World Champions TOYOTA GAZOO Racing experienced day and night conditions when practice began for the Six Hours of Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas today.
The fifth round of the World Endurance Championship is a day-night affair with heat and humidity challenging for drivers and pit crew alike. TOYOTA completed three hours of practice in two sessions, making a solid start to the event.
Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, in the #1 TS040 HYBRID, finished fourth and fifth respectively in the two sessions. Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway were fifth and sixth.
First practice began in the middle of the afternoon in bright sunshine, with air temperatures close to 35°C as the WEC field hit the track again for the first time since the Nürburgring race on 30 August.
As well as the usual tasks of fine-tuning set-up and comparing different tyre specifications, Kazuki got his first taste of the Circuit of the Americas, completing eight laps in first practice.
That 90-minute session was busy for both TS040 HYBRIDs as they completed more laps than their LMP1 rivals, a combined total of 68 overall representing 375km. Sébastien set the fastest time in the #1 while Mike did likewise in the #2.
At 20.00 local time second practice began and, for the first time this season since the Le Mans 24 Hours, a WEC session took place in darkness. It was therefore important for all drivers to reacquaint themselves with night driving.
The session ran smoothly, aside from three five-minute penalties (one for the #1 and two for the #2) for exceeding the track limits too frequently. Sébastien set the fastest time for the #1, with Mike quickest for #2.
Tomorrow sees all action taking place in daylight, with final practice beginning at 10.30 prior to qualifying at 18.15. The race begins on Saturday at 17.00.
TS040 HYBRID #1 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)
Free practice 1: 4th (1min 51.279secs), 34 laps
Free practice 2: 5th (1min 50.132secs), 40 laps
Anthony Davidson: “It’s good to be back at this track, especially in dry conditions after the rain we experienced here last year. We made progress on the car set-up today which puts us in a decent position for the rest of the weekend. We still have some things to improve in final practice to get the most from the car before qualifying, although obviously the focus is on race pace.”
Sébastien Buemi: “I’m happy to return to one of my favourite circuits and today went pretty well. We improved the car a lot from the afternoon to the evening session. The track conditions were good and this time we drove at night without any rain which is better than last year. I enjoyed my time in the car so I am looking forward to getting back in tomorrow with fresh tyres and low fuel.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “I studied a lot of onboard laps to prepare for my first trip to Austin and that definitely helped. Also, Anthony and Sébastien gave some good advice so I was well prepared. It’s a nice track; very exciting through the first sector. I got an okay rhythm and feeling for the track and the car had a reasonable balance. We still have some work to do to optimize the car but we made a good start.”
TS040 HYBRID #2 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway)
Free practice 1: 5th (1min 52.180secs), 34 laps
Free practice 2: 6th (1min 50.224secs), 38 laps
Alex Wurz: “It is nice to be back here in Austin on this cool track. On the set-up side we had to work quite hard from the afternoon session but second practice was better. We are close to getting the best out of the car so we will continue to work and stay sharp. I think today was a good day for us to learn about the car at this track and find some improvements.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “We did a good job today in terms of set-up and we improved the car a lot, finding a better balance. I like this track a lot, but it can also be frustrating when you are not the fastest or when you get traffic. We are giving our best to prepare the car for the race, which is the most important.”
Mike Conway: “It’s always easier to come back to a track that you know so it was nice to drive again here at Austin where I made my TOYOTA debut. During the evening session we made good progress with the tyres and I am pretty happy with the balance. Now we just have to look at the data and see what we can do for the rest of the weekend.”