Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota GAZOO Racing led the way in the FIA World Endurance Championship‘s Thursday practice ahead of the 6 Hours of Spa at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. The Japanese driver, who will paired with just Mike Conway for the weekend, was over half a second quicker than their opposition.
The duo was without Jose Maria Lopez for the weekend as the Argentine was declared unfit after two of his vertebrae were injured during the crash at the 6 Hours of Silverstone last month. The team though will also be racing a third car, the #9 finished fifth for both sessions.
Lap times dropped for all classes in the afternoon proving the difference the weather and circuit condition can have on the Prototypes. The day was marred by Kevin Estre‘s crash in the #92 Porsche 911 RSR during second practice.
First practice started off with mixed conditions allowing the drivers to experience the limits of their machines ahead of race. Despite this the session remained fairly quiet with the #7 Toyota remaining up front for the majority of the session.
Brendon Hartley in the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid closed the gap to a meagre 0.036 seconds in the closing stages. The lap time might have done enough to convince many that Porsche could challenge the 6 Hours of Silverstone pole sitters, but the second session would see Toyota hit back.
Free practice two once again saw the benchmark drop as Kobayashi’s car continued to pull away out front. He’d eventually go on to record a best lap of 1min 56.369 putting them 0.505 seconds ahead of the #2.
Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber had pushed the car to top spot in the opening half of the session, but were forced to relinquish the position as the red flag was lifted from Estre’s incident, the #1 Porsche and #8 Toyota remained just behind in the times.
Estre, who was forced to retire from the Silverstone race due to a fire did not start his Belgium adventure any better crashing his #92 Porsche at Les Combes 54 minutes into the second session.
In LMP2, it had been the #36 Signatech Alpine leading the opening session until the two CEFC Manor TRS Racing machines cut 1.5 seconds from the benchmark. Second practice would end with the #24 driven by Tor Graves, Jonathan Hirschi and Jean-Eric Vergne setting the pace with a 2min 02.662, over five seconds quicker than last years pole time.
Meanwhile, GTE Pro had Estre’s Porsche in second overall despite their crash, with the #95 Aston Martin Racing top the first free practice with Nicki Thiim, Marco Sorensen and Richie Stanaway. All class cars were separated by 1.3 seconds in the second session.
Finally, in GTE Am, it was the Ferrari that came out on top with the #54 Spirit of Race setting a time of 2min 17.806 having initially finished bottom of First Practice.