TOYOTA GAZOO Racing got its 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season off to a productive start by setting the fastest lap time in the first practice sessions for the opening round, the 6 Hours of Silverstone.

Following a five-month break since the concluding round of the 2016 season, TOYOTA arrived in Great Britain with a heavily-updated TS050 HYBRID to challenge Porsche for the World Championship crown.

Those updates paid dividends immediately at Silverstone, with Kazuki Nakajima, in the #8 TS050 HYBRID which he shares with Sébastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson, setting the fastest lap of the day. His lap time of one minute 38.210 was the quickest recorded by an LMP1 car at Silverstone since the return of WEC in 2012.

The #7 car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López was close behind, ending the day just 0.234secs off top spot after two 90-minute practice sessions in cool, overcast conditions.

With 35,000km of testing completed on the updated car, the target for today’s sessions was to fine-tune the high-downforce specification TS050 HYBRID for the specific demands of Silverstone, which is characterised by sequences of high-speed, sweeping corners.

As well as focusing on aerodynamic fine-tuning, the team worked to optimise the settings of the updated hybrid powertrain whilst also getting important data on the 2017 Michelin tyres, in terms of endurance and performance.

The two TS050 HYBRIDs not only demonstrated speed, they also ran smoothly, completing a total of 146 laps, or 861km, during a very positive day’s work for the team.

The next stage of preparation for Sunday’s race takes place tomorrow, with final practice and qualifying, when TOYOTA will be fighting to earn its first pole position since its World Championship-winning 2014 season.

TS050 HYBRID #7 (Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, José María López)

Free practice 1: 3rd (1min 40.960secs), 33 laps

Free practice 2: 2nd (1min 38.444secs), 37 laps

Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7): “It was a strong session for both cars and the pace looks quite good. It’s hard to know what Porsche did so we will not get carried away. We did a lot of work. We still have things to do to get the car right for qualifying and the race but it’s been a positive start. Compared to last year the car feels different, in a good way so I am happy with the start to our weekend.”

Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “It’s great to start like this in terms of the lap times. I think we achieved something over the winter tests, a nice improvement compared to the 2016 car and the powertrain. It’s not the race though, so we still have work to do to achieve our targets. We seem to have strong performance and the car feels nicely balanced, but we can improve. I feel quite optimistic.”

José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7): “I am like a kid in a candy shop; I am really happy. It has been a long time since I first drove an LMP1 car. I really enjoyed it and I am very lucky that the car is competitive, which makes things easier. I have been learning a lot, particularly in terms of traffic. The pressure is higher at a race weekend but I enjoyed every single lap so far.”

TS050 HYBRID #8 (Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson, Kazuki Nakajima)

Free practice 1: 1st (1min 40.104secs), 36 laps

Free practice 2: 1st (1min 38.210secs), 40 laps

Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8): “The day was obviously really good. It’s nice to start the first Friday of the season like this with fastest laps in both free practices. However we don’t want to be fastest in practice; we want to be fastest in the race. The car feels better compared to last year; thanks to the team for the big improvement. Now we try to make the most of it by analysing the data and fine-tuning the set-up.”

Anthony Davidson (TS050 HYBRID #8): “Today we ran without any problems with the car. I was happy with the balance generally and we didn’t have to do much in terms of set-up changes. Most of the focus has been on the long runs as we are limited on tyres this year. We have found a good compromise on the car so I am happy. Now we wait to see what our competitors do tomorrow but I’m already looking forward to the race on Sunday.”

Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It was a positive start to the weekend and I feel happy with the car. It feels strong and we can see a clear improvement of the powertrain and the chassis. Everything went smoothly so for the first race of the year it has been the ideal start. Performance-wise I don’t know exactly where we are; it’s still difficult to compare to Porsche but we are all happy on long or short runs which is positive.”

Free practice 1 results:

1st       #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                             1min 40.104secs         36 laps

2nd       #2 Porsche (Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley)   +0.781secs                    33 laps

3rd       #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                             +0.856secs                 33 laps

4th        #1 Porsche (Jani/Lotterer/Tandy)                  +1.231secs                    39 laps

5th        #13 Rebellion (Beche/Hansson/Piquet)     +5.809secs                    31 laps

6th        #28 TDS (Perrodo/Vaxiviere/Collard)           +6.034secs                    38 laps

Free practice 2 results:

1st       #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                          1min 38.210secs            40 laps

2nd      #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                         +0.234secs                     37 laps

3rd       #2 Porsche (Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley)   +2.290secs                    41 laps

4th        #1 Porsche (Jani/Lotterer/Tandy)               +2.991secs                    48 laps

5th        #26 G-Drive(Rusinov/Thiriet/Lynn)          +6.664secs                    41 laps

6th        #36 Alpine (Lapierre/Menezes/Rao)         +6.796secs                    32 laps