Toyota driver Mike Conway is relishing the start of the new FIA World Endurance Championship season at Silverstone in nine days’ time, but remains unsure of the pecking order as Audi and Porsche bid to beat the Japanese manufacturer in 2015.
Conway raced for Toyota in three races last year as he opted to focus on his commitments in IndyCar with Ed Carpenter Racing, claiming wins at Long Beach and Toronto.
However, the Briton has opted to devote his full attention to WEC in 2015, joining Alexander Wurz and Stephane Sarrazin in the no. 2 Toyota.
At the pre-season ‘prologue’ in France last month, Porsche set the pace, but Conway believes that the pecking order will not become clear until the three leading teams in LMP1 are racing out on track together at Silverstone.
“Obviously we knew [Porsche] were quick, and it was the first time this year that everybody came together and we could see what everyone’s got,” Conway said at the series’ season launch in London on Thursday.
“It’s still very hard to tell where you sit at the moment, but it gave us a good indication in some areas of where we’re going to be.
“I think everyone’s excited, and looking forward to Silverstone next weekend where I think we’ll really see the situation of where everyone’s going to be.
“But everybody’s done a mega job, we’ve seen everybody find seconds of the winter.”
Porsche’s no. 18 car of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb finished fastest at the Prologue, lapping 1.8 seconds clear of the leading Audi in third place.
Toyota could only muster fifth and sixth place in the combined standings from the test, with Conway’s car a full 3.5 seconds down on the fastest lap from the no. 18.
Adding to the competition that Toyota is likely to face this year, Nissan will be entering the series at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June with its GT-R LM Nismo car.
Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.
“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”
In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.
With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.
In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.
“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.
“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”
Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said. “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”
Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.
“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.
“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”
Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.