TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s three-time Le Mans-winning TS050 HYBRID will start its final race from pole position after Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López landed the first blow in Bahrain in the fight for the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship drivers’ title.
The three #7 TS050 HYBRID drivers earned a point for pole position, reducing the deficit in the standings to six, thanks to a two-lap average of 1min 40.747secs in qualifying for the 8 Hours of Bahrain, the eighth and last race of the season.
World Championship leaders Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, whose #8 TS050 HYBRID has a theoretical 0.54secs success handicap penalty this week, were 0.751secs behind in second, ensuring an all-TOYOTA front row.
With the teams’ World Championship already confirmed for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, and the other LMP1 competitors skipping the Bahrain race as a result, all eyes are on the battle for the drivers’ title, which can be won by either TS050 HYBRID car crew with victory on Saturday.
Following two daytime practice sessions earlier today, held in bright sunshine and with air temperatures of 27°C, qualifying began at 6.30pm local time, long after sunset at the Bahrain International Circuit.
When the lights went green at the start of the session, Brendon headed straight on to the track for his single flying lap in the #8, while Mike bided his time in the #7, waiting in the pit lane for a few minutes before setting what turned out to be the fastest lap of the qualifying.
Neither TS050 HYBRID took new Michelin tyres for the second laps, preferring instead to conserve a new set for the eight-hour race tomorrow, when tyre degradation in the Bahraini heat will be a factor.
The #8 was first out on track again, with Kazuki taking the wheel and completing a clean lap to secure a front-row starting spot for the #8, while José completed the job for the #7 crew, earning their third pole position of the season and the ideal place from which to begin Saturday’s season-defining race.
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7):
“I am pleased with pole position and another point. It went well in qualifying and my lap was clean. I didn’t want to make any mistakes, that was the priority, so I am happy to be in the best possible starting position going into turn one. Hats off to José, he did a great job, as did the team. It is nice to have pole comfortably. That’s one part of the weekend out of the way and now we focus on the most important day.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7):
“We are one step closer but there are still eight hours to go, with a very hard race ahead of us. We struggled to set up the cars for qualifying because the wind was changing. Sometime from the outside it might look easy but here has been a lot of work going on. In qualifying the car was mega. Mike did the hardest job with a great first lap and I had to secure the pole. It’s good to start ahead of car #8 but we have to be there at the end as well.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8):
“Qualifying was not really important for us here so we completely focused on the race. In general it has been quite a challenging weekend for us, as we have a lot of tyre degradation on the long runs. We do not feel super comfortable and we have no more time on the track to try anything new before the race, so we have to look into the data and try to maximise the performance of the car for the race.”
Brendon Hartley (TS050 HYBRID #8):
“We basically knew we would end up in second today considering the success handicap. We had a clean lap and saved tyres for the race. The track conditions are not very easy with the wind constantly changing and the heat; it has been very hot for November. Obviously the race will be the decider so we will try to get all the performance out of the car we can and try and have a clean race.”