Toyota bullish of Le Mans chances despite Spa disaster

Toyota may have had a possible victory in last month's Spa World Endurance Championship race snatched away by unreliability, but, as team director Rob Leupen tells Motorsport.com, the Japanese brand heads to Le Mans confident of a result.

Toyota bullish of Le Mans chances despite Spa disaster
#5 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#5 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#5 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#5 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#5 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#6 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi
#5 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#5 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#6 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi
#6 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi
#6 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi
#6 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi

You must be bitterly disappointed about the events of Spa – talk us through it.

“It was a very big disappointment. We were quite confident we would have very good race pace, which started after three-quarters of the first stint. We passed the Audis, closed up on Porsche and then with the tyre usage we had we were able to overtake the #1 car.

“Then we continued, successfully double-stinting the tyres and getting enough of a lead. Porsche was unlucky with the puncture, but I think it would have been very difficult for them to keep the lead, because we could double-stint the tyres and this was a huge advantage for us.

“First there was a small mistake from Mike [Conway], he was too much focussed on the Audi in front of him. We don’t know if this had any effect on the failure we had later on, but there was a good fightback from Kamui.

“In the end we were looking good with car #5, they were pulling away – Seb [Buemi] did a good job, Anthony [Davidson] did a very good job, he was awesomely quick, and then suddenly we had a mechanical failure. The last lap we did on the battery, so at least we could secure fourth place [among the hybrids].

“Car #6 then had a failure, it doesn’t seem like it was the same failure – it may have been caused by the accident Mike had. In the end both cars retired, but we go with more confidence than we came with – we have potential in the car, which we will show at Le Mans. But it’s hard to take.”

Is reliability now a concern for you?

“I don’t think it’s a big concern. We didn’t have these kind of problems in testing before, but we of course need to look at it. Maybe the analysis will show we have a small issue, but I don’t think it’s something we cannot sort out. So I expect we will be able to run for 24 hours at full speed."

Will the tyre advantage you had at Spa translate to Le Mans?

“It’s difficult to predict. Our car is good on the tyres, so we will try to use this to our advantage at Le Mans. It depends on track conditions, but it has been one of our strong points in the past and we will try to exploit it again because you can definitely gain an advantage like this."

Does Audi and Porsche trimming back to two cars at Le Mans give Toyota its best chance yet?

“I don’t know if it’s our best chance, but it’s a better chance. In 2014, we lost a car in the rain early in the race in a big accident. If it happens to one of the others, and we stay out of trouble, it could benefit us. But in the end, the race will always write its own story.”

Is there still a prospect of having a third car in 2017?

“We always want to have a third car, but inevitability this compromises the budget. We get a budget allocated for the project year-by-year, and we decide based on the available budget. We always ask for the money to be able to run a third car, because at Le Mans we think you need it.

“But you always need more money on the development side. It’s no good going to Le Mans with three cars but being a second a lap behind. That’s a waste of money. This is the way we have operated in the last years, and this is how we will continue. It’s the same story every year.”

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