TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is ready for action in the 1000 Miles of Sebring following a constructive two-day official test in Florida ahead of the sixth round of the 2018-2019 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
The TS050 HYBRID unofficially set a new lap record at Sebring International Raceway thanks to a time of 1min 41.152secs from Mike Conway on Saturday afternoon, beating the official record for the current track lay-out set by Peugeot in 2009 by 2.122secs. At an average speed of 214.22km/h, Mike’s lap was only 0.04km/h slower than the fastest in Sebring’s 69-year history, a record set in 1986 on a previous track lay-out.
Four of the team’s six drivers were on duty for the test, with José María López and Sébastien Buemi racing elsewhere this weekend. Therefore, Mike and Kamui Kobayashi shared the #7 TS050 HYBRID, winner of the last two WEC races, while World Championship leaders Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso, who set the second fastest lap of the weekend just 0.052secs behind Mike, were at the wheel of the #8.
Having previously completed more than 4,000km during a private test session at Sebring last month, the team arrived in Florida well prepared for the challenge of this unique 6.019km circuit and completed an extensive programme of mechanical, aerodynamic and hybrid set-up evaluations.
Despite an early morning shower on Saturday and a slight delay for fog at the beginning of Sunday, the test was completed in bright sunshine, with temperatures reaching 28°C on day one and 31°C the following day. Both TS050 HYBRIDs ran smoothly without major incidents, completing a total of 580 laps, 3,491km, over the two days.
An unusual timetable for the 1000 Miles of Sebring race week sees practice begin on Wednesday, with qualifying on Thursday before the race starts at 4pm local time on Friday, finishing at midnight at the latest.
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7): “When we had the test here a few weeks ago we were doing similar lap times so we knew it was looking good to beat the lap record. To have done that is pretty cool but we have to do it again in qualifying or the race for it to count. It’s a nice feeling to go around Sebring quicker than anyone has before. There could be even more to come during the race week; we might be able to go quicker again. The main thing this weekend was to get ourselves well prepared for race week and we have done that.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “The test days have been very useful and important for us. This is not like the typical tracks that we visit, which have relatively similar lay-outs, very smooth surfaces and big run-off areas. At those tracks, once you understand how the car behaves on the circuit you don’t particularly need confidence, but here confidence is much more important. This is an old-style track with a lot of bumps and walls very close to the track so it is exciting and a big challenge. Confidence makes lap time here so these two days of testing have been really helpful.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “This test has been a good opportunity to get more familiar with the Sebring circuit, which is quite special. Our test last month was my first time here so the process of learning the bumps and the particular character of Sebring is ongoing. The section from turn 16 to turn one is very high speed but close to the wall with a very rough surface, then the other side of the track is very narrow. To be on track with more than 30 cars is also something special. So there is a little more to learn here because of those factors; it’s more impressive and challenging than most tracks.”
Fernando Alonso (TS050 HYBRID #8): “I think it was good to practice with some more cars on track compared to our test; this helps us to learn how to manage the traffic. These have been two productive days in terms of learning and we are continually fine-tuning the car set-up a little bit as well as understanding better the tyres. They have been two trouble-free days providing good information for the team which will help us next week. We were well prepared before and now we are even better prepared so I am quite happy.”