TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s GR010 HYBRID Hypercar set the pace on its Bahrain debut during opening practice for the penultimate round of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is closing in on Hypercar history at Bahrain International Circuit by winning the first world titles of WEC’s new era. They will be decided by the series’ first back-to-back races; a six-hour race on Saturday, followed by an eight-hour contest a week later.
The GR010 HYBRID has never previously driven overseas, with all tests and its four races so far having taken place in Europe. A 100% win record, including the Le Mans 24 Hours in August, puts the team in a prime position to win the first Hypercar title. A third place on Saturday will secure the crown.
Thursday’s 90-minute first practice gave the team a valuable opportunity to begin adjusting the GR010 HYBRID to the specific requirements of the 5.412km Bahrain track, with all six pilots getting time behind the wheel as their fight for the drivers’ title battle intensifies.
Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley set the pace in their #8 GR010 HYBRID as they went about reducing a nine-point deficit in the drivers’ standings. Sébastien set the fastest lap of the day, 1min 50.571secs.
Le Mans winners and reigning champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in the #7 car, currently lead the championship and they finished the session in second, 0.401secs behind.
Drivers from both car crews spent time in the team’s driving simulator earlier this month to prepare for the crucial Bahrain races, but there is no substitute for real-world data. The GR010 HYBRIDs ran consistently during first practice as the team analysed set-ups and Michelin tyre behaviour.
On a hot afternoon, with air temperatures around 31°C, the track conditions were challenging, with little grip available. Track evolution and set-up development will continue throughout Friday’s two practice sessions before the grid-defining qualifying session in the late afternoon.
Mike Conway (GR010 HYBRID #7): “It’s always good to be back in the car, especially here in Bahrain which is a track I enjoy and have gone well at. We prepared for this race in the simulator as usual so we were straight back into the rhythm and it all felt very natural. It was not easy because the track grip was low, so the car was sliding around a lot; I could practice my drifting skills! But all in all the session went okay.”
Kamui Kobayashi (GR010 HYBRID #7): “It is nice to be here in Bahrain with our Hypercar. So far we are doing okay, but we need to adjust the set-up to be kinder to the tyres. The track conditions are the same for everybody, but compared to last year, our car is heavier and this makes a difference in terms of how we use the tyres. We have some room to improve and we are working hard to do that.”
José María López (GR010 HYBRID #7): “It was my first time in the car since Le Mans so I am happy to be back. It’s too early to draw any conclusions, especially due to the conditions. Everything went smoothly during the session but we can see areas to improve, particularly with tyre management. Now it’s time to look at the data, regroup and see what we can improve.”
Sébastien Buemi (GR010 HYBRID #8): “This was the first time to drive here with the Hypercar and we need to adapt a bit compared to the LMP1 car. It was nice to put some laps in and get a feeling for the GR010 HYBRID on this track. The conditions weren’t easy but it’s the same for everyone and they will improve over the next days. We need to look into the data and try to improve the set-up, as usual after first practice.”
Kazuki Nakajima (GR010 HYBRID #8): “It was a tricky first session because it is hot in the car and the track had very little grip, so it didn’t feel great. I am sure the track conditions will improve and we will work hard to improve the set-up and see what we can do to have a better feeling for Friday’s practice and qualifying.”
Brendon Hartley (GR010 HYBRID #8): “It’s great to be back in the car after a long break following Le Mans. It was pretty hot today so overheating the tyres was a big topic and there was a lot of degradation. It’s going to be a tough race. We had a pretty smooth session and we didn’t have any issues as we went through our test plan. The cars are incredibly tricky here this weekend and the drivers are going to need patience to avoid going over the limit of the tyres.”