World Champions TOYOTA GAZOO Racing got the Six Hours of Nürburgring under way today with the first practice sessions for the fourth round of the World Endurance Championship.
After a two-month break since the Le Mans 24 Hours, the team made the 90km journey south to the Nürburgring to resume its season with the final European race of the year.
In line with previous races, the TS040 HYBRIDs face a performance deficit at the Nürburgring compared to their LMP1 manufacturer rivals and this was reflected in the first two practice sessions.
Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima ended both of the two sessions in sixth in the #1 TS040 HYBRID. Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway, in the #2, were fifth in both.
Action at Nürburgring started on a wet, cold track following rain late in the morning with air temperatures of only around 13°C. But soon after the green light, the rain eased and both cars were able to try out the Michelin hybrid intermediate tyres.
TOYOTA hosted a two-day test session at the Nürburgring last month, with Alex, Anthony and Sébastien sharing one car, so today’s first practice was the first chance for the other three drivers to experience the TS040 HYBRID on this track.
As well as reacquainting Stéphane, Mike and Kazuki with the specific demands of the Nürburgring, practice also allowed the team to analyse set-up changes made since the test days and begin fine-tuning the cars for Sunday’s race.
Improving track conditions also presented an opportunity to study the changeover point from intermediate to dry tyres and, aside from a brief red flag, the session finished with no dramas and the two TS040 HYBRIDs completed a combined 318km.
Despite heavy clouds, second practice was dry and the two cars ran through their programme, adding another 421km as preparations intensified. Practice concludes on Saturday morning (09.30-10.30) prior to qualifying (14.30-14.50). The race begins at 13.00 on Sunday.
TS040 HYBRID #1 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)
Free practice 1: 6th (1min 42.541secs), 35 laps
Free practice 2: 6th (1min 40.845secs), 48 laps
Anthony Davidson: “Today I experienced all types of weather conditions which meant I ran on all four of the different Michelin tyres; wet, damp and the two options of slicks. So I got a good read on the car at least and Kazuki put together a nice long run, so we got to see how the tyres were over a stint. We gathered good information and I enjoyed driving the car. In terms of pace, there is no surprise that we’re not really able to challenge apart from in full wet conditions.”
Sébastien Buemi: “We tested here a few weeks ago and collected a lot of data to help us find the right set-up. Today we continued that work to prepare in the best way for the race. We know this weekend will be difficult for us in terms of performance but we will be pushing hard and trying to take any opportunity for a good result. We will do the best we can as always; it will be very hard to fight for the win but our target is to be on the podium here, especially as it is one of the team’s two home races.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “I didn’t drive in the test so the first target was to learn the track because it is my first time here for a few years. It is different driving an LMP1 compared to the single-seaters I have driven here before. I remember the rhythm of the track and I could use some of my memories to get up to speed quickly. Today our task was to optimise the car set-up and balance. It was also interesting to see the tyres after the long run; that gives us useful information for the race.”
TS040 HYBRID #2 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway)
Free practice 1: 5th (1min 41.812secs), 27 laps
Free practice 2: 5th (1min 40.612secs), 34 laps
Alex Wurz: “Thanks to the Eifel gods for having a dry session this afternoon because I tested in the wet and this morning was also wet for my stint too. The track is very cool to drive in the dry with these cars; it is a lot of fun behind the wheel. It is difficult in terms of finding the correct balance, with some very long corners and a mix of high and low speed corners. That keeps us sharp as we try to find the best compromise on set-up. I am somehow happy; the car was neutral and I could have some fun.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “This is a track I enjoy and I actually won the last time LMP1s raced here. It was a normal practice day for us and everything went okay. We did some long runs to help us prepare for the race and set-up the car. In general I have a good feeling but we’re just not fast enough compared to the leading cars. We did a good job today to be ready for the race and we will try to improve the car tomorrow. We will definitely fight and keep pushing to get the best result possible.”
Mike Conway: “It’s nice to be back at the Nürburgring; I haven’t raced here for a few years. Practice went reasonably well, especially in terms of the car balance, which we are fairly happy with. We need to make a few more adjustments and then we’re alright for qualifying; that will be the task in FP3 tomorrow. We are a little bit away from the competition but we keep pushing to get as much out of the car as we can. We will work on all the data overnight and do what we can.”