Porsche drew first blood at the Spa-Francorchamps round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, as the German manufacturer set the fastest time on Thursday.
Brendon Hartley was the quickest driver on the opening day of free practice, pedaling the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid to a 1:59.012s best during the first of two 90 minute sessions.
The New Zealander led a comprehensive Porsche 1-2 in the morning, with Neel Jani recording a 1:58.577s as Porsche locked out the top two places by over a second.
Toyota responded in the second session with Stephane Sarrazin turning in a 1:58.556s aboard the #6 TS050 Hybrid that currently sits second in the points table, but the Frenchman was still half a second shy of Hartley’s time.
Sarrazin’s effort was enough to split the Porsches, but the performance gap to the reigning world champions was still sizeable.
Fourth quickest was the #5 Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima, which also produced its best form during the afternoon session. Nakajima’s 1:58.711s put the #5 car 0.699 seconds off the pace, but still within reach of the #2 Porsche and #6 Toyota.
Audi, meanwhile, gave a public track debut to the low-downforce aero kit that will be applied to its R18s at Spa and Le Mans.
A testing opening day saw the #7 car of Marcel Fassler finish almost two seconds off the pace, while the sister #8 car failed to set a sub-two minute lap. The #8 machine encountered further hardship when a mechanical issue forced it out of the afternoon session.
Based on average sector times, Porsche’s primary gains came at the start and end of the lap, matching the trend from 2015 when the 919s were dominant in these high-speed sections. Toyota recovered most of its time during the twisty middle sector, claiming back four tenths of a second on average. However, over the course of a lap the Porsches retained the upper hand.
Interestingly, the fastest speed trap times came from the two Rebellion R-One AERs, which clocked in at 195.173 and 192.962 miles per hour respectively. That put the Swiss team 1.6 miles per hour quicker than the leading manufacturer car (#7 Audi) and over four miles per hour ahead of the top Porsche.
In terms of lap times, the Rebellions were around six seconds off the overall pace.
Manor on top in LMP2
Manor fronted the LMP2 category at the end of day one, thanks to a fast lap by former F1 competitor Roberto Merhi.
The Spanish driver set a 2:07.865s effort in the afternoon session to put the #44 Oreca 05-Nissan eight tenths of a second clear at the top of the timesheets.
Second quickest was the guesting G-Drive Racing entered Gibson 015S-Nissan that won the opening round of the European Le Mans Series in April. Fellow F1 expat and prototype racing newcomer Giedo van der Garde was impressive on his FIA WEC debut, posting a 2:08.719s effort.
Just one thousandth of a second behind the Dutchman was Gustavo Menezes, driving the Signatech-run Alpine A460-Nissan, while the experienced Roman Rusinov completed a close-knit top four in the full-season G-Drive Racing Oreca 05.
All five of the fastest LMP2 times were set in the afternoon.
The morning session saw Pipo Derani set the initial benchmark for Extreme Speed Motorsports with a 2:08.974s aboard the #31 Ligier JS P2-Nissan.
However, with the LMP2 cars favouring the warmer track conditions later in the day the Brazilian star dropped down to fifth in class.
Oreca dominated the speed trap figures throughout Thursday, both with the Oreca 05-Nissan and the modified Alpine A460 variant.
A final 60 minute practice session will be held on Friday, May 6 at 11:10, with qualifying taking place later that day at 16:05 (both local time).