TOYOTA GAZOO Racing reacquainted itself with the Bahrain International Circuit after a two-year absence when practice got under way for the fourth round of the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.
The team earned victory back in 2017 and began preparation for this year’s 8 Hours of Bahrain, the final race for the TS050 HYBRID in the Middle East in its farewell season, with two 90-minute practice sessions, one in daylight and the other in darkness.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López in the #7 were the lead TS050 HYBRID on the opening day, recording the third fastest time of 1min 44.221secs, 1.750secs slower than the pace-setting #1 Rebellion which benefits from less success handicap. Mike’s lap was over four seconds slower than the best TOYOTA lap at this stage of the event in 2017.
The #8 TS050 HYBRID of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley battled against the maximum success handicap, which imposes limits on hybrid boost and fuel use per lap, and ended the day fourth, 2.250secs behind.
There was no sign of the rain which struck earlier in the week when practice began on a warm, dry track as the team dedicated itself to optimising the set-up of its two cars, focusing on aerodynamic and powertrain settings around the 5.412km Bahrain International Circuit.
As usual in Bahrain, the track surface was dusty at the beginning of the day but soon cleared when the 31-car grid took to the track. That resulted in steadily decreasing lap times, while track temperatures followed, dropping 9°C from first to second practice, which took place from 6.30pm to 8pm local time.
With conditions likely to follow a similar pattern during Saturday’s race, the team conducted extensive tyre comparison tests in practice to identify the most appropriate Michelin compounds for the various conditions.
At the end of three hours of practice, the two TS050 HYBRIDs had completed a total of 157 laps, 849km. The team expects a challenging qualifying session but will focus its energies on maximising performance for the race, when it intends to challenge for a third victory of the season.
Following a one-hour final practice on Friday morning, qualifying takes place in the afternoon. Saturday’s race will begin in daylight at 3pm local time, running for eight hours into the night with the chequered flag flying at 11pm.
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7): “It wasn’t an easy day; the deficit to the non-hybrid cars is big so it’s going to be a tough weekend. The car balance itself feels pretty good but there are areas we can improve and we need to work hard to do that before the race. Like in Shanghai, our target will be to have a clean race, make no mistakes and see where we are at the end. We’ll keep pushing and doing our best to get a strong result.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “It’s nice to be back in Bahrain on a track that I enjoy. We did a lot of laps today and have plenty of data which I hope will help us be more competitive in the race; we tried to improve the balance of the car and learn more about the tyres. At the moment we are quite far behind the non-hybrid cars so we need to look at the data and see where we can improve for the race.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7): “It has been an interesting day because we were further behind than expected; we thought we would be closer. We need to keep working hard to improve the car because we haven’t been able to get everything out of it yet. It’s going to be difficult to fight for the win but we will try to do this. It’s a long race and anything can happen; we need to be sure we get the maximum out of our car.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8): “We didn’t have any issues technically but the gap to our competitors is big and it’s going to be hard to fight for the win, but we are still pushing. I’m a bit surprised by the gap. We will work hard on Friday to minimise that gap and get ourselves in the best shape for the race but it looks like this race could be even more difficult than Shanghai for us.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “I’m happy to be back in Bahrain but compared to the last time we were here, the performance difference is quite big; it feels like driving a different car. The lap time gap was quite big to the non-hybrid cars so it could be a tough race again. We tried to maximise our car’s performance by changing the set-up and energy settings and we have the done best we could today.”
Brendon Hartley (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It has been a smooth day with no problems and a lot of good test items to look at overnight. We put most of our focus on long runs, with high fuel levels and doing high tyre mileage. We know that with the success handicap for this weekend, pole is maybe out of the question so we put a lot of focus on the race. It’s a long race and we do not stop fighting, but qualifying will be tricky.”
|Free Practice 1 Results|
|1st||#5 Ginetta (Robertson/Hanley/King)||1min 44.791secs||11 laps|
|2nd||#1 Rebellion (Senna/Menezes/Nato)||
|3rd||#8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||+2.817secs||40 laps|
|4th||#7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||+2.266secs||35 laps|
|5th||#6 Ginetta (Simpson/Dyson/Smith)||+3.214secs||15 laps|
|6th||#22 United Autosports (Hanson/Albuquerque/di Resta||+3.482secs||33 laps|
|Free Practice 2 Results|
|1st||#1 Rebellion (Senna/Menezes/Nato)||1min 42.471secs||41 laps|
|2nd||#5 Ginetta (Robertson/Hanley/King)||
|3rd||#7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||+1.750secs||44 laps|
|4th||#8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||+2.250secs||38 laps|
|5th||#37 Jackie Chan (Tung/Aubry/Stevens)||+3.676secs||44 laps|
|6th||#6 Ginetta (Simpson/Dyson/Smith)||+3.902secs||10 laps|