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Toyota Finishes Prologue Fastest

Porsche and Ford quick in Pro

After 30 hours of testing, and over 53,000km covered by the runners, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s pair of TS050 HYBRIDs managed to set the fastest times of the WEC Prologue at Paul Ricard, finishing up 1-2. The quickest lap, set on Friday by Mike Conway, was a 1:32.662 in the #8 car.

However, it was later revealed that the times set by Toyota before 5pm (which were significantly faster than the privateer competition), were done while its cars ran unrestricted while testing a new cooling system.

That meant that the gap back to the nearest privateer, the #11 SMP Racing BR1, of 4.3 seconds, wasn’t a true reflection of the running order while all the LMP1s ran to their EoT spec. In fact, the running order when only taking into account the laps set after 5pm on Friday, was very different, SMP Racing’s 1:37.034 set by Vitaly Petrov in the #11 proving to be the fastest, with Toyota’s best time, a 1:38.142 set by the #7 running low-downforce aero only good enough for fifth.

At this point, however, little can be read into these times, as is the case with most controlled tests. Just how much does Toyota have in reserve? And will we see its full hand when the series heads to Spa-Francorchamps for the season opener?

While Toyota didn’t show its ultimate pace while running its regular set-up, it did flex its muscles in the mileage department, finishing with the most laps of anyone else in the LMP1 field by a big margin. The #7 managed 839 laps, while the #8, which didn’t run overnight, turned 163.

The rest of the privateers meanwhile, running with, let’s not forget, very new cars, managed far less laps, but did get some crucial running in.

SMP Racing and Rebellion Racing’s machines finished with the best times of the seven cars present, the aforementioned lap by the #11 just 0.010 faster than the #1 Rebellion R-13, going third and fourth overall in the times; the latter’s pace very notable, considering it hadn’t managed any significant running at all prior to this weekend.

The amount of mileage accumulated was solid for both teams. SMP’s pair of BR1s, which ran in low-drag trim throughout, totalled 515 laps, and Rebellion’s single car, managed 263.

ByKolles’ updated CLM P1/01 meanwhile, ended up sixth, the team having a quiet, but encouraging run, with the car’s new aero package, and heavily revised Nissan engine. The car turned 331 laps, and after the sun set on Friday, climbed as high as third in the times, before finishing up just over a second off the best SMP time.

The teams which struggled more than the rest to get in longer runs were CEFC TRSM Racing, and its pair of Ginetta G60-LT-P1s, and the DragonSpeed BR1 Gibson.

CEFC TRSM’s #6 car, which is the car which the team has been testing with to this point, finished with 121 laps. The car wasn’t without its issues, but both Oliver Rowland and Alex Brundle turned laps a good number of laps between them, and were very encouraged by the car’s potential going forward.

#5 on the other hand, was build built up throughout Thursday in the garage, and eventually made its debut late on Friday, after a water leak cost the team running early, prompting them to sign up for the overnight session. A problem with the rear limited its running when the sunset, though it did run in the middle of the night with Ginetta driver Mike Simpson at the wheel, before being parked and returning to the track again in the morning.

It finished up with 138 laps, more than the #6, but with a slower ultimate time. It’s early days for the car however, the team hoping to take it out for some further running before Spa.

In the DragonSpeed pits, it was a similar story, the team’s Gibson-powered BR1 finishing the 30 hours eighth in the times. But, with the car being so new, the team trialing both high and low downforce aero and track time for Henrik Hedman so paramount, they will leave satisfied with their 145 laps of running. Unfortunately, though, the team did end on a low note, the car stopping on the Mistral Straight in the final few minutes of the test with a brake issue, causing red flags.

All in all, while the gap between the privateers and Toyota is still somewhat a mystery, it was encouraging to see just how close all the new LMP1 cars were on pace, and no cars suffer any major dramas. At this point, having the top six privateers within 1.2 seconds means there should be a really fierce fight to finish first amongst the non-hybrid cars at Spa.

Porsche and Ford out front in Pro

The times in GTE Pro, more than the other classes, mean the least at this stage. With the BoP set (Le Mans aside) until after Silverstone, there was little reason to hang back at this point, though there was still a clear divide between the manufacturers.

Porsche finished 1-2, its 911 RSRs looking strong throughout the test. The #91 car of Richard Lietz and WEC returnee Gianmaria Bruni setting a 1:51.332 on its 203rd lap, to go half a second clear at the top. The sister #92 managed a 1:51.837, and wasn’t challenged on pace on Saturday by the two Fords, which proved to be the only real challengers.

The two 911 RSRs, and Ford GTs, managed over 200 laps apiece, and finished within a second. The rest of the class however, were all at least 1.9 seconds off the ultimate pace.

AF Corse had the toughest run of the class, its #71 suffering a re-fuelling fire, which resulted in it being parked all Saturday, while the #51 struggled with tyre wear; AF’s 488 GTEs (in EVO spec) the cars DSC came across, reported as suffering in this area on the new, smoother track surface.

Aston Martin Racing meanwhile, appeared to struggle with outright pace, the team’s Vantages finishing up seventh and ninth 2.1 and 2.2 seconds off the top Porsche. However, the big positive is the amount of running AMR managed, its #95 running a full endurance test, the car pushing on overnight, and managing a total of 852 laps with only minor issues reported.

BMW’s new M8 GTEs also ran well, the #82 completing 682 laps in what was a full endurance simulation for the car. The car did however have a rear-end issue two hours before the end, which forced the team to conclude its test early.

By that point, the #81, which was only out for a six-hour run on Saturday, had already finished up its scheduled running; the first for Martin Tomczyk, Nicky Catsburg and Phillip Eng as a trio.

All in all, though, a good showing for the class’ newcomers.

DragonSpeed, Michelin on top in LMP2

LMP2 was a rather quiet affair in the Prologue, DragonSpeed coming away with the fastest time, but the top five lapped within a second, and bar Larbre managed to set over 200 laps each.

DragonSpeed’s #31 ORECA 07, driven by the Roberto Gonzalez, Ben Hanley and Pastor Maldonado, was immediately on the pace, with its best time coming on lap 88, a 1:40.771 from Maldonado, the only car get below the 1:41 mark.

The big stories here, were Maldonado getting his first prototype laps in – the Venezuelen enjoying his time in the car, and leaving extremely up-beat about the season ahead – and the fact that it was a Michelin runner which turned the fastest time.

Last year, the LMP2 class was all ORECA, and all Dunlop, this season, there’s variation in both chassis and tyre selection amongst the teams; this is already proving to be a welcome evolution in the class.

Completing the top three were the #36 Signatech Alpine, 0.317 off and the #28 TDS Racing example a further tenth adrift.

Porsche dominance in Am

GTE Am’s nine-car class, which looks set to be a titanic battle once the season starts, saw the four new 911 RSRs prove to be the fastest.

Gulf Racing UK and Dempsey Proton Racing’s cars traded fastest times at the top throughout the two days, the #88, with a lap of 1:52.936 by Matteo Cairoli eventually the class benchmark, and good enough for fifth overall in GTE.

Like Pro, there was a real divide, behind the four Porsches, which included new team Project 1’s, which enjoyed a trouble-free, soild run of 274 laps, the Aston Martins and Ferraris were over a second off the pace.

Most interesting was the GTE Am cars’ ability to mix with the Pros, the cars, running on the same spec tyres as the Pro cars at Paul Ricard, though with a different BoP, were able match and beat the top class cars on one-lap pace. Whether or not we will see this throughout the season, with the quicker Am drivers able to challenge some of the Pros, remains to be seen.

Next up for the FIA WEC is the season opener at Spa-Francorchamps, next month, multiple teams using the short break between now and then to get some more testing in.