Following the FIA World Endurance Championship 8 Hours of Bahrain, 16 cars took to the track to complete the 2019 Rookie Test, allowing for some young hopefuls to show their worth in endurance racing. Four of the rookies present were nominated by the WEC to take part in the test, but TheCheckeredFlag will look at all of those involved to give our two cents on who you should be watching for future appearances in the global endurance series.
The test, sadly, was hit with heavy rain during the morning session restricting running, but cleared up and allowed for track action in the afternoon.
Unsurprisingly, FIA Formula 2 winner Nyck de Vries was nominated for a drive in the test by WEC, but we’re confident that, had he not been, one of the teams would have found him a drive. Usually de Vries can be found behind the wheel of the LMP2 Racing Team Nederland entry, but for the rookie test he found himself in the cockpit of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Hybrid LMP1 car, arguably the best car on the grid.
He shared the car with Toyota’s reserve driver Thomas Laurent and driver of the #8 Brendon Hartley. His best time of the day was a 1:44.561, half a second off the time set in the sister Toyota by Super GT champion and Toyota development driver Kenta Yamashita. It was a strong performance from de Vries for his first time in an LMP1 machine, and he certainly put himself on Toyota’s radar, who have confirmed they are considering him for a 2020/21 Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) seat.
With strong performances from both de Vries and Yamashita, however, Toyota may be looking at a full shuffle of their line ups that, aside from Hartley, have been the same for the last two years of racing. Who they would be moving aside for de Vries and, possibly, Yamashita is currently unknown.
With six cars on the gird, LMP2 was the most crowded class, but the rookies that stood out were WEC nominated European Le Mans Series LMP3 champion Mikkel Jensen, Harrison Newey, and long-time Corvette Racing driver Jan Magnussen.
Jensen set the benchmark time of a 1:47.224, putting him on top of the LMP2 class, whilst Magnussen set the fastest time in the High Class Racing he was sharing with Michael Markussen, setting a 1:50.568.
Newey also found himself in the cockpit of a car at the WEC Rookie Test, racing the Racing Team Nederland car with Charles Milesi and Jonathan Cochet. The British racer shone, giving Jensen a run for his money as he put pressure on the driver of the Signatech Alpine with a time of 1:47.829, just over half a second off.
Newey and Jensen definitely turned some heads up and down the paddock, whilst Magnussen has express his interest in finding a full-time WEC seat for next season.
With Job van Uitert being promoted to a gold-class driver, G-Drive Racing is looking for a new silver driver to fill his spot in 2020. Interestingly, the team tested Roberto Merhi in the car, who would not be able to accompany Jean-Eric Vergne and Roman Rusinov in the cockpit of the #26 as he is a platinum driver, and LMP2 cars must have at least one silver driver.
It would not be surprising if the Russian team were using the Bahrain Rookie Test to keep an eye on the other LMP2 runners to see if there was anyone on the market they could snap up for their 2020 campaign.
van Uitert was the GTE Pro nominated rookie and found himself aboard one of the Porsche GT Team cars. Nicklas Nielsen and he were the only two non-factory drivers to take to the track in the Pro test.
Nielsen had a small advantage over van Uitert as he races in a Ferrari 488 GTE in GTE Am this season, so has some experience in the car he was testing with. His time of a 1:57.772 put him fourth fastest on the individual driver timing board and fastest of Davide Rigon and Alessandro Pier Guidi, whom he was sharing testing duties with.
van Uitert set a 2:00.386 as his best time in the #92 Porsche in the ten laps he had in the car. The team did not have a lot of running with the #92; the car set 25 laps during the entire test and was hindered a lot by the morning’s heavy rainfall.
Compared to Nielsen’s 31 laps, van Uitert only completed a fraction of this, so it is difficult to compare the two class rookies to say for certain which we would predict more likely to secure a seat. With Nielsen already having links to Ferrari and AF Corse, however, we think that if a manufacturer was looking for a shuffle it would more likely be Ferrari to find space for Nielsen.
Vincent Abril was the WEC elected rookie in Am, and he shared the #57 Team Project 1 with Maxwell Root, Philipp Sager and Marius Nakken. The only other car on track from the Am class was the #98 Aston Martin Racing, which had Gabriel Aubry, Andrew Watson, Lasse Sorensen and Tom Canning share the cockpit.
Root was the fastest at the end of the day, setting a 2:00.982 in the Porsche, with Abril settling for second on the timing board three tenths slower.
Due to the heavy rain in the morning session, none of the Aston Martin rookies set a time during the test.