TOYOTA GAZOO Racing completed an intensive opening day of practice for the 6 Hours of Shanghai, the penultimate round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).

The #5 TS050 HYBRID of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima was the fastest TOYOTA over the two 90-minute practice sessions at the Shanghai International Circuit, setting the fourth quickest time overall.

The World Championship-chasing trio of Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi in the #6, who won the last race at Fuji Speedway three weeks ago, were sixth as preparations began for the eighth round of 2016.

With just two races remaining this season, TOYOTA returns to the site of previous success having won the Shanghai race in 2012 and 2014.

This year the race holds particular significance for the outcome of the drivers’ World Championship, with the #6 crew in the fight for the title. They are 23 points behind the Porsche #2 drivers, with 52 points still to fight for in Shanghai and Bahrain.

As always, the priority on Friday was to prepare both cars for the best possible race performance. Various aerodynamic and mechanical set-ups were tested, along with the differing recovery and boost options on the 1000hp hybrid powertrain.

As well as the car itself, the differing specifications of Michelin tyres were compared for performance and durability in relatively cool conditions; despite a bright day, track temperatures were only around 22°C.

Strong reliability and efficient work from the mechanics allowed the team to undertake a lot of tests during today’s three hours of practice. The combined 147 laps completed by both cars represented 801km.

The one-lap pace of the TS050 HYBRID will be on show in Saturday’s qualifying, when the LMP1 competitors fight to earn one point for pole position. However, the main focus is on Sunday’s race when the team aims to finish on the podium for the fourth consecutive race.

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

Free practice 1: 3rd (1min 47.445secs), 39 laps

Free practice 2: 4th (1min 46.812secs), 31 laps

Anthony Davidson: “We have worked hard today to try to find a better balance because the track conditions were quite tricky with very low grip compared to last year. We will study the data overnight and work to come up with a solution. Hopefully the track conditions will continue to improve and suit our car as the weekend goes on.”

Sébastien Buemi: “We did quite a lot of miles today but it is difficult to say where we are because there was a lot of traffic, people were on different tyres and so on. It is going to be more challenging than Fuji but I am still optimistic. We will push to be strong in qualifying and the race but obviously Sunday is the main priority.”

Kazuki Nakajima: “It wasn’t an easy day. In the morning I was on a used set of tyres which were quite difficult to manage, with very low grip especially combined with a green track. In the afternoon I had one run on newer tyres and it felt decent. So we have some work to do to improve the set-up on older tyres in particular.”

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

Free practice 1: 4th (1min 47.632secs), 39 laps

Free practice 2: 6th (1min 47.860secs), 38 laps

Stéphane Sarrazin: “In general we need to find more grip from our car. The track conditions certainly didn’t help, although they improved as the day went on. We have third practice to work on some things and we will be busy because we need everything correct so we can have an opportunity in the race.”

Mike Conway: “The track conditions improved during the day; I think the support races helped with this. We didn’t do any qualifying simulations; we focused only on getting a strong balance over long runs and we improved in some areas. There is still more performance to find so we will work hard on this.”

Kamui Kobayashi: “The situation is a bit harder compared to this stage of the event in Fuji but the track conditions are probably a factor in that. We have been improving the car and we still have some more adjustments to make in order to find more performance. We will look at the data tonight and make some improvements.”

Free practice 1 results:

1st        #1 Porsche (Bernhard/Webber/Hartley)   1min 46.781secs            35 laps

2nd       #8 Audi (di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis)                    +0.198secs                    38 laps

3rd       #5 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                             +0.664secs                 39 laps

4th       #6 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                             +0.851secs                 39 laps

5th        #7 Audi (Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer)            +1.046secs                    14 laps

6th        #2 Porsche (Dumas/Jani/Lieb)                   +1.657secs                    10 laps

Free practice 2 results:

1st        #1 Porsche (Bernhard/Webber/Hartley)   1min 44.594secs            33 laps

2nd       #8 Audi (di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis)                    +1.617secs                    42 laps

3rd       #2 Porsche (Dumas/Jani/Lieb)                      +1.670secs                    44 laps

4th       #5 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                            +2.218secs                 31 laps

5th        #7 Audi (Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer)            +2.558secs                    35 laps

6th       #6 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                             +3.266secs                 38 laps