Showing off the coveted #1 plate for the first time on home ground in Japan since winning both World Championships in 2014, the team had a busy day on a track where it is unbeaten since WEC returned to Fuji Speedway in 2012.
The #1 TS040 HYBRID of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima finished both sessions in fifth place, with a best lap time 0.23seconds faster than their pole position time of last year.
Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway were close behind, recording the sixth fastest time in each session as the TS040 HYBRIDs clocked up 168 laps for a combined total of 766km.
The track action began shortly before lunchtime with the first of two 90-minute practice sessions, giving all drivers the chance to reacquaint themselves with the 4.563km Fuji Speedway.
While the weather forecast hints at rain during the weekend, practice began under blue skies with air temperatures of 21°C; perfect conditions to work on set-up comparisons.
The Fuji lay-out is familiar to all six TOYOTA drivers, although Mike’s only previous visit came in 2013 when he finished second in the LMP2 category. Mike got his chance at the wheel of a TS040 HYBRID in the final 20 minutes of the session.
Fuji features one of the longest straights in WEC, at 1.475km, along with a mix of high and low speed corners, which makes finding the correct set-up particularly challenging, so the team had a busy day to analyse mechanical and aerodynamic set-ups.
Along with comparisons of the two compounds of Michelin dry tyre, that set-up work continued in the afternoon session, which was interrupted briefly by a red flag.
Tomorrow sees final practice (09.50) and qualifying (14.10) while the race starts on Sunday at 11.00 local time.
TS040 HYBRID #1 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)
Free practice 1: 5th (1min 26.633secs), 32 laps
Free practice 2: 5th (1min 26.242secs), 45 laps
Anthony Davidson: “It was quite an encouraging day in terms of how we worked through the programme and ended up with a fairly decent balance on the car. Kazuki seemed quite happy with the long run pace and balance so we have done a good job with honing the car so far and we are pretty close to where we want it to be.”
Sébastien Buemi: “It is our home race so it was nice to drive here at Fuji again. We seem to be a bit closer to the competition in practice compared with Austin. It was a pretty good day for us but we still have a bit more work to do. Let’s see what happens over the rest of the weekend with the weather as this could become a factor.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “I think it was a reasonable day for us, especially in the long runs where we showed decent pace. When I jumped in the car the tyre wear was already an issue but it looks like the others are also suffering from that on long runs. As our home race, everyone has worked particularly hard to be ready and have the best possible package. Many thanks to everyone for the team effort; we still keep pushing!”
TS040 HYBRID #2 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway)
Free practice 1: 6th (1min 26.724secs), 38 laps
Free practice 2: 6th (1min 27.149secs), 53 laps
Alex Wurz: “It is always cool to see the TOYOTA flags flying every time we pass the start-finish grandstand. This track on a Friday was, as usual, quite challenging. It throws you more questions than answers so we are now sitting down to go through the data. We did a few set-up comparisons and I hope we can keep moving in the right direction. So far we are on target.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “Today went okay for me; there’s nothing special to report. We tried some very different set-ups which gave us interesting data. We wanted to think about our options in case it rains. The car felt pretty good so now we hope rain will come to give us a helping hand.”
Mike Conway: “The two sessions today were all about working on the balance of the car and trying to build on what we learned in Austin. It feels okay but there are some areas where we can improve to get it dialled in for qualifying and the race. With the possibility for some rain at the weekend we need to be ready for any condition.”