WEC 6 Hours of The Circuit of the AmericasFIA World Endurance Championship leaders TOYOTA Racing got back on track with the first practice sessions for the Six Hours of Circuit of the Americas, the fourth of eight rounds this season.

After a three-month break following the previous round at Le Mans, the two TS040 HYBRIDs were finally allowed to unleash their 1,000PS four-wheel drive powertrain on the track again with the first of two 90-minute sessions in Austin.

Mike Conway took part in an official session for TOYOTA Racing for the first time, joining the #7 driver line-up alongside Alex Wurz and Stéphane Sarrazin. He registered his first laps in the closing minutes of first practice.

The #8 line-up of Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi began the defence of their 20-point lead in the drivers’ championship, while the team started its bid to extend its one-point lead over Audi in the manufacturers’ standings.

The remaining five races of the season are on tighter, twistier tracks than the high-speed Le Mans circuit, so the TS040 HYBRID has reverted to a high-downforce specification, which was validated during a two-day test at Magny-Cours last month.

Therefore the team’s first priority on Thursday was to fine-tune that package to the demands of the 5.516km Circuit of the Americas and both cars completed a busy session, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.

Last year saw TOYOTA Racing’s single-car entry, the #8, finish second after a race-long battle for the victory in intense heat. This time around, the race will take place in the evening but today’s first practice again saw very high temperatures.

Air temperatures of 32°C test not only the drivers but also the car. However, the second session was challenging for very different reasons; a heavy thunder storm soaked the circuit and delayed the evening start by one hour.

As a night race, every driver must complete three timed laps in the dark, so with second practice the only possibility to achieve this, all six drivers braved the treacherous conditions as soon as possible and fulfilled the requirement.

Both cars continued running to gather potentially useful experience on how track conditions evolve in wet weather, with Anthony setting the fastest time of the session on his very last lap.

Tomorrow the teams have a final one-hour practice session at 10.20 before qualifying at 18.35. Saturday’s race starts at 17.00 local time.

TS040 HYBRID #7 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway)

Free practice 1: 4th (1min 52.405secs), 36 laps

Free practice 2: 3rd (2min 4.419secs), 28 laps

Alex Wurz: “That was my first time on this circuit. I did help develop it on the simulator but that was a few years ago. So it was nice to drive it for the first time. It is an impressive track but one which requires a lot of compromises on the car set-up. We have to analyse the data. I think we can still do more, I can see the direction we have to go and I am looking forward to sitting with the engineers and working out the right set-up.”

Stéphane Sarrazin: “In first practice we felt competitive in dry conditions; the car seemed good. Then this evening we had massive rain just before the second session. It was really interesting to drive the car in these conditions. The car balance felt even better than in the dry and this gave us a lot of confidence. We could push without being at the maximum limit or taking risks. It was an interesting session. Now let’s see how it goes tomorrow.”

Mike Conway: “It was a good day and it was nice to be out there in the TS040 HYBRID for my first practice sessions. I’m just getting back into the rhythm of driving this car. I didn’t get a lot of laps but towards the end of second practice I felt pretty comfortable and the lap times were competitive. I feel okay but I’m looking forward to getting more running; that will come tomorrow. I’m still learning through every corner and I’m continuing to push to make sure we are up there in qualifying and the race.”

TS040 HYBRID #8 (Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre, Sébastien Buemi)

Free practice 1: 5th (1min 52.657secs), 31 laps

Free practice 2: 1st (2min 1.333secs), 29 laps

Anthony Davidson: “I think we had a positive day generally. They were mixed conditions so we had a taste of all the weather we could face. We felt happy with the car in both conditions, perhaps more so in the rain than the dry. I think there is still some improvement to come in the dry with the speed and balance of the car but I didn’t get much running in first practice so it’s hard to judge. We know the direction we want to go and we’ll see where we are this time tomorrow.”

Nicolas Lapierre: “It was a good day. The conditions are the same for everyone so it is not a problem. This was my first time here at this track and it is not an easy one to learn; there are a lot of undulations and a lot of fast corners. But before I came here I watched a lot of onboard cameras and tried to learn the lay-out so I was prepared for today. The car was reacting quite well in both the dry and the wet which is a good sign; so far so good.”

Sébastien Buemi: “We had very changeable conditions, like we have seen the past couple of days here. One thing is for sure, we are looking quite good in both wet and dry conditions, even if the timing sheet didn’t show it in first practice. We need to make sure everything is working well tomorrow and optimise the car set-up. If we do that I think we have a good shot. I am looking forward to the rest of the weekend; it could be a good one.”