The LMP1-Privateers some pressure on Toyota Gazoo Racing during the night stint of the 30-hour FIA World Endurance Championship Prologue, but the Japanese hybrid-running team still finished the session with four seconds in hand. DragonSpeed held onto their LMP2 advantage to end the close class fastest. In LM GTE, Porsche were unbeatable as they took a clear sweep with the fastest lap in both Pro and Am.
Mike Conway set the time to beat in the high-downforce running #8 Toyota on Friday afternoon, with a 1:32.662. Try as they might, the other LMP1 competitors could not get close to the times that Toyota were setting. However, it has been revealed since that the Toyota was not running the car to conform to the WEC Equivalence of Technology rules when this time was set, which would explain why they held such an advantage.
Toyota have developed a new cooling system in their car for the 2018/19 season, and explained that they worked outside of the EoT perimeters for “development reasons”. This suggests that Toyota were testing the new system under great stress to see if the system will cope. Knowing this means that they know how it should perform with less stress being applied.
As one of the elements leading to Toyota losing victories in the last two 24 Hours of Le Mans was cooling issues, this is clearly something Toyota are trying to make sure does not recur.
There are no rules stating that teams cannot work outside of EoT in the Prologue, and for the night session and the remaining seven hours that were held on Saturday, Toyota turned the car down to conform to the 5.27 kilowatts of hybrid energy and 58.9 megajoules of fuel energy allowed per lap.
Vitaly Petrov set the #11 SMP Racing BR1-AER as ‘best of the rest’ during the night stint by setting a 1:37.034, enough for third fastest in class. The Rebellion Racing TVR was fourth in the hands of Andre Lotterer.
Pastor Maldonado made a strong sports car debut, setting the fastest time of the LMP2 class at the end of the 30-hour test. His 1:40.771 was enough to keep the DragonSpeed LMP2 car on top and just ahead of class veteran Nicolas Lapierre. Lapierre put the Signatech Alpine second in class as the TDS Racing car failed to improve from Friday’s time and dropped to third.
Fastest of the non-ORECA LMP2s was the Racing Team Nederland Dallara. However, with three chassis competing this season in LMP2, there does look like there may be some competition in the air. The Dallara set the fourth fastest time of the test, less than a tenth off the fastest time Matthieu Vaxiviere set in the TDS ORECA. LMP2 is shaping up to be as intense as it was last year.
In LM GTE, Porsche were the ones to watch. Taking both the fastest laps in Pro and Am, they have set themselves up to be the manufacturer to beat as they try and take the crown from reigning GT Manufactures’ champions Ferrari. New to Porsche GT Team in WEC Gianmaria Bruni set the fastest time of the Pro class during the night. The 1:51.332 remained unchallenged throughout Saturday’s running. The sister #92 car sat 0.505 seconds behind Bruni, meaning Porsche go into the first race off the back of a strong one-two in class.
The two Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK cars lined up just behind the Porsches, keeping them honest with a 0.173 second deficit to Kevin Estre in the #92. Off the back of the Prologue, it looks like Porsche and Ford could be in for a tough battle throughout the season.
Fifth and sixth in class were not filled by Pro cars, but the fastest Am cars. Both Porsche running #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing and #86 Gulf Racing took the manufacturer to a second one-two at the chequered flag. Dempsey-Proton will be pushing hard for the championship win this year after coming so close in 2017, and this is certainly a strong indication for the competitiveness they will have this season.
If the Prologue is any indicator to the season that is shaping up, it looks like it will be another year of exciting racing. WEC returns to the track for the first round of the season, 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, on the 5 May.