Regular periods of rain created challenging conditions for all cars, while recent adjustments to the balance of performance in LMP1 made for a close battle in the fastest lap standings at this early stage in the final WEC race weekend of 2018.
The changing weather meant that the #8 TS050 HYBRID of World Championship leaders Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso set the fastest lap of the day, in slightly drier conditions and on hybrid intermediate tyres at the end of first practice.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, winners last time out in Fuji, recorded the quickest lap of a wet afternoon session in their #7 TS050 HYBRID on wet tyres.
With more fuel available for this race, plus the fuel and weight advantages imposed for the last race in Fuji, the non-hybrid cars showed strong performance potential and the top four cars were separated by only 0.676secs in second practice.
Friday started earlier than normal for the LMP1 teams, with a tyre testing session beginning at 8am to allow the non-hybrid teams track time with various options from the Michelin range. TOYOTA GAZOO Racing took the opportunity for one hour of the 105-minute session to sample the track in damp conditions.
The weather was dictating proceedings, with continuous light rain and low temperatures throughout the morning creating a wet track for first practice, with conditions improving towards the end to allow a few laps on hybrid intermediate tyres.
Sébastien was the first LMP1 driver to make the switch to hybrid intermediates and this immediately rewarded him with significantly faster lap times, leaving him on top of the standings when the chequered flag flew.
But lap times were not the primary focus of any of today’s action; the team focused its efforts on fine-tuning the aerodynamic, mechanical and hybrid settings for the specific demands of the 5.451km Shanghai circuit and that effort continued during a wet second practice.
Again conditions improved marginally towards the end of the session and José recorded the quickest time in the closing minutes on wet tyres, although that was nevertheless more than six seconds slower than the morning session due to the conditions.
The action continues on Saturday with final practice and qualifying, while the six-hour race starts at 11am local time on Sunday.
Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7): “Today we tried to get the car dialled in for this track but it’s not been easy due to the weather. We have done our best and it’s the same for everyone but it’s been tricky to get the car performing in all conditions. It looks like a close fight with the non-hybrid LMP1 cars so we’ll have to optimise the car in FP3 and get ourselves ready for whatever the weather has in store for us.”
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “We had a wet track in both sessions so it was a bit unfortunate really. We tried to get the most out of the day but as we are limited in the number of wet tyres we can use, it wasn’t easy to do our normal set-up work. We need to see how the track improves if it’s dry on Saturday; third practice will be very important and we’ll try to improve the car as much as possible.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7): “It was a good day, but also a hard day due to the changing track conditions. Looking at the positives, we tested a few compounds of tyre and have a clearer picture for these conditions. I am also happy with my last laps in second practice when I felt comfortable with the car; I think we took a good direction on set-up but let’s see what happens with the weather over the weekend.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8): “We had a good day and I did quite a lot of laps. Obviously the conditions were quite tricky as we didn’t have any dry running but this is what we expect for the race. We did some good mileage in these conditions so we are well prepared. It looks very tight with the non-hybrid cars so it’s going to be a big fight. I am looking forward to analysing everything and improving where we can.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It’s difficult to manage the tyres here because the degradation is quite big and we had to stick with limited number of sets, considering the possibility of a wet race. The grip was very low but we worked hard to fine-tune the car set-up and control settings. For the race, today was good preparation and we saw the competition is quite close so we need to stay sharp.”
Fernando Alonso (TS050 HYBRID #8): “We were trying to get as much information as possible today, as usual on a Friday even in these conditions. We took time to analyse the different types of wet tyres as well as which compound is most suitable for the various conditions. It’ls going to be a challenging weekend, particularly in terms of tyres because we will have to make quick decisions as the conditions change.”