TOYOTA GAZOO Racing faced the infamous Ardennes weather when practice began for the penultimate round of the 2018-2019 FIA World Endurance Championship, the Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
Despite conditions which swung from sunshine to heavy rain, the team made constructive progress on the opening day at Spa, the scene of its one-two victory 12 months ago which started a remarkable 2018-2019 season and set the tone for an intense World Championship battle between the two TS050 HYBRIDs.
The first of two 90-minute sessions took place on a dry track with rain throughout second practice. World Championship leaders Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso, in the #8 TS050 HYBRID, set the overall third fastest time of the day, although they did top the standings in the wet second session.
The #7 crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López are just 15 points behind the #8 line-up in the drivers’ World Championship standings with two races remaining in the season and they set the fourth quickest lap of the day.
For the first time since Le Mans last June, the TS050 HYBRID is competing in low-downforce specification, making today’s two practice sessions particularly important. Fine-tuning the cars for race was the priority, with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing aiming to secure the teams’ World Championship title on Saturday.
First practice finished without incident and the team gathered as much information as possible about dry set-up before the forecast rain later in the afternoon. That arrived moments before the session started so both cars used the opportunity to compare different specifications of Michelin wet tyres as well as various aerodynamic solutions to generate more grip.
Rain persisted for the entire session, contributing to three red flag periods which reduced the time available for preparations but both cars diligently went about the business of establishing appropriate set-ups for whatever conditions will come for Friday’s qualifying and Saturday’s race.
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7): “We had a mixed day; one dry session, one wet. This is actually quite useful because we are likely to have a wet race but qualifying should be dry. In the wet it is very tricky out there with very bad visibility when it’s raining heavily. You cannot see anything from the top of Eau Rouge to turn five, which isn’t comfortable when you are full throttle. The car seems to be handling well but I think we will have good competition from SMP this weekend as they have their high-downforce kit. We have to execute our race as well as possible and if we do that we can get a strong result.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “My day went well but the weather makes it difficult to judge where everyone is in terms of performance. We will see what will happen in the next days. We just tried to tune the car for all the conditions so we are ready for anything. The rain in second practice made it difficult for everyone; you don’t see anything. The car itself felt fine but visibility is a big problem everywhere with that amount of water on the track.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7): “First practice was okay for me and it was nice to get some running in the dry. I had a good feeling and felt pretty comfortable in the car, with good lap times and traffic management. In second practice I did only four laps so I didn’t learn much. I went out at the beginning and there was a lot of aquaplaning; it was on the limit and then Mike took over after two laps. I got in the car at the end and it rained again so it wasn’t the best session.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It was a wild second session with all the rain; there was a lot of water on track. It is good that we experienced dry and wet conditions in the two sessions because that’s what we’re expecting for the remainder of the week. So we have good information about tyres and set-up in all conditions. Now let’s analyse all that data and push to get another good result.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “We knew the rain was coming so in the first session we just tried to drive as much as possible in the dry conditions. At this track we have a lot of tyre degradation and I jumped in at the last stint when the tyres were at their oldest. It didn’t feel great but we can learn from that info. In the second session it was just about surviving in the wet conditions. It reminded me of 2015 when I had a big crash in similar conditions so I am happy to finish the session without any drama.”
Fernando Alonso (TS050 HYBRID #8): “With the weather and red flags it was not a normal day, but that’s the same for everyone. We tried to adjust to the circumstances and set up the car for dry and wet conditions so that we are ready for a very changeable weekend. We should be okay in both conditions and the car felt okay even in the wet. We are trying to be flexible with set-up because the track will keep changing which will make it interesting for the fans and us. We need be concentrated and very focused for every lap.”
|Free Practice 1|
|1st||#17 SMP (Sarrazin/Orudzhev/Sirotkin)||1min 56.264secs||21 laps|
|2nd||#11 SMP (Aleshin/Petrov/Vandoorne) ||+1.972secs||29 laps|
|3rd||#8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||+2.478secs||40 laps|
|4th||#7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||+2.613secs||31 laps|
|5th||#3 Rebellion (Berthon/Laurent/Menezes)||+2.842secs||33 laps|
|6th||#1 Rebellion (Jani/Lotterer/Senna)||+4.171secs||29 laps|
|Free Practice 2|
|1st||#8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||2min 19.483secs||26 laps|
|2nd||#7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||+1.382secs||27 laps|
|3rd||#11 SMP (Aleshin/Petrov/Vandoorne)||+1.946secs||24 laps|
|4th||#1 Rebellion (Jani/Lotterer/Senna)||+3.370secs||21 laps|
|5th||#3 Rebellion (Berthon/Laurent/Menezes)||+5.716secs||20 laps|
|6th||#4 ByKolles (Dillmann/Webb/Ruberti)||+5.739secs||14 laps|