All hopes of a fair fight at the front of the grid for the 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship ‘Super Season’ were diminished over the weekend, as Toyota Gazoo Racing set a lap time four seconds faster than any of the challenging cars in the first half of the pre-season Prologue at Paul Ricard. At the halfway point, the rest of the classes looked pretty close, indicating more spectacular racing should be expected this year.
Sebastien Buemi and Mike Conway were running the high downforce and low downforce ‘Le Mans’ spec aero kits respectively in the Toyotas. Buemi held the time to beat – a 1:34.151 – whilst Conway was around a second off that pace. The next closest car, however, was the CEFC TRSM Racing ‘Manor’ breaking in their Ginetta-Mecachrome G60-LT-P1s. The fastest time it set by the 15th hour mark was a 1:38.921. It is not the best sign for the class this early in the season and reflects the concern that the privateers will not be able to threaten the hybrid-running cars.
The LMP2 field looks to be much closer. Ben Hanley set the pace for the first half of the test in the newly graduated DragonSpeed ORECA 07/Gibson before moving to LMP1 car duties. His 1:41.793 was less than a tenth faster than the 2016 class champions Signatech Alpine. TDS Racing completed the top three in class as the halfway point of the test was passed.
Porsche GT Team looked keen to come out of the gate strong, and took the fastest lap of the first half of the test in LM GTE Pro just before four hours had passed. Richard Lietz showed Porsche’s intent with a 1:52.570 that no one could go faster than in the proceeding 11 hours. The two Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK cars rounded off the top three, only covered by around three-tenths of a second. With the second Porsche close behind taking fourth position, these two manufacturers could be the ones to watch this season.
BMW had a strong first half to the test, with their best car taking sixth in class. They were performing well, but looking for about a second in pace to catch up to the front runners.
Porsche look to have a strong LM GTE campaign in hand as the Gulf Racing 911 RSR led the Am class with a 1:53.769.