Hartley happy after first WEC practice at Spa

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing began the defence of its FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) title with opening practice for a closely-contested Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in which multiple cars will fight for victory in Belgium.

The two GR010 HYBRIDs took part in their first official WEC session of 2021 following a busy pre-season testing programme for the new four-wheel-drive Le Mans Hypercar. Lap times were very close, with the top 11 cars covered by less than a second as the team ran through a programme of mechanical and aerodynamic set-up evaluations to optimise the cars ahead of Saturday’s race.

“We had a pretty smooth practice on our car, getting through our run plan,” commented Brendon Hartley (GR010 Hybrid #8). “We made a few set-up changes but the track conditions were a bit different compared to the Prologue as the sun has disappeared; I am not sure we will see it again this week. Since the Prologue we had a few different set-up options to test and we need to analyse how these affected the balance. It’s all part of a process to get comfortable with the car and get it in good shape for the race.”

The #7 GR010 HYBRID of World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López ended the session seventh with a best lap time of 2mins 4.574secs while Le Mans winners Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley were 10th following a 2mins 4.947secs effort.

The LMP2 cars confirmed they are genuine candidates for victory with another strong showing, following a trend already established in the Prologue. They again out-performed the new Hypercars, which is by regulation slower than its all-conquering LMP1 predecessor. The #22 United Autosports entry recorded the fastest lap of 2mins 4.083secs.

Today’s single practice session began under grey skies with air temperature of only 6°C, significantly lower than those experienced during the Prologue on Monday and Tuesday, when the GR010 HYBRIDs recorded a total of 290 laps to bring the team’s pre-season testing programme to a close.

Since the chequered flag on Tuesday, engineers on both cars have worked hard together with the drivers to analyse performance data with the target of improving set-ups around the legendary 7.004km Spa-Francorchamps circuit. That required plenty of track time and the GR010 HYBRIDs completed a combined 67 laps, 469km, gathering useful information to the engineers.

The team now prepares for an intense Friday, which sees two further practice sessions prior to qualifying in the evening when, with so little time covering the leading cars, a close fight for pole position is expected.

Free Practice 1 results:
1/ #22 United Autosports (Hanson/Scherer/Albuquerque) 2min 4.083secs 27 laps
2/ #36 Alpine (Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxivierre) +0.252secs 33 laps
3/ #70 Realteam Racing (Garcia/Duval/Nato) +0.388secs 8 laps
4/ #28 JOTA (Gonzalez/Da Costa/Davidson) +0.392secs 30 laps
5/ #21 DragonSpeed (Hedman/Montoya/Hanley) +0.399secs 33 laps
6/ #29 Racing Team Nederland (v.Eerd/v.d.Garde/v.Uitert) +0.408secs 34 laps
7/ #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +0.491secs 32 laps
10/ #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +0.864secs 35 laps

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