TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will take the start of the Six Hours of Circuit of the Americas from the third row of the grid after qualifying took place for the fifth round of the World Endurance Championship in Austin, Texas today.
The #1 TS040 HYBRID of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima had a marginal advantage over its sister car in qualifying and earned fifth place. Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway start sixth in the #2.
Qualifying took place in daylight early in the Texas evening on a hot day which saw air temperatures reaching 33°C. The race itself will begin in daylight but run into the night, with the chequered flag flying at 23.00 local time on Saturday.
Sébastien and Mike, for the first time returning to a track on which he has LMP1 experience, were the first nominated drivers in their respective TS040 HYBRIDs for a session where two drivers from each car take part.
Neither had the chance to begin their first flying lap before the red flags flew due to an LMP2 car stopped at pit exit. That reduced the time available to complete the required laps by a few minutes and made for a very busy track.
With the average of each driver’s fastest single lap deciding grid order, it was a battle to find clear air. Both Sébastien and Mike improved on their first flying laps before handing over to Kazuki and Alex respectively.
At that point the #2 was the leading TS040 HYBRID, but the final moments of qualifying saw the two switch positions, with Kazuki earning fifth place and Alex taking sixth.
An average lap time gap of over two seconds to the pole position-winning Porsche #18 suggests a challenging race in the Texas heat tomorrow evening for TOYOTA.
Earlier in the day, a final one-hour practice saw the team complete preparations for the race during a session which was interrupted by a red flag but otherwise ran smoothly and allowed both cars to finalise set-up work.
With the focus on race performance and optimal tyre strategy in the hot conditions, the two TS040s generated further useful information, taking their combined totals over the three practice sessions to 195 laps; 1075km.
TS040 HYBRID #1 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)
Free practice 3: 6th (1min 49.112secs), 26 laps
Qualifying: 5th (1min 48.990secs average)
Sébastien Buemi: “We are more or less where we expected to be. I think tomorrow the gap will reduce as we have focused much more on race pace. We will do our best and try to learn as many things as possible. It was still a reasonable session for us and it’s nice to drive around this track on low fuel and with fresh tyres. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “It was a close fight within the team in qualifying and I enjoyed it. The track conditions were not ideal, maybe due to the temperature or the other races today. The car was quite difficult to drive but I managed to put everything together for my last lap. As a team we did a good job so let’s keep it like that for tomorrow.”
TS040 HYBRID #2 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway)
Free practice 3: 5th (1min 49.221secs), 23 laps
Qualifying: 6th (1min 49.176secs average)
Alex Wurz: “I am not particularly happy with my performance. I just couldn’t switch my front tyres on and experienced understeer, although in the previous sessions we had oversteer. So I found myself learning the track again in my first two laps. My lap was my fastest but on the second I had traffic. So I’m just not happy as I didn’t find a rhythm.”
Mike Conway: “I should have gone quicker on my first lap but made a mistake in the second-to-last corner which threw away a couple of tenths. I managed to get it back again on the next lap, which was pretty good. It’s tricky out there with the hot conditions; it felt like the last sector was really greasy and didn’t feel as good as it did earlier in the day. I think everyone experienced a similar issue but these are the conditions we will have in the race so we have to get the car working.”