TOYOTA GAZOO Racing remained on top in Bahrain when practice for the final race of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) began under lights.
After securing the Hypercar World Championship thanks to a one-two victory in last Saturday’s six-hour race, the battle for drivers’ honours takes centre stage for the season finale, the 8 Hours of Bahrain.
Le Mans winners Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in the #7 GR010 HYBRID, hold the upper hand in the title race, with a 15-point advantage, with 39 still available. But title rivals Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley set the pace in first practice in their #8 GR010 HYBRID.
Brendon’s lap of 1min 48.490secs at the beginning of the session was 0.408secs faster than Kamui’s best time for the #7. The GR010 HYBRIDs have locked out the top two positions in every session so far in the first-ever WEC double-header.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is closing in on more endurance racing history this week when it can become the first team to win every race in a WEC season, and extend its record-breaking run of victories to nine. Saturday’s race will also be Kazuki’s 59th and final race with the team as a driver.
With three days, and over 3,000km, of running already at this track last week, the team already has a good understanding of its mechanical, aerodynamic and hybrid settings. But set-ups are continuously evolving with the track conditions, so Thursday’s 90-minute session under lights was important.
Although this week’s event uses the same 5.412km lay-out, night-time running brings different track temperatures and both cars evaluated tyres and set-ups to suit the conditions. First practice saw air temperatures 5°C less than the corresponding session one week ago, with track temperatures 7°C lower.
A smooth session saw no interruptions, with both cars completing their programmes. Preparations will continue on Friday during two further practice sessions, both taking place in day time. The evening qualifying session offers a point for pole position which could prove decisive in the drivers’ title race.
Mike Conway (GR010 HYBRID #7): “It’s hard to know what to make of that session. We tried a few options and I think we know which direction we need to go in. We spent time looking at the tyres and we have some useful data so we’ll look into that, as well as the feedback from the other car, to decide how to move forward. It’s only the start of the week so there’s a lot of work to do.”
Kamui Kobayashi (GR010 HYBRID #7): “I only did a few laps in first practice. We tried something different from last week and it didn’t really work, so we know what to do on Friday. The car was very strong last week so we will move back towards that set-up. This was just first practice and it was a good opportunity to try new things. Now we will look at all the information and get ready for the rest of the weekend.”
José María López (GR010 HYBRID #7): “We had some time to rest after the first race and I was happy to be be in the car again. I always enjoy driving on the Bahrain track at night. The two cars had quite different programmes so we need to look into the data to improve for qualifying and the race. I think we are making progress and the lap times will be closer on Friday.”
Sébastien Buemi (GR010 HYBRID #8): “It’s nice to drive at night here in Bahrain because it’s a bit cooler and there’s less tyre degradation. I really enjoyed driving the car again; it was a nice session and both cars did a lot of laps which is helpful. Let’s see if we can get a bit more out of the set-up this weekend; so far we are making good progress.”
Kazuki Nakajima (GR010 HYBRID #8): “The session went well for our car and the track conditions are better in general at night, especially for tyre management. It was easier to keep tyre grip during a stint, which is due to more rubber on track and the lower temperatures. So tyre management will be slightly easier for this race but it’s still going to be tricky to find the right set-up.”
Brendon Hartley (GR010 HYBRID #8): “That was a really nice session for us on car #8. The set-up we chose for the last race was too hard on the tyres, so we changed it and actually the car felt really nice during first practice. We also tested some adjustments to the brake set-up which were quite positive, so all in all I am pleased with how it went today.”