The first Free Practice session of the 2019/20 FIA World Endurance Championship season finale in Bahrain saw the pair of Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 HYBRIDs top the times ahead of the final race for the class before the arrival of the new top class of Le Mans Hybrids Next season.
The WEC’s success handicap system is still in place for the final round despite the LMP1 class being composed solely of the Toyotas, Rebellion Racing having parked its effort after Le Mans.
That means that the championship-leading No. 8 Toyota is running with performance restrictions designed to give the car 0.54 second per lap handicap against its team car, the No. 7.
The pair are separated by just 7 points at the top of the world championship standings with the 8-hour race on Saturday providing 150% of the regular points for a 6-hour race. If both cars run reliably the winner of the race will also take the title.
The 90-minute session on Thursday evening took place under floodlights and, after a brief red flag following communications difficulties for race control, it was Sebastien Buemi in the No. 8 TS050 that set the pace, belying the performance difference imposed he set a 1m43.457s around half a second clear of the sister No. 7, Mike Conway the pacesetter in the championship challenger.
The battle for LMP2 honors — where the title is already settled in favor of United Autosports’ No. 22 ORECA — is for at least an overall podium as well as a class win and it was Dutch ex F1 driver Giedo van der Garde who topped the session with a 1m47.955s aboard the No. 29 Racing Team Nederland ORECA 07 Gibson with Brazilian Andre Negrao a couple of tenths in arrears in the No.36 Signatech Alpine, this the multi-title winning squad’s final race in LMP2 before stepping up to the top class next season in a grandfathered LMP1, an ex Rebellion racing R13 to be re-homlogated as an Alpine A480 for 2021.
The No. 38 JOTA Sport ORECA was the fastest of the Goodyear tire-shod runners with 2020 Formula E champion Antonio Felix da Costa a further couple of tenths back.
Maxime Martin put smiles back on Aston Martin Racing faces after a difficult few days that saw the Belgian’s full season teammate, Alex Lynn counted out of the race and their title challenge against the sister No.95 car after testing positive for COVID-19. Martin is joined in Bahrain by ex-Corvette and Ganassi Ford GTLM driver Richard Westbrook.
Martin overhauled the best efforts of the two factory entered Porsche 911 RSR-19s in the GTE Pro class in the final minutes of the session, his 1m56.560s putting him well clear.
The championship leading No. 95 Aston Martin finished the session fourth fastest.