Toyota Gazoo Racing had a successful and busy start to the year at the FIA World Endurance Championship Prologue that was held at Paul Ricard at the beginning of the month. The team racked up over 1,000 laps between the two cars, taking the fastest lap of the test.
The Japanese team clearly are focused on the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans as the #7 ran the low-downforce ‘Le Mans’ package for the entire 30-hour test and their sold focus was reliability.
Toyota went to the extent of simulating issues on the cars so that the team, mechanics, engineers and drivers could practice how to deal with problems as quickly and smoothly s possible. It is clear that Toyota wish to be as best prepared as they can be for the blue-ribboned event that takes place in June.
The #7 was commonly featured on track, claiming 839 of the total laps set by Toyota over the test. The #8 ran the high-downforce, with Mike Conway and Sebastien Buemi lapping 163 times in the car. The #8’s test programme focused on set-up and tyre work, running the same aero package that took the team to victory at last year’s season finale, the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
The prologue was also the first time that the non-hybrid cars were pegged against the sole-running hybrid engines in the LMP1 class. It had been assumed that the non-hybrids would have an advantage over Toyota with 69% more fuel and other technical regulations that are expected to enhance their performance.
Toyota took the fastest lap of the test in the #8 by a clear 4 seconds, however Conway did this whilst working outside the WEC Equivalence of Technology (EoT) which suggests that Toyota does not realistically have this advantage on the rest of the LMP1 field.
Conway and Buemi shared their time between the #8 and #7 car, whilst Anthony Davidson, Jose Maria Lopez and Alex Wurz devoted their time at the Prologue to test the Le Mans areo kit-sporting #7.
The other confirmed full season Toyota drivers Kamui Kobayashi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso were absent from the test, due to the Japanese drivers having Super GT commitments and Alonso racing in the 2018 Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix.
Conway, who tested in both cars, said: “It’s been good to not only get on track with our two cars and two packages, but also the competition so we can get used to driving in traffic again.
“It has been really productive in terms of the programmes we wanted to get through so everyone is feeling positive; we feel pretty well prepared for Spa and Le Mans.”
“It was good to be with the other cars on track again to finally get a feeling for how our well we have worked during the winter.” Buemi, who was on the same test programme as Conway, added.
“I am really happy actually with how it has gone for us these past two days. Hopefully we will be well prepared for Spa so we can kick off the season positively.”
Davidson and Wurz will not be racing in the WEC 2018/19 season for Toyota, and stepped into the Prologue to help Toyota get an experienced perspective on their new car.
“It’s nice to be back at the Prologue and for the first time we have done an endurance test during this event.” Davidson said, on reflection of how the Prologue had gone this year.
“Reliability is the key to Le Mans and that’s what we’ve been working on here. It’s nice to be with other cars on the track as this brings a sense of realism to the testing. It’s much more representative.”
Wurz explained that, “They were not easy conditions with the wind but I was happy to be back, to drive again and to return the car in one piece after some decent lap times. It’s good to be back driving in traffic because this always mixes things up; I enjoyed a nice fight with my old team-mate Stéphane [Sarrazin] at one point!”
Toyota feel they have made ‘important progress’ ahead of the #’Super Season’ opener, 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. The Prologue marked the end of their preseason testing and the team now set their full focus on the first race of the year.