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WEC Preview Bahrain: Will It Be the Year of the Unlucky Toyota?

Hypercar instead of LMP1 prototype, 3.5-liter V6 turbo instead of 2.4-liter V6 turbo, 270 instead of around 500 electric hp, 680 instead of over 1000 hp system output – Toyota started a completely new project in the Sports car world championship 2021.
But the Japanese remained the dominant brand. For the fourth time after 2014 (Sébastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson), 2019 (Sébastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima) and 2020 (Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway, José María López) a Toyota trio will be on Saturday at the 8h in Bahrain ( 11.45 a.m. on Eurosport 2) win the title.

As in the previous year, Kobayashi, Conway and López have the best cards. They are 15 points ahead of the sister Toyota owned by Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima. Third place is enough for the defending champions and Le Mans winners – and that should be a feasible hurdle with only three vehicles in the top class. Only a failure can turn the title duel.

Mike Conway (GBR) / Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) / Jose Maria Lopez (ARG).

So it’s the year of the unlucky Toyota. Because the car with the # 7 suffered numerous setbacks – despite winning the title last year. Especially in Le Mans, the trio was unlucky until 2021: The ordeal of the three drivers began in 2017. Kamui Kobayashi led the race, but mistook a stranded driver for a marshall and therefore made an unscheduled pit stop. There the clutch went into the Toyota, all chances of victory were gone.

Le Mans ordeal ended in 2021

In 2018 the trio was the faster again, but had to let sister car # 8 pass four times. Because in it sat Fernando Alonso, the superstar with whom Toyota got the best PR equivalent. 2019 was very bitter when one hour before the end of the dominant Toyota # 7 a puncture destroyed all dreams of victory. In 2020, the manifold and turbocharger had to be replaced during the race.

But for Kobayashi, Conway and López it’s not just about coming to terms with the past, but also about the future. In December, Toyota will announce the driver line-up for 2022. Driver changes are not excluded. Sébastien Ogier and Charles Milesi will be testing for Toyota next week. Milesi is rewarded with the test for his strong season in the LMP2 category and is not a serious Toyota contender.

Ogier not until 2023?

With seven-time rally world champion Sébastien Ogier, things look different. The Frenchman sees his future in the long-distance scene. But whether it will be that far in 2022 remains to be seen. Team boss Rob Leupen is pessimistic in an interview with sportscars365.com: “I do not assume that he will be part of the WEC driver line-up in 2022. First of all, it’s about assessing his long-distance abilities in general. ”Leupen also believes that a third Toyota for the Le Mans 24 Hours with Ogier at the wheel is unlikely.
Another candidate is Ryo Hirakawa, two-time race winner in the Super Formula. The Japanese has already completed several test drives in the Toyota hypercar. A surprise obligation cannot be ruled out either. If more than half a dozen manufacturers are fighting for Le Mans victory in 2023, Toyota needs a quick-witted driver line-up. Conway and López are currently 38 years old, Nakajima 36, ​​Kobayashi 35, Buemi 32 and Hartley 31. So a rejuvenation of the driver line-up is not unreasonable.

The driver question is definitely more exciting than the title fight …

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