24h Le Mans
24 Hours of Le Mans - Yuji Kunimoto (Toyota) ready to dispel doubts
Following a disappointing 6 Hours of Spa, Toyota’s new recruit - a Le Mans rookie - is eager to reassure his team.
He doesn’t want to be the team’s weak link! Yuji Kunimoto, reigning Super Formula champion, was chosen over 2016 reserve driver Ryo Hirakawa to complete the crew of the third car, yet since his below-par performance at Spa, he’s been keeping his head down. The 26-year-old’s tests in the factory Toyota LM P1 this winter were encouraging, but his first race did not fulfil expectations. Overwhelmed by the grandeur of the event, he was timid in the traffic and far from his best in the Belgian race. But he has put that experience behind him. Well and truly. “Spa was painful” he admits as he prepares for his first Le Mans. "It was my first race in Europe and my first time in the TS050 under race conditions. I had trouble managing the aerodynamics and took some life off the tyres as result. And the traffic was new too. But since then, I’ve worked really hard with the team and with my engineers. We’ve analysed my stints, pored over all the data and I’ve learnt a lot from that."
Kunimoto feels he is fully prepared and is grateful to his teammates for their precious advice, especially Nicolas Lapierre. “Nico [Lapierre] has been extremely supportive. He’s given me lots of advice and I feel I have the benefit of his experience. It’s really important to have someone by your side who knows the ropes. José [Lopez] is fast too, but he hasn’t got the same level of knowledge of LM P1."
Kunimoto has even less, despite numerous sessions on the simulator. “I’ve spent hours on it”, he says, “but it’s not the same as the real thing. I’ve also watched lots of onboard camera footage. I’ve done absolutely everything I can...” A pause for thought, “and I am fully prepared!” His pride hurt, Kunimoto now has a whole 24 hours to repair his reputation. And those same 24 hours are crucial to his career with Toyota. In two weeks time, he is going to live the longest day of his life. But first, he has to clear the first hurdle: Test Day.
“There’s a lot to do in one day. I have to get used to the circuit and get to know the car better. I’ll have a lot on my plate”, he says, somewhat anxiously. “There are lots of settings, lots of things to manage in the car. It’s hard to concentrate on driving, but I managed that at Spa." Tomorrow, Kunimoto’s main aim will be to dispel doubts.
Photo (VSA / Pascal Saivet): Yuji Kunimoto ready for the race of his life!