WEC 6 Hours of ShanghaiFIA World Endurance Championship leader TOYOTA Racing began its Six Hours of Shanghai preparations by setting the fastest lap in practice on a rain-affected first day at the Shanghai International Circuit.

The #8 TS040 HYBRID of Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi, who lead the drivers’ World Championship by 26 points, set the fastest lap of the day in second practice, which finished early due to heavy rain.

The sister car, the #7 of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima, was close behind in second as the team resumed where it left off in Fuji three weeks ago, when it took a one-two victory in front of its home fans.

TOYOTA Racing is fighting for the title on two fronts and holds an eight-point lead in the manufacturers’ World Championship, with the 1,000PS, four-wheel-drive TS040 HYBRID having won three of the five races so far this season.

A trouble-free day began in first practice on a damp track, with both cars starting on wet tyres before moving on to hybrid intermediates then slick tyres as a dry line emerged.

The team took the opportunity to gain experience of each type of tyre in the evolving track conditions, as lap times improved in parallel.

The remainder of first practice stayed dry and allowed the team to analyse different aerodynamic and mechanical set-ups, with both TS040 HYBRIDs running reliably and recording a combined 392km.

Car #8 set the fastest time of the session, via birthday boy Sébastien, while #7 was second thanks to Stéphane’s best lap.

Changing weather was a factor in the afternoon as well, with early drizzle giving way to prolonged rain, which gave all drivers a chance to familiarise themselves with the Shanghai circuit in wet conditions.

But the rain only got heavier and with 17 minutes remaining, the red flags came out to prematurely end the session, with the #8 on top courtesy of Anthony’s lap and the #7 again second as a result of Alex’s best effort.

Tomorrow sees the final one-hour practice session (9.30) before qualifying (13.55). The race starts on Sunday at 11.00.

TS040 HYBRID #7 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Kazuki Nakajima)

Free practice 1: 2nd (1min 50.981secs), 34 laps

Free practice 2: 2nd (1min 49.806secs), 22 laps

Alex Wurz: “We went through the program and did all the testing we wanted to do. Obviously, at the end of the session this afternoon it was wet which was entertaining and quite fun to drive. We will look at the data and make some improvements for tomorrow and Sunday. It has been a reasonably good day and now we look forward to the rest of the weekend.”

Stéphane Sarrazin: “It was a very interesting day in terms of testing. The car felt pretty good and we were quick from the beginning of the day. We did a good job looking at the different tyres. My first lap in second practice was fully wet but the car felt incredible and the grip was amazing. The forecasts say the race should be dry but even if it is raining we have the car to do a good job.”

Kazuki Nakajima: “Although I didn’t drive so much today it was good to see the car was competitive. Still, the car balance is not perfect and we need to do a bit more work to improve the set-up. It was difficult with these conditions to develop the set-up properly but we will study the data and work on it before qualifying. Overall it was a good first day; now let’s see how the weather develops.”

TS040 HYBRID #8 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi)

Free practice 1: 1st (1min 49.833secs), 38 laps

Free practice 2: 1st (1min 49.134secs), 27 laps

Anthony Davidson: “It has been a difficult day in terms of weather but in all conditions that we faced, the car performed well. I’m happy with the balance of the car in the dry and wet conditions and the performance seems to be there. We have a bit of homework to do tonight as usual on a Friday. I hope we get better weather tomorrow but I think we will have to wait until Sunday to get a dry day.”          

Sébastien Buemi: “It was a good first day for the two cars. We did quite a lot of laps, in all kinds of conditions. It should not be wet on Sunday but maybe on Saturday and now we have good experience in all conditions. So we really feel like we have started well, everything is running smoothly and we look competitive. We just hope to continue in the same direction as we finished Fuji then we will all be happy.”