All 30 cars that are set to turn laps in this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship Prologue Test are on-site in Barcelona ahead of the first day of track action on Tuesday. RACER was at the circuit on set-up day and caught a glimpse of some of the new cars and/or new color schemes that will be used this year.
In LMP1, there is plenty to look out for. The class is smaller than last season, but not lacking in storylines or intrigue. Toyota Gazoo Racing’s pair of TS050 HYBRIDs have been revealed in a new, refined aerodynamic package and a tweaked livery.
The Japanese team, which is about to embark on the farewell tour for its hybrid-powered, multiple Le Mans-winning TS050 HYBRID chassis, says it has completed fine-tuning of mechanical parts to strengthen the car’s reliability, in addition to developing its aero package.
“Our car for this new season is not radically different from last season’s car,” said Pascal Vasselon, TGR’s technical director. “We introduced the TS050 HYBRID in 2016 so there has been ongoing development over the seasons; this year’s updates are about optimizing details and reliability.”
“The most obvious change is the bodywork. We have updated the aerodynamics of the car, and elsewhere there are minor modifications for reliability. Obviously, last season we had the strongest package, and this showed in the race results.
“But when you look at the development rate of our competitors, from Le Mans 2018 to Le Mans 2019, you see a big step in their performance. Out of respect for their ability to improve their cars and extract more performance from their package, we could not stand still. We have never underestimated their capabilities so we needed to continuously improve our package wherever it was possible and efficient.”
RACER understands that behind the scenes the FIA WEC officials have been hard at work to ensure that the privateer LMP1 cars, of which only three look set to take on the full season, are closer than ever to the hybrid-powered Toyotas.
“We are focusing on the preparation of the season, and keeping the teams happy,” FIA WEC CEO Gerard Neveu told RACER.
“I can tell you one thing. Before the start of the season you will have a lot of new information regarding the current season in LMP1, regarding the regulations, the content, many things. We have to stay quiet. We are working hard backstage, but that is backstage, not in front of the media. We have people working hard to provide something very interesting.
“I would like to speak more in Silverstone, to see what has been the decisions in the technical side, with the EoT and the decisions they can take to ensure there is real interest on the track. The Prologue is just a test, not a place to communicate. Let’s see what happens in September.”
Rebellion Racing will run both its R-13 chassis in Barcelona before scaling back to a single car for the season. While its driver line-up is yet to be confirmed, American team regular Gustavo Menezes told RACER that he and Bruno Senna have been tasked with completing the majority of the R-13’s development work, and will run in the No. 1 chassis this week in Spain.
“I’m excited to be back at the track after a break following Le Mans,” Menezes told RACER. “I’m still finding it odd to be starting a season in July. I’m excited to be back in the car, it’s cool to see new updates coming to the EoT. I’ll be sharing the No. 1 with Bruno Senna, we’ll see how it goes.
“Since the end of Le Mans, it’s been tight getting things sorted. We’ve been in talks and it’s been very positive. The most important thing is getting work done here in Barcelona. After this I’ll be on a flight to meet ORECA to figure out the next steps. I’m hoping for the best for myself and the team.”
As it stands, the No. 1 is at least down to race at Silverstone, while the Rebellion team evaluates options to run its No. 3 car at races later in the season. It appears that the races at Spa and Le Mans next year are being targeted.
Team LNT has also brought two cars to Barcelona, and will test a range of sportscar and single-seater drivers this week. RACER understands that in addition to Mike Simpson and Charlie Robertson, ex-SMP LMP1 drivers Stephane Sarrazin and Egor Orudzhev, former Alpine LMP1 man Stephane Richelmi, ex-Rebellion driver Mathias Beche, former Le Mans winner Guy Smith and F2 driver Luca Ghiotto will all test.
One of the two AER-powered Ginetta G60-LT-P1s, the No.5, will be run at the Prologue by European Le Mans Series outfit Algarve Pro Racing, headed by Sam and Stewart Cox. The No.6, meanwhile, will be run by Team LNT with full factory support from Ginetta.
As for the team’s full-season drivers, Lawrence Tomlinson told RACER that a decision will be made very shortly. Those under active consideration extend further than those present in Barcelona, and include drivers who have already tested the car.
This week will be an important one for Team LNT and Ginetta’s LMP1 program as the G60-LT-P1s will be run for the first time in a public setting since the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours. Both are now powered by upgraded P60C AER engines, the spec used by SMP Racing at Le Mans this year, which were fitted to the cars following the team’s recent test at Paul Ricard.
As it stands, the program for the BR-1 AERs, campaigned by SMP Racing last season, may not be entirely dead. The Russian team, which withdrew its cars earlier this month from the 2019/20 season, is unlikely to return, though a competitive package featuring its WEC partner team ART has at least some potential.