Toyota is geared to win the WEC 6 Hours of Spa at the second round of the FIA/WEC series which takes place tomorrow, Saturday 6 May 2017, at arguably the best circuit of the whole series, Spa-Francorchamps. The circuit is not in Spa itself, but lies in the vicinity of Francorchamps and borders on the city of Malmedy.
Toyota will be racing there this weekend with a three-car contingent for the first time. The #7 car is driven by Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi, as their team mate Jose Maria Lopez has been ruled out of action by the doctors following his Silverstone crash. The #8 car is driven by Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima. The new #9 car, will be piloted by Stephane Sarrazin, Yuji Kunimoto and Nicolas Lapierre.
All of the Toyota drivers are veterans of the brand and of the Spa circuit, with the exception of Yuji Kinomoto, who will be experiencing the circuit for the first time. Looking at the Free Practice times, the Toyotas have consistently headed the time sheets although the Porsches are not far off the pace. On Thursday alone, the three Toyotas completed 178 laps, a total of 1246km.
Of the three Toyotas, two will be running a high downforce aero package (#7 and #8), while the #9 car will run a low downforce aero package. That will account for the fact that the #9 car is slightly slower than its two siblings. Watching the cars from the trackside while photographing the cars during the three Free Practice sessions, all three cars have looked and sounded strong.
During the LMP1 Qualifying session, a potentially catastrophic situation was avoided when the ByKolles car spun as it turned onto the start/finish straight at the entrance to the pits. The #7 Toyota following closely behind the ByKolles had to do some very sudden and abrupt braking to avoid the pirouetting ByKolles, but in the end, no damage was done to either car.
Against all expectations, it was the #1 Porsche driven by ex-Audi driver, Andre Lotterer, who claimed pole in the face of what was almost a foregone conclusion of a Toyota grid lock-out. Although Stéphane Sarrazin set the fastest lap, Toyota missed out on pole position because the qualifying time is the average of the two best laps of the two qualifying drivers. Thanks to an early red flag incident and the ByKolles incident, and being conscious of saving rubber, further attempts of setting better times were thwarted.
You can be sure that Toyota have their eyes firmly set on the WEC title, and there is that little matter of capturing the Le Mans crown after last year’s dramatic finish. Toyota already have the first race of the 2017 season to their name, and they would dearly love to add a second, so the little hiccup (to them) of not capturing pole position at Spa, will not put them off their stride. Porsche may have captured pole by 0.6 of a second, but Toyota have secured second, third and fourth places and the three cars are only separated by two-tenths of a second each.
Saturday’s race is forecast to be run largely in the dry, with the exception of a shower around the halfway point. It should be a great race!