Thursday was set-up day for the FIA World Endurance Championship teams at the pre-season Prologue test at Circuit Paul Ricard in southern France, on the eve of the planned 30-hour test running from Friday morning until Saturday afternoon.
Every team is present for the event, with a handful – 13 – confirmed for the overnight portion of the running. It will therefore give some clues to the potential form we can expect this year, and give an indication of just how far in the developmental curve the numerous new machineries are up and down the field.
In LMP1, eight of the ten cars present are either brand new, or in the case of ByKolles’ CLM, have undergone significant development in the offseason, making for a fresh-looking class, with many questions surrounding pace, reliability and serviceability yet to be answered.
SMP Racing’s BR1 AERs, both scrutineered in low-drag trim today), have covered the most miles of the privateer teams in the series. Present at the test are the team’s five confirmed drivers, with its slew of Russian talent and ex-Toyota factory driver Stephane Sarrazin; a sixth driver will be announced at a later date.
The American-flagged DragonSpeed’s well-presented BR1 (powered by Gibson’s new GL458 engine) is still very new, having been shaken down only briefly prior to arriving at Le Castellet. It is however, housing the only Gibson GL458 to have run thus far.
The other Gibson GL458 that is set to run is installed in Rebellion Racing’s R-13. The Swiss outfit will only run with a single car here; the ORECA-built chassis is the newest in the class and the French manufacturer was unable to supply the team with their second car in time for this meet. RACER understands that the team will test its second car before Spa in a planned three-day test at another French circuit, Magny Cours.
American driver Gustavo Menezes explained to RACER that this weekend is set to be a very important one for the team, which intends to run its car through the night. “It’s hard to say where we will be at this point, though I’m confident in what Rebellion and ORECA can produce,” he said.
Down in the CEFC TRSM Racing pits, it’s been all hands on deck. Its No. 6 G60-LT-P1 has completed multiple successful tests prior to this week’s run, but the team’s sister car is still in build. The car arrived very late on Wednesday night, and is still a door and oil tank shy of being ready to run, both items en route to the circuit today.
Ginetta’s technical director Ewan Baldry told RACER that the second car will indeed run; just how many laps it will manage remains to be seen. The team will be eager to turn as many laps as possible, with three of its five drivers yet to turn a lap in an LMP1 car.
That leaves ByKolles to account for in the top class, which has arrived here with only Oliver Webb listed as a driver, though Dominik Kraihamer, Tom Dillmann, Marco Bonanomi, Rene Binder and an unnamed Chinese driver are all set to turn laps.
It will be an interesting run for the Austrian team, which is utilizing a Cosworth-designed NISMO engine, which has had a major revamp for 2018 that addressed issues around both reliability and performance; RACER understands the new unit will run up to 700hp. It has now seen a comprehensive reworking from the previous iteration, which was used in the front-engined Nissan GT-R LM NISMO.
Major aerodynamic upgrades have also been made to the car since it last ran at the Nurburgring in 2017. Specific work also has been done to deal with the head gasket issues that plagued its 2017 Le Mans run.
Toyota, on the other hand, is running an evolution of its 2017 TS050 HYBRID, and will test both its low- and high-downforce aero configurations. The Japanese marque is running with a very different line-up: Reserve driver Anthony Davidson and former full-time driver Alex Wurz are filling in for the team’s absentees, Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Kamui Kobayashi.
Away from the paddock and pit lane an LMP1 technical meeting was held this afternoon involving current manufacturers, aspiring manufacturers, privateers and rulemakers to discuss various matters including the 2020-2021 regulations, a version of which is due to be revealed during the week of the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours.
A range of other issues were also covered, including clarification of the Equivalence of Technology (EoT) for the coming season as the LMP1 field for the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’ is about to come together in controlled conditions for the very first time.
In the LMP2 ranks, the main news has been the decision made by Racing Team Nederland to run on Michelin tires for the start of the season. The Dutch team, which is running the only Dallara P217 in the field, has tested both Michelin and Dunlop rubber during the offseason, and told RACER that it will run with the French brand to start the year.
That means three teams in the field will run with Michelin rubber in the ‘Super Season,’ a contrast from last year’s field, which all raced with Dunlop. The other two outfits listed with Michelin are Larbre Competition (running a Ligier JS P217) and DragonSpeed.
GTE sees all the factory teams present in Pro, BMW’s pair of M8 GTEs looking the part ahead of their debut with the series. And the talk of the town in Am is the slew of new machinery coming together, with three brand-new Porsche 911 RSRs in the hands of Gulf Racing and Proton Competition, WEC newcomer MR Racing and its fresh Ferrari 488 and TF Sport, which is making it two older Vantage GTEs in the record nine-car entry.