Toyota Gazoo Racing picked up from where they left off at Monza and took the fastest lap of the first practice session of the World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Silverstone. The pace for the 90-minute session was set in each class within the first ten minutes, with teams clearly not focused on fastest laps but getting through their program of tests for the day.
Cloud covered the track for the session, dropping the air and track temperature before the cars set out for their first practice session. On average, the teams were setting between 30 and 40 laps during the session, getting some decent mileage and data from their track time.
There was only one Full Course Yellow during the 90-minute practice session. There was a brief yellow flag at Luffied Corner with an unknown cause just before the #66 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK came to a halt at Aintree Corner just before Wellington Straight. Whatever the issue was on the car, it managed to re-fire, whilst the track was under Full Course Yellows, and get itself back to the pits. After a quick check, the Ford #66 was back out on track for the last fifteen minutes of the session.
Sebastien Buemi dictated the pace from the start of the session in the #8 Toyota, setting an unrivaled 1:40.104. Brendon Hartley could not get any closer to the pace of the Swiss driver than 0.781 seconds in the #2 Porsche. With Porsche coming to this weekend expecting it to be difficult due to them running the ‘Le Mans’ specification low-downforce aero package on their two 919 Hybrids, managing to get between the two Toyotas is a good way to start the weekend.
The #4 ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01/Nismo managed to finally get some productive running on the new Nismo engine. 30 laps were set by the #4 crew with each of the three drivers climbing into the cockpits. However, the lap time could be no faster than 1:48.224 which was only faster than the slowest LMP2 car. It is good to see the ByKolles finally out on track and running but there is still a lot of work for the team to do before the car is where it needs to be.
Variante Rebellion #13 took fastest in LMP2 with a 1:45.913, with the LMP2 class covered by just under four seconds. Although the #31 Variante Rebellion was the second slowest of the LMP2 class, the average lap times it was setting were around the same as the #13. This is expected as they are the same car from the same team but shows that in race conditions they will be close on average pace.
#25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing was the slowest of all the LMP2 cars and was significantly off the pace of the #31 ahead of it. Their final lap was very slow so it could be that the car suffered issues throughout the session. All should become clear during the next practice session later on.
The most surprising aspect of the first practice session was the pace of the Aston Martins. Richie Stanaway put in a great performance during his opening stint in the #95 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin V8 Vantage and stole the fastest lap of the LM GTE Pro class and the GT cars overall with a 1:59.110. But more impressively was the fastest LM GTE Am time. Not only did it take fastest in class – Pedro Lamy with a 1:59.342 – it also took the second fastest time of all the GT cars combined. After being consistently slowest during the Prologue at the beginning of the month this is a massive turn around in pace and performance.
Ferrari took the bottom of the grid as the chequered flag fell. At one point, all four Ferrari 488 GTEs – Am and Pro – were allocated the four bottom positions of the time board, meaning the Pro AF Corse teams were slower than the Am class. This did rectify itself before the end of the session, but only but hundredths of a second. Ferrari will need to look at the pace this morning and take action to try and fix the pace deficit or they will not be close to contention for either class wins this weekend.