It was the day of the non-hybrid LMP1 cars today for practice ahead of the FIA World Endurance Championship 4 Hours of Shanghai as both Rebellion Racing and Team LNT secured fastest laps in free practice one and two respectively.
The Ginetta-powered team looked to have the edge, sitting a comfortable one-two throughout most of the first practice session, but a last minute improvement from Gustavo Menezes saw him drop in a 1:48.761 to steal the fastest lap time from Ben Hanley. The top three in first practice were split by half a second, whilst the Toyota Gazoo Racing duo were left a lowly second off the pace due to the success ballast that sees them 2.7 seconds slower than their competitors.
However, resurgence came to Toyota in free practice two as they finished second and third, only behind the #6 Team LNT entry. Kazuki Nakajima put the #8 car just 0.061 seconds off the fastest lap time set by Charlie Robertson, with the sister #7 a tenth behind them. Both Toyotas set their lap times in the opening stages of the session, meaning that neither the Rebellion nor the #5 Team LNT car could challenge them throughout the 90 minutes of second practice.
Albeit an improvement in pace between first and second practice, with the fastest lap time dropping by six tenths in the afternoon session, the LMP1 cars are lapping around four seconds slower than they were last year at Shanghai International Circuit.
It was the Cool Racing show in LMP2 as Nicolas Lapierre, Antonin Borga and Alexandre Coigny set the pace in both FP1 and FP2. Lapierre set the fastest times in the car, holding around a six tenth advantage on the second-placed car in both sessions.
United Autosports put themselves in the limelight, appearing in the top three consistently throughout Friday practice. Filipe Alburquerque put the car third fastest in first practice, whilst the returning Paul di Resta set a 1:50.397 to go second behind Lapierre in the Cool Racing entry in the afternoon.
Battling to round out the top three in both sessions were last race’s class winners Racing Team Nederland and High Class Racing. The Dutch team had the edge in first practice, placing the #29 second in the class standings, but a worse second practice saw them fifth in class, whilst High Class to the third-place spot behind di Resta.
The pace looks close in the LMP2 class, with second to fifth covered by around half a second in each session, but Cool Racing are looking to be early favourites.
Porsche GT Team took charge of the Pro class in the first practice session, with Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni setting the benchmark at 2:01.389. However, the pace throughout the Pro field looks close, as all cars who set a lap time in the first practice session were within a second of the fastest lap. The only car not to set a lap time was the #71 AF Corse crew, who suffered with a fuel leak.
When it came to second practice, however, Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina showed what their Ferrari 488 GTE could do, going fastest of the day with a time of 2:00.036. It was bittersweet for the AF Corse team as the sister car in the hands of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi was slowest of the Pro cars in second practice, over two seconds off the pace of the #71.
Aston Martin Racing stayed in the fight for both session, indicating that their fuel reduction may have very little effect on their outright pace for Sunday’s race. It will become clearer in tomorrow’s final practice session who has the best one lap pace to take class pole position.
GTE Am saw the #56 Team Project 1 of Egidio Perfetti, David Heinemeier Hansson and Matteo Cairoli top the timing board with a 2:01.814. They led #98 Aston Martin Racing and #90 TF Sport Aston Martin across the line to complete the top three. All three cars were covered by less than a tenth.
But it was the top four in Am (including fourth-placed #70 MR Racing) that caused a stir as they were all faster than the bottom three Pro cars. The pace of the Pro cars picked up in the second practice session, but it does seem that this weekend the Pro and Am cars are lapping around a similar time.
In second practice, Porsche managed to take a one-three, split by the TF Sport. The leading #77 Demspey-Proton Racing set a 2:01.935, but it was again a case of the top three being covered by less than a tenth of a second. It was new to the class Proton Competition #78 that completed the top three, and all three cars were faster than bottom of the Pro class #51 AF Corse.