The traditional pre-event test is the only chance for teams to experience the 13.626km La Sarthe circuit away from the race week, making today’s eight hours of running particularly important to prepare the cars for the final race of the 2018-2019 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.
Sébastien Buemi in the #8 TS050 HYBRID he shares with Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso set the fastest time of the day, 3mins 19.440secs which was 0.809secs quicker than the sister car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López for whom Mike recorded the best lap time, 3mins 20.249secs.
Today’s lap times from the TS050 HYBRIDs were marginally slower than those posted last year during the test day, partly due to a 10kg increase in minimum weight following a recent Equivalence of Technology adjustment.
Weather conditions were perfect throughout the day with blue skies and air temperatures hitting 30°C, allowing the team to complete a comprehensive programme of fine-tuning aerodynamic, mechanical and hybrid boost settings. The team made good use of the favourable weather and the two TS050 HYBRIDs clocked up 220 laps for a combined total of 2,998km.
In order to participate in the Le Mans 24 Hours, each driver, even those with Le Mans and WEC victories to their name, must complete at least three timed laps during the test day and that formality was achieved without drama for all TOYOTA GAZOO Racing drivers.
Former Le Mans winner Brendon Hartley, who will compete for the team next season, made his first official appearance for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, completing the minimum laps required to qualify to race in the event of any issue for one of the team’s regular race drivers.
The team will stay in Le Mans for the final preparation step prior to race week, a shakedown test on the 4.14km Bugatti Circuit on Tuesday. Race week kicks off on Sunday afternoon when the cars and drivers will be presented at the scrutineering in the centre of Le Mans city.
Mike Conway: “It was a nice feeling to do the first laps this morning; that’s when it sinks in that the big event is here. The track was dusty to start with but it got better and better. We did various changes on the car to prepare for race week; it felt pretty good. It was also important to get back into a rhythm with the traffic. There are 62 cars on the grid this year so you’ve got to be alert to avoid losing time.”
Kamui Kobayashi: “We made good progress today. We have been improving the set-up of the car step by step, making it better each time. The track was improving as well every hour as more rubber went down. Overall it has been a smooth day with nothing unexpected. Of course, we never draw conclusions based on lap times at the test; it is only the beginning of the event and the track will continue to improve.”
José María López: “It is very nice to be back in Le Mans; driving this car here is always great fun. We can already feel the fantastic atmosphere at this event, even though there are just under two weeks to go before the race. This is something we wait for all year. The work has gone well today. We have been quick with both cars, getting confident and more prepared for the race week.”
Sébastien Buemi: “It was a positive test day for us, particularly because we could do a lot of laps. Our car is the same as last year so there were no surprises and it worked well. We have a lot of data to analyse and make the car as strong as possible next week. It was pretty hot, much hotter than last year, so it was helpful to get a feeling for how the car works in such conditions.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “It has been a very hot day but it was good to be back at Le Mans and I enjoyed my time in the car. Today’s main objective was to do plenty of laps to get familiar again with the car on this circuit, as well as checking out different tyre specifications. I’m not sure we will face the same conditions in race week but still we learn with every lap. It has gone well with no issues at all.”
Fernando Alonso: “It was a good day for us, completing more than a hundred laps, which means more than a thousand kilometres in each car. That brought a lot of good information for the team; it was a very useful test. We picked up from where we left off last year and everything went as planned so I am happy. It was good to check that everything is working fine.”
Brendon Hartley: “It felt so good to be back at this incredible circuit in a four-wheel drive 1000hp hybrid car. I was a bit sad to get the call to pit after just three timed laps but that was always the plan, so I knew it was coming. I was just having so much fun discovering the car around here. It was a real pleasure and now I can’t wait to be back in the car again.”