Privateers keep within a second of Toyota as WEC Prologue ends

Image by JEP/LAT

Privateers keep within a second of Toyota as WEC Prologue ends

Le Mans/WEC

Privateers keep within a second of Toyota as WEC Prologue ends


While Toyota Gazoo Racing’s TS050 HYBRIDs ended the 2019 FIA World Endurance Championship Prologue at the top of the timesheets, there were encouraging signs displayed by both privateer teams by the end of the second and final day of running in Spain.

Jose Maria Lopez ran fastest in the No. 7 TS050 HYBRID, producing a 1m29.141s to better Kazuki Nakajima’s best effort in the sister No. 8, which ended up second in the combined rankings and also in the fourth and final session.

But the privateers were close behind. All six LMP1s present in Spain lapped within 1.1s of one another, with the closest of the pack, the No. 1 Rebellion, less than 0.3s off Lopez’s time.

As the track temperature cooled down towards the end of today, and the number of cars on track was reduced to just 14 of the 30 present, the times tumbled. Gustavo Menezes was Rebellion’s quickest driver in the No. 1, the American setting a 1m29.408s to go third in the combined rankings.

The No. 6 Team LNT G60-LT-P1 ended up fourth, with F2 star Luca Ghiotto setting a 1m29.697s – a solid effort, considering he had no LMP experience prior to this week.

The No. 3 Rebellion ended up fifth, with the No. 5 LNT Ginetta sixth and 1.1 seconds off the best time after a late improvement from Charlie Robertson.

Team LNT’s performance will have turned heads in the paddock. The team completed over 250 laps with its pair of G60-LT-P1s, which were running with the latest-spec AER engine – the P60C – for the first time. Minor niggles and a scrutineering issue aside, both cars ran almost faultlessly, and became quicker and quicker as time passed and the eight drivers on hand became acclimated with the current package and conditions.

In LMP2, Racing Team Nederland’s Nyck de Vries emerged as the fastest driver in the Dutch team’s new ORECA 07 Gibson. RTN was in the news today after declaring that it has chosen Michelin as its tire partner for the season, following back-to-back runs on Tuesday when it also sampled Goodyear’s offering.

It was a strong day for Michelin. De Vries’ 1m31.659s this afternoon not only put RTN atop the times, but Michelin too. The team’s newest recruit, Job van Uitert (who is down to race for the team twice in the 2019/20 season) was also in action, the current ELMS points leader completing nine laps in what was his first public appearance with the team.

Paul Di Resta came closest in United Autosports’ new ORECA, the Scotsman posting a 1m31.716s. Signatech Alpine made it a 1-2-3 for both ORECA and Michelin with a time within 0.2s of the overall best.

Fastest of the Goodyear runners was the No. 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing entry; Will Stevens setting a 1m33.383s to put the Chinese-flagged, Jota-run team fifth in the combined times. The No. 37 is due to stay on in Spain for three more days of tire testing with Goodyear.

Following the news that RTN had chosen Michelin, Ben Crawley, the head of Goodyear’s WEC program said: “We thank Racing Team Nederland for testing some of our initial tire specifications and respect their decision to remain with their current tire partner for the time being.

“Goodyear is still in the process of evaluating new tire specifications. This will continue at a private test next week before the final choices are manufactured ahead of Silverstone.”

Like in LMP1 and 2, GTE Pro’s best times also came at the end of Day 2. Miguel Molina was the pacesetter in Spain, with a 1m43.593s, 0.058s quicker than Kevin Estre in the first of the two new Porsche 911 RSR 19s.

Porsche managed to complete a total of 362 laps with its new chassis during the two days. Unfortunately, though, its run plans didn’t include time with the 2019 Michelin tires, the marque telling RACER it had no allocation of the new rubber this week.

“Although the break after Le Mans was short, we were all excited to meet our rivals in the 2019/20 season,” said Pascal Zurlinden, the head of the program.

“Our whole team quickly got used to the new Porsche 911 RSR. We worked on the finer points of the setup here in Barcelona and we feel ready for the first race at Silverstone.”

The single Aston Martin Vantage AMR ended up 1.3s off the pace, Marco Sorensen’s 1m44.953s today the British team’s best.

Times matter little at this stage, especially because the Barcelona circuit doesn’t feature on the calendar beyond the Prologue, and because the temperatures trackside were scorching. Factory driver Alex Lynn told RACER that the chance to keep the post-Le Mans momentum up and sample the 2019 Michelin rubber were the major benefits of the trip to Spain.

Project 1 paced the field in GTE Am; Matteo Cairoli in the No. 57 911 the quickest of the German team’s stable of drivers. His 1m44.467s was half a tenth faster than Thomas Preining who put the No. 88 Dempsey Proton Porsche second with a 1m44.523s.

The No. 54 AF Corse Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella ended up fifth in the combined rankings, and first of the 488s, the Italian setting a time 0.6s off the top Porsche.

It was a strong test for Gulf Racing. Ben Barker was one of the drivers to lap quicker than Fisichella, the Briton putting the No. 86 Porsche fifth. He told RACER during the day that the 2019 Michelins the team has sampled this week have shown real promise.

RACER also understands that Nico Bastian and Andrew Watson, who drove the car along with Barker and Mike Wainwright, were both involved in a ‘shootout’ of sorts for the third seat. It appears at this stage to be too close to call; a team source telling RACER that both drivers set similar times and proved to be good fits with the team’s staff. A tough decision is to come…

There’s a break now for the WEC teams and drivers, before the opening meeting of the season at Silverstone which gets underway at the end of next month.