The British driver lets us know how he’s feeling ahead of the legendary endurance event
Toyota bids for its fourth consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours victory this weekend, as the Covid-delayed 2021 edition welcomes back a limited crowd of 50,000 to the Circuit de la Sarthe.
The race heralds a new dawn for Le Mans as the Hypercars take their bow, replacing the more sophisticated and expensive LMP1 class. Britain’s top sports car driver Mike Conway shares the #7 Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 Hybrid with Kamui Kobayashi and José María Lopéz.
The reigning World Endurance Champions will be hoping for a change of luck at Le Mans after a series of near-misses in recent years, against the sister #8 car which has won the previous three 24 Hours in north-west France. Toyota also faces a new rival in the shape of two Glickenhaus-Pipo 007s and a ‘grandfathered’ and restricted LMP1 from Alpine.
Autocar caught up with Conway to find out how he’s feeling as he attempts to break his Le Mans duck once again.
How does it compare driving at Le Mans in the new car compared to the LMP1?
“I wouldn’t say you forget what you had before, but I’m pretty in tune with this new car. It still feels pretty good around here, these cars are built for this place. It lacks the acceleration of the previous car, but we still have pretty good speed through the corners. At high speed the car feels decent as well. It’s just some of the braking markers have pulled back a bit because the car is that bit heavier. We are not able to pass cars as easily either.”
What do you think of the Glickenhaus from what you’ve seen so far?
“We saw at the Monza World Endurance Championship round that they are fast. It’s good, it’s better that they are here and quick. It’s what we want in terms of pushing us and us to push them. I was pretty happy to see them go quick at the end of the test session [Olivier Pla set the fastest time of the test day last Sunday in the final 10 minutes] to keep us on our toes. In sector one and two they are pretty fast. I think it’s going to be close.”
Reliability is always key at Le Mans, but with a new car are you expecting problems?
“I wouldn’t say we are expecting problems, but we know Le Mans throws everything at you. We’ve had some issues in a couple of the WEC races, but hopefully we’re on top of them and they won’t happen again. You can’t really go into the race thinking you are going to have problems. We are optimistic we’ve all done a good job but we are always ready if anything happens, we have all the procedures laid down.”
You mentioned passing other cars will be harder. LMP2 pace is closer to the LMH cars than it was to LMP1. Is LMP2 a bigger story this year in terms of the overall picture?
“If any of the LMH cars or the Alpine have any issues… We’re not that much quicker than them anymore, so to pull a lap back on them will take quite a long time. If you have to go in the pitbox you lose a lap pretty damn quick. We know the LMP2s are very reliable, as is the Alpine. So we can’t discount anyone.”
With that smaller pace differential, will traffic be a bigger problem this weekend?
“It is going to be harder, yeah. We’ll get by the LMP2s pretty quickly, but there are moments when we can definitely get held up and lose time because we don’t have the boost we had. You have got to think ahead, just like before.”
Are you expecting an intense, gloves-off battle with Glickenhaus or are you mostly focused on your sister car, the #8?
“It’s hard to say. People always want to show themselves at the beginning of the race, depending on where they qualify. It will be tight, which is what we want. If it’s a good fight a long way into the race that’s good for us and for the fans.”
There’s always that feeling at the moment that Toyota is expected to win. That must be quite aggravating…
“There is always that pressure, but we know it’s not easy. It’s a tough race. Whether we are the favourite or not doesn’t change my mindset. I just do the best job possible in the car so that when I get out I know I’m handing it to my team-mate in the best shape I can. That’s always the aim so we can try and win this thing.”
The 89th Le Mans 24 Hours begins at 3pm (BST) on Saturday. Catch the action on Eurosport or via the FIA World Endurance Championship app. Freeview channel Quest will show the race build, start and first two hours, and the final two hours from 1pm on Sunday.
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