Toyota and Aston Martin Emerge as the Teams to Beat in WEC Practice

by Alice Holloway
Aston Martin are looking like the LM GTE Pro team to beat.

Both Toyota Gazoo Racing and Aston Martin Racing locked out the top spot of their respective classes for the FIA World Endurance Championship 1,000 Miles of Sebring‘s first two practice sessions.

Having sent a new unofficial track record at last week’s pre-event test, Toyota continued their dominance over the LMP1 field by locking out the top two spots in both practice sessions. Kazuki Nakajima took the honours in the closing stages of FP1 in the #8, whilst Jose Maria Lopez stole the show in FP2, hanging onto his fastest lap time for the entire 90-minutes.

Rebellion Racing and SMP Racing tussled for the next best positions in class. Making the field two-by-two, Rebellion claimed third and fourth in the first practice session with SMP fifth and sixth, but in the evening second practice session it was reversed order as the SMPs came out on top. DragonSpeed‘s sole LMP1 car rounded off the class in seventh for both sessions.

It was a great start to the event for Racing Team Nederland as they ended first practice with the fastest time in LMP2, with a 1:47.835. This put them half a second up on closest competitors Signatech Alpine. After the French team switched to Michelin tyres during the mid-season winter break, this gave the tyre manufacturer a 1-2 lockout to start the race weekend. The top three was rounded out by Dunlop-running TDS Racing. Matthieu Vaxiviere set a 1:48.786 to be around nine-tenths off the leaders.

However, the order mixed for second practice, and Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 stepped into the lime light to take the classes fastest lap time. Consistency struck with Signatech as they, once again, took the second-place position on the time sheet, holding off the TDS Racing ORECA 07 by just over one tenth of a second. With a Dunlop-running team leading the cooler night practice session (the closest to the conditions the WEC grid will have for qualifying) it shows that the LMP2 field could throw up a mixed race come Friday afternoon.

LMP2 is looking like a class of tyre fights for Friday's 1,000 mile race.

Credit: Race Photography

Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin were unstoppable in their #97 Aston Martin Racing as they claimed the fastest lap in LM GTE Pro for both practice sessions. Holding three tenths on the Pro class in FP1, Harry Tincknell managed to close in on the British car in FP2, finishing just 0.033 seconds off their fastest lap time.

Some of the GTE Pro teams have opted to keep just two drivers in the car, whilst the others have already applied their three-man 24 Hours of Le Mans line-ups for the first WEC race of 2019. Both of the Porsche GT Team cars and the #97 Aston Martin have stuck with two drivers in their cars, whilst the rest of the field have brought in their third drivers. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the race, and what effect it has to strategy.

The Pro field was covered by around one second in each practice sessions, implying that the cars are fairly similar on pace, which should lead to an interesting qualifying session.

After the horrific fire that the Project 1 Porsche GTE Am car suffered during the pre-event test last week, the team were forced to sit out of first practice, as their new chassis arrived Wednesday morning. The cause of the fire has yet to be confirmed, but the burnt chassis has been sent back to the factory for a thorough investigation. The class championship leaders set a 2:00,156 in the second practice, the second slowest lap time of the session, only faster than TF Sport‘s #90.

Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda finished the first practice session fastest for Aston Martin with a 2:00.043, but they were beaten in the evening session by the Gulf Racing #86 Porsche.

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