So near…and yet so far, is the story of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s record at Le Mans. The world watched in stunned silence when in 2016 the #5 Toyota TS050 Hybrid rolled to a stop on the penultimate lap of the race. Having the title of the world’s toughest endurance race snatched from your grasp with the finish line in sight was the cruellest outcome for a team who had worked so hard.
With this in mind, Toyota Gazoo Racing has announced its WEC plans for 2017, confirming that it will indeed field three cars for Spa and Le Mans, these being the second and third rounds of the championship. This demonstrates its commitment to endurance racing and enhances its chances of victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours. This three-car entry in selected races obviously brings with it a requirement for extra drivers. To this end the Argentinian José María López will join the team and will compete alongside Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota. José María, 33, competed in GP2 before moving to the World Touring Car Championship where he won the last three titles.
The 2014 drivers’ World Champions Sébastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson in the #8 car will again team up with Kazuki Nakajima, the only Japanese driver to earn pole position at Le Mans, to compete together for a full season in the other TS050 Hybrid.
Stéphane Sarrazin, part of the Toyota WEC team from the start of the project in 2012, retains a significant role and will bring the benefit of his experience to the team’s third car entry (#9) as lead driver. The team is still assessing its options for his two team-mates, with a decision expected soon.
Toyota Gazoo Racing will present its 2017 team, including an updated TS050 Hybrid, on 31 March at the Prologue at Monza, prior to the two-day official test for all WEC participants at the Italian circuit.
Toshio Sato, Team President: “I believe this is an exciting time for Toyota Gazoo Racing in endurance racing. Entering three cars for Spa and Le Mans represents a new challenge for our team. We are working hard to be prepared and we are inspired to win. I would like to welcome José María to our team; I am confident he will fit in well as he is quick, intelligent and a strong team player. Our existing drivers have already proven their abilities in endurance racing; all are race winners and we are very happy to work together again.”
José María López: “It’s great to be part of Toyota Gazoo Racing. This is a dream come true for me and I can’t wait to get to the first race. Mike and Kamui are both great team-mates and I will learn plenty from them I am sure. Driving an LMP1 car is very different compared to WTCC cars but I am enjoying this challenge. The power and grip of the TS050 Hybrid is incredible and Toyota’s hybrid technology is impressive. I am looking forward to my first experience of WEC and particularly Le Mans which is a very special race.”
6H of Nurburgring (July 2016)
Virtual Motorpix will bring you the latest news on the WEC season as it unfolds, starting with the Prologue, and running throughout the season. Be sure to check back to read our updates, so as not to miss out on any of the season’s action.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: John Mountney and Glen Smale of Virtual Motorpix