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Le Mans Road to Le Mans

Toyota "suffering a lot" for top speed at Le Mans after BoP hit

Toyota is “suffering a lot” for straight-line performance after being hit with a massive weight increase for this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, according to Jose Maria Lopez.

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez

As part of a sudden and unexpected change in Balance of Performance for the centenary edition of the French endurance classic, the minimum weight of the two Toyota GR010 Hybrids has been raised by 37kg, the highest increase for any car in the Hypercar class.

This contributed to Toyota’s underwhelming showing in the pre-Le Mans 24 test, with the best of its two hybrid LMH contenders ending up third on the timesheets, three-tenths behind the pace-setting Ferrari 499P LMH and the Porsche Penske 963 LMDh.

Lopez, who is sharing the #7 Toyota with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway, conceded that it would be “very difficult” for the Japanese manufacturer to continue its winning streak at Circuit de la Sarthe, given how much it is losing in top-speed compared to its rivals.

“Ferrari was ten kilometres faster than us on the straights and we were clearly third. Porsche and Ferrari were faster,” he told Autosport's Latin American edition.

“Although there is a long way to go, I don't think the rest have shown everything, it's going to be difficult, very difficult. 

“Our chance is going to be to have a car that doesn't have problems, to make clean pit stops, without mistakes. A perfect race. If we can do that, we have a chance. 

“It was a very big change, quite a strong BoP, considering we were not the fastest in the last two races, mainly. Ferrari was faster. 

“Maybe when you see the final result that you finish one lap ahead of them, (but) that doesn't really reflect the performance. 

“But as I always say, there are people who are in charge of that. If you ask me, I don't agree with the change or the system. I don't like it, but I have to adapt because I am part of the show and also those changes are for the show.”

#50 Ferrari AF Corse Ferrari 499P of Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen, #51 Ferrari AF Corse Ferrari 499P of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi

#50 Ferrari AF Corse Ferrari 499P of Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen, #51 Ferrari AF Corse Ferrari 499P of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi

Photo by: Rainier Ehrhardt

Lopez explained that the weight increase not only hinders the top speed of the car but also affects its cornering ability.

Asked if he really believed Toyota needed to execute a perfect race in order to beat the likes of Porsche and Ferrari, he said: “I think so. Looking at the lap times and the lap-by-lap speed differences from Sunday, I think so. Because we are suffering a lot right now. 

“As I said, ten kilometres in final speed at Le Mans is a lot because 70, 80% of the lap is flat out. And above all the kilos, which are also felt when it comes to turn. 

“It's difficult when braking, when turning, we use more rubber, the car doesn't have the ideal balance. You can feel the kilos, there are a lot of them. We are not talking about five or ten kilos, we are talking about 37 kilos.”

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He added: “We have an advantage in [terms of experience]  and we have to take advantage of it. This advantage is of course getting smaller and smaller, but we have to try to have a perfect race from that side, without mistakes, to have a chance as well.”

Ferrari has been Toyota’s closest rival in the World Endurance Championship this year after making a successful start to its Hypercar programme, and the Italian marque also set the pace during official testing on Sunday.

Ferrari has been given a 24kg weight hit for Le Mans compared to 37kg for Toyota, 11kg for Cadillac and 3kg for Toyota. The BoP for Peugeot, Vanwall and Glickenhaus has remained unchanged.

Lopez sounded out Ferrari as Toyota’s chief challenger for victory at this year’s Le Mans, believing the AF Corse-run squad’s top speed advantage could prove crucial in determining the outcome of the race come Sunday.

“I think Ferrari is one step ahead of everyone because of this speed that they have which is strange as well,” he said.

“Ten kilometres difference on a straight is a lot, especially in a regulation where supposedly we all have the same power and the same downforce. So they have found something and they are doing very well."

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