TOYOTA GAZOO Racing began its Le Mans 24 Hours week with a busy day of preparation in the opening practice and qualifying sessions for the third round of the World Endurance Championship.
With the emphasis firmly on set-up development and tyre evaluation over long stints rather than qualifying position, both TS040 HYBRIDs continued the constructive work started at last month’s official test day.
The #2 of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway was the fastest TS040 HYBRID and earned provisional seventh on the grid, with the #1 of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in eighth.
Evening sun greeted the start of the two-hour qualifying as 14 LMP1 cars in a grid of 56 fought for pole position, which is awarded to the fastest single lap time from any of the three qualifying sessions.
The contest was interrupted at half distance by a red flag, reducing running time by around half an hour as safety barriers were repaired following an accident.
Around a quarter of the session remained, making for a very busy race track but Kazuki and Stéphane took the chequered flag having improved their respective lap times in the closing minutes.
A productive day delivered plenty of data and gave the team reason to believe there is more to come from the TS040 HYBRID in race trim, with more improvements targeted in Thursday’s two qualifying sessions.
Earlier in the afternoon, the only official free practice of the week started on a wet track with both cars leaving the pits on grooved tyres to begin four hours of fine-tuning and analysis.
A dry period allowed the team to study the changeover point from wet to hybrid intermediate then dry tyres. Within a few laps on slick tyres, Sébastien improved on the best lap set by a TS040 HYBRID during the official test day.
The rain returned periodically until the end of a session which was also interrupted by a lengthy red flag period. Despite the disruptions, the two TS040 HYBRIDs completed a total of 78 laps, 1063km after a trouble-free practice.
Qualifying continues on Thursday with two more 120-minute sessions (19.00 & 22.00). The drivers’ parade in the city on Friday afternoon gives fans a chance to meet the drivers before the race weekend, which begins with a 45-minute warm-up at 09.00. The race starts at 15.00 on Saturday.
TS040 HYBRID #1 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)
Free practice 1: 7th (3min 24.763secs), 41 laps
Qualifying 1: 8th (3min 23.767secs), 25 laps
Anthony Davidson: “It was nice to finally drive some laps in the dry today after the wet conditions we experienced for most of the test day. The car felt nice to drive and we didn’t have any problems, so it’s been a decent start. We have focused 100% on race performance; given what we saw at Spa and in the test we were never going to focus on qualifying. There is still a long way to go this week and the story of Le Mans 2015 will be written on Saturday and Sunday, not in qualifying.”
Sébastien Buemi: “In line with Spa, we are not on the same level as Audi and Porsche over one lap so today was all about race set-up. Congratulations to Porsche on getting the provisional pole with a very quick lap. We are working as hard as we can on the car to get it into the best possible condition for the race. We did a lot of work today and got lots of information so we will be working hard to find more performance and put ourselves in the best position for the weekend.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “Today we worked on our car set-up and race preparation, looking at tyre degradation and performance. I think we found a good set-up so I am quite happy with the work we did today. I was quite unlucky with traffic at the end of my best lap in the evening, but qualifying isn’t the priority. If the bad luck comes in qualifying, it’s much better than it coming in the race.”
TS040 HYBRID #2 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway)
Free practice 1: 8th (3min 25.537secs), 37 laps
Qualifying 1: 7th (3min 23.543secs), 23 laps
Alex Wurz: “I did some work for the race and car balance is going in a good direction. It’s a year since we’ve been at Le Mans at night and it always takes a few laps to get your references correct, with so many reflections and lights. You have to filter out what is useful and what is just annoying; the usual process in Le Mans race week. The weather forecast is mixed tomorrow so let’s wait and see what we get.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “The car is feeling good for the race and we worked very hard for that. We improved the balance and understood more about the tyres, so it’s been a positive day, despite the final classifications. Porsche was very fast so congratulations to them for provisional pole position. We didn’t event go for a qualifying run as we are putting all of our effort into the race. We’ll keep working hard tomorrow and let’s see what we can do.”
Mike Conway: “It was good to get a few laps in the night, my first in an LMP1 here, but unfortunately we had the red flag and lost half an hour so I didn’t get as much running as I hoped for. I have to wait until tomorrow to get more track time in the night which is what I need. Stéphane did a good job in terms of lap time late in qualifying but we were looking at the race so one-lap pace wasn’t the priority.”