but we will do our very best to win again.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7): “Fuji is the second most important race for us after Le Mans. As a TOYOTA GAZOO Racing driver, to compete in Japan is always amazing because it is our home race and also because the Japanese people are so welcoming and passionate about motorsport. It will be an interesting race in LMP1 because it will be the first time that we will be dealing with the new success handicap which means that we have the biggest penalty. So we will have to work hard and see what will happen.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8): “As you can imagine we have high expectations as the team has done very, very well in our home race in the past. We have won many times, but for me it has been a long time since I won Fuji for the last time so I will do my best to finally win it with car #8. Car #7 has done a very strong job in Silverstone so we will see how the success ballast will affect things for Fuji. Hopefully we will still be very quick and I will do my best to fight for the win.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “Fuji is always a special race for me personally and also for the team. I will never forget my first WEC victory there in 2012 and as a team we have had many special results in front of our home fans. I hope we will have a lot of TOYOTA colleagues and fans visiting us to celebrate our World Championship title and second Le Mans win. I am looking forward to it and will be giving my maximum to get back on the centre of the podium.”
Brendon Hartley (TS050 HYBRID #8): “I really look forward to Fuji, the home race of TOYOTA, and I have good memories there. I love going to Japan for the food and the culture. I also love the track and look forward to meeting a lot of TOYOTA supporters in and around the paddock. It is always a pleasure to go to Japan for a race. The Fuji track has a lot of character and is unique, particularly the last sector with all the interconnecting corners. It is an old-school track that I think all the drivers love.”