The new GR010 HYBRID Hypercar made a productive debut at the Circuit de la Sarthe as TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s challenge for a fourth consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours victory gained momentum on the official test day.
Sunday’s traditional pre-event test, taking place for the first time since 2019, is the only chance for teams to experience the 13.626km circuit before race week, making today’s nine hours of practice particularly important to prepare the cars for the fourth race of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, which has won all three WEC races so far this season, ended the day second and third fastest. The #7 GR010 HYBRID of World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López was only 0.225secs off the fastest time in second, while last year’s winners Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley were a further 0.282secs back.
Lap times within the Hypercar class were very close, promising another exciting three-way fight following tense races in Spa-Francorchamps, Portimao and Monza. The #708 Glickenhaus Hypercar set the fastest time of the day, 3mins 29.115secs.
Sébastien Buemi missed the test day in order to compete in the final race of the Formula E World Championship, arriving in the evening in Le Mans directly from Berlin.
In his absence, the only day of testing on the Circuit de la Sarthe prior to the official practice and qualifying sessions began on a sunny morning. José and Kazuki had the honour of completing the first laps at Le Mans with the GR010 HYBRID, beginning a busy programme for both cars.
The team had an extensive programme of preparations for race week, more intense than usual partly due to the fact that the GR010 HYBRID is a completely new car, with fundamentally different performance characteristics compared to its LMP1 predecessors.
Two red flags in the four-hour morning session reduced track action slightly but all five drivers had ample time behind the wheel to generate data on aerodynamic and mechanical set-ups, energy deployment and tyres, including the first evaluations at La Sarthe of Michelin’s three compounds of dry-weather tyre.
With large parts of the circuit consisting of public roads, the track was predictably dirty at the beginning of the day but evolved consistently as the 62-car field began recording laps, cleaning the surface and laying down rubber.
Brendon set the fastest time of the morning, after two-and-a-half hours of the session, with a lap of 3mins 31.263secs, with the Alpine in second and the #7 third, thanks to Mike’s best lap for that car.
The five-hour afternoon session was interrupted by a safety car test, which saw cars circulating at restricted speeds for 25 minutes to check race control processes. That, combined with a full course yellow later, were the only delays for the team in an otherwise smooth day. Mike and Brendon again set the quickest times for their respective cars.
Now the engineers will analyse data and optimise settings, while mechanics will spend the next days rebuilding the cars prior to the first practice session on Wednesday evening.
Mike Conway (GR010 HYBRID #7): “It’s good to be back here at Le Mans and get some laps under our belt. The car felt good straight away which is a positive sign. We worked on improving the car step by step as the day went on. The conditions have been similar to what we expect for race week, so this helped us to understand what to do with the car. We are still learning and trying to optimise everything. It’s always nice to be fastest but the important days are next week; today was just about getting things dialled in.”
Kamui Kobayashi (GR010 HYBRID #7): “I am happy with how the test has gone because it went smoothly for us. This was the first time to drive a Hypercar at Le Mans and as usual the track conditions were not great in the morning but they evolved during the day. So far our GR010 HYBRID feels pretty strong here. The balance is okay but there are many areas to look into to find improvements, so we will analyse the data in the next couple of days.”
José María López (GR010 HYBRID #7): “The first day with our Hypercar in Le Mans was a good day. We ran without any major issues. It’s still a long week, but now that the test is over, the time will fly by. The most important work comes now as we work to understand the data before Wednesday, but I am very happy. It definitely feels like the car was born for Le Mans. It is always the same, you get here and somehow the cars feel alive, you can see all the potential of it on this track. It was nice to drive it.”
Kazuki Nakajima (GR010 HYBRID #8): “It was nice to come back to Le Mans and exciting to go out there with a new car. The GR010 HYBRID was working well from the first laps and I enjoyed the feeling of the car on the Le Mans track. It was a long day and the track was getting better all the time. We tried to stick to our plan to try different set-ups and tyres for the race and we have done a lot of mileage on the car and tyres. But generally I am happy with the day still it is too early to talk about the performance.”
Brendon Hartley (GR010 HYBRID #8): “It’s great to get back in our Hypercar and fantastic to be back at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Obviously this is a different car to what we have raced before here so we are learning a lot. The GR010 HYBRID really came alive here, especially in the fast parts, so it was an enjoyable day. We have learned a lot and we are going in a positive direction. So I am looking forward to the week ahead.”