Toyota Gazoo Racing are heading to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year determined to win after such a crushing defeat saw them lose the overall win with one lap remaining in 2016. Ahead of the third round of the World Endurance Championship, the Japanese team has opted for a shuffle around in their driver line-ups to accommodate for the still recovering José María López and give the team the best chance at beating Porsche to the overall victory.
The drivers in car #7 will be Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi as it has been for the first couple of round of the WEC season. Joining them to make them a three-man team will be Stéphane Sarrazin, meaning that the #7 crew will be composed of the same three drivers that took the #6 to the second step on the podium last year.
Having only managed to complete a handful of racing laps since his accident at the 6 Hours of Silverstone a few months ago, that lead to him damaging a few vertebras, López will race in the third entrant that Toyota is adding to their 2017 campaign for Le Mans. López will race alongside Nicolas Lapierre and Yuji Kunimoto in the #9 Toyota.
The only car to not receive an altered line-up ahead of Le Mans is the #8 team, who currently lead the Drivers Championship after winning the first two rounds of the 2017 WEC season. Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima stay together to race Le Mans and try and take the victory that was so cruelly snatched from them a year ago.
Once Le Mans has been raced, López will return to the cockpit of the #7 car to complete the remained of the season alongside Conway and Kobayashi.
Ahead of the most anticipated race on the WEC calendar, Toyota Team President Toshio Sato stated that the driver line-up shuffle gave them the best chance to fight for the win and gave López a good place to be able to experience and learn his first 24 Hours of Le Mans in an LMP1 Hybrid team with a little less pressure on his shoulders: “Our circumstances have changed over the last few weeks as a result of the injury to José María. He is in the unfortunate position of having completed very few racing laps this year in WEC, so we all felt it was appropriate to adjust the driver line-up.
“I am very confident that Stéphane will fit well into a #7 line-up which can fight for the win. José María, like Yuji, will learn a lot at Le Mans this year, familiarising himself with the track and the event in general, and this is an important step for the future as well.”