Brendon Hartley continued the Toyota Gazoo Racing clean sweep of top slots in every session so far at the FIA World Endurance Championship season-ending doubleheader at Bahrain International Circuit with fastest time in Thursday evening’s 90-minute Free Practice session in the No. 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010.
The Kiwi ex F1 driver and double Le Mans winner’s 1m48.490s, four tenths up on Kamui Kobayashi in the sister No. 7 Toyota as Hartley, together with teammates Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, work to overturn a 15-point deficit going into the 8 Hour race on Saturday that will settle the 2021 World Endurance Championship.
Nico Lapierre completed a Hypercar 1-2-3 in the No. 36 Alpine, a second off the session-topping time with temperatures still in the low 80s F, but several degrees down on the soaring highs of last week’s proceedings.
LMP2 saw the No. 70 RealTeam Racing ORECA top the session with French ex-GP2 racer Norman Nato — who is still recovering from a significant foot injury — posting a 1m50.792s, edging out the best time from an on-form Tom Blomqvist in the No. 28 JOTA car by just 0.028s. Ex-F1 racer Giedo van der Garde was next up, under two tenths off in the No. 29 Racing Team Nederland car.
In GTE Pro, a continuing spat over Balance of Performance seems still to be very much the preferred storyline for Ferrari, the two factory-backed AF Corse cars did not take to the track for over half an hour of the session and, thereafter, did not post representative times, trailing all of the GTE Am field.
Around 50 percent of a previous controversial BoP adjustment was reversed in time for this weekend’s meeting, but Ferrari sources privately made it clear that this would not be enough for the team to compete for a world championship battle separated by just a single point.
Their absence left Porsche to post the top two times, Neel Jani in the No. 92 with a 1m57.657s ahead of Richard Lietz in the sister No. 91 911 RSR-19.
Brazilian Augusto Farfus topped GTE Am in the No. 98 Aston Martin, a 1m58.093s topping Matteo Cairoli’s best in the No. 56 Team Project 1 Porsche by just under a quarter of a second. Cetilar Racing’s Antonio Fuoco was third quickest in the fastest of the Ferraris, the No. 47 GTE Am car two seconds faster than the faster of the two Pro class 488s.