TOYOTA GAZOO Racing made a constructive start to preparations for the final FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) race of the season with opening practice for the 6 Hours of Bahrain.

With an outside chance of the drivers’ World Championship and second place in the manufacturers’ standings still to fight for, TOYOTA approaches the ninth and final race of the season determined to challenge for the win.

Preparations began positively in two 90-minute practice sessions on Thursday. Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi, who are second in the drivers’ championship, were the fastest TS050 HYBRID, in fourth place in the #6 car.

The #5 TS050 HYBRID of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima set the sixth fastest time overall on day one at the Bahrain International Circuit, where TOYOTA has won on two of its four previous WEC visits.

Today’s action allowed the team to experience the track in various conditions; first practice began in bright sunshine and ran until sunset while the second session took place in complete darkness.

The race is scheduled to start at 16.00 local time so today’s practice provided valuable information about how track conditions evolve as night approaches.

As well as analysing track conditions, both cars also ran through a programme of set-up changes and tyre tests with the target of achieving optimal race performance.

Today’s action provided an indication of how the team’s competitive level has improved compared to 2015; the TS050 HYBRID set a fastest lap over three seconds faster than the TS040 HYBRID achieved at this stage of last year’s Bahrain event.

That improved performance brings increased expectations and the team will fine-tune car set-up in final practice on Friday prior to qualifying as it prepares to fight for an eighth podium, and second win, of the season.

TS050 HYBRID #5 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)

Free practice 1: 6th (1min 43.504secs), 36 laps

Free practice 2: 6th (1min 42.859secs), 42 laps

Anthony Davidson: “We worked on the balance of the car and made big changes from first to second practice. We are pretty happy with our progress. Today’s main focus was on a good race balance and tyre degradation which is a key factor here. We will look to extract a bit more speed from the car tomorrow but I’m fairly optimistic.”

Sébastien Buemi: “It was a good day for our car and the set-up felt pretty good in the end. We didn’t go for absolute lap time because we focused on the race as much as possible; this is what counts. We didn’t have any technical issues which is good as this means we have a lot of data to analyse and find the best compromise.”

Kazuki Nakajima: “Tyre degradation is always tricky here so today we worked hard to analyse this. We had two positive sessions to evaluate the car set-up and the tyre situation. We finished up quite happy with the balance so I think we have a good basis for the race. Qualifying is not our focus so we’ll see where we are tomorrow.”

TS050 HYBRID #6 (Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi)

Free practice 1: 4th (1min 42.865secs), 36 laps

Free practice 2: 4th (1min 40.603secs), 38 laps

Stéphane Sarrazin: “We had a good day today and I’m pleased with how it went in both sessions. We improved the car a lot during the day and I think Mike, Kamui and me all feel quite confident that we have a strong car here. We will finalise our race set-up tomorrow and get ready for the last event of the season.”

Mike Conway: “It went well today. We have some areas to improve but in terms of our race pace compared to the competition, we look pretty close. We still have more lap time to find and we will work hard before the race to improve, but today has been a good starting point. I think it will be quite a close fight come Saturday.”

Kamui Kobayashi: “The car felt okay today and we had two clean sessions. It’s hard to compare the balance because the tyre degradation was high but I’m quite positive. This is only the first day of the weekend so there is plenty of work to do and we will try to improve. Let’s see tomorrow.”

Free practice 1 results:

1st        #2 Porsche (Dumas/Jani/Lieb)                   1min 42.107secs            37 laps

2nd       #8 Audi (di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis)                   +0.343secs                    39 laps

3rd       #7 Audi (Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer)            +0.408secs                    40 laps

4th       #6 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                             +0.758secs                   36 laps

5th        #1 Porsche (Bernhard/Webber/Hartley)  +0.848secs                    35 laps

6th       #5 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                             +1.397secs                   36 laps


Free practice 2 results:

1st        #2 Porsche (Dumas/Jani/Lieb)                   1min 39.817secs         41 laps

2nd       #1 Porsche (Bernhard/Webber/Hartley)   +0.455secs                  41 laps

3rd       #8 Audi (di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis)                  +0.583secs                     45 laps

4th       #6 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                        +0.786secs                      38 laps

5th        #7 Audi (Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer)         +1.203secs                    48 laps

6th       #5 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                        +3.042secs                      42 laps