Q&A with FIA WEC champion Mike Conway
Back-to-back champion in 2019-20 and 2021, Toyota Gazoo Racing star Mike Conway talks about his life in the WEC before the start of the tenth anniversary season
Toyota Gazoo Racing starts the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship as the team to beat. The defending champions' Toyota GR010 Hybrid dominated the premier Hypercar class in 2021 with the team's #7 entry finishing on the podium at every race, claiming a hat-trick of victories at Monza, Le Mans and Bahrain.
British driver Mike Conway, who was crowned as WEC champion in 2019-20 and 2021 alongside his team-mates Kamui Kobayashi and José Maria López, spoke to us on the eve of Prologue to discuss the team’s success, his career and the joys of Sebring, where the action begins again with Prologue on March 12-13 and the first round of the WEC’s tenth anniversary season on March 18.
Q: Was endurance racing always on the radar of where you wanted your career to reach as a young driver?
Mike Conway: “I’d always wondered about Le Mans and followed it a little bit. Some opportunities came up with IndyCar so I fully focused on IndyCar stuff and towards the end of that a sportscar deal came up. I’d followed Le Mans and jumped at the chance to do that and fell in love with the cars, really.
“I really like the way you have to drive them and working with team-mates and it was a real team effort in sportscars. I really started to enjoy motorsport a lot more once I went away from what I had been doing. The technology and development was really attractive, there was a lot of that when I joined Toyota (in 2015), and it was really cool to be part of that era. It was really fun.
“Now it’s a little bit different but endurance as a whole is really healthy and we have a lot of manufacturers coming back and it’s a good time to be part of it."
Q: So many of the drivers in the WEC paddock have raced against each other from your earliest years, does that help now to know when to push, when to hold back and maybe trust each other a little to make sure that the car gets to the finish?
MC: “I think so. You kind of approach every race differently, but yeah there’s a lot of guys that you get know very well through endurance racing and it makes the competition a lot of fun.”
Q: You’re now a double World champion in endurance racing, how does it feel to have reached that pinnacle?
MC: “It’s really, really cool. A great feeling. Once you win it for the first time, all that you want to do is retain it. That’s just as hard, I think – to retain a championship. It’s as hard as it is to get the first one, so doing that was really good. I’m very proud of that one. And now we start 2022 hungry to win a third championship… that would be nice!”
Q: What are the strengths of your team that have helped you achieve so much success?
MC: “I think car #7 just gels really well: me and José and Kamui just never have any issues. We know what we want to achieve together and how to about it at each race weekend and over the season. We work well with our engineers, Mathieu Galoche has been a great asset to us on car #7 over the last few years but he’s heading up our whole engineering department.
"So, there’s been a bit of a change on our car but he and all the guys in the background have been fantastic to really get the car dialled-in how we need it. Reacting during the race as well, that’s been a big part of our success, but it’s a team effort. We’ve got a few changes in personnel but it’s been the same for many years and I’m confident we can continue to build."
Q: Aside from the heritage of endurance racing at Sebring, what are the things that really make this race weekend stand out to you?
MC: “I think this is the race where you really see the fans get involved. Over between turns 10 to 12, that whole area with the bars and the tents – that’s where the fans really get involved. We’ve got some cool fans here who stay all weekend and hang around and really make an enjoyable vibe here.
"It’s very different to Daytona, a bit more like a festival feeling, and that’s always very good. It’s always hot, you can’t escape the humidity, but that’s all part of the experience. It’s super bumpy, really challenging but really satisfying. Turn 1 and Turn 17 I think are the best corners here to me, a great challenge and they put a smile on your face!”