TOYOTA GAZOO Racing reacquainted itself with the Bahrain International Circuit after a two-year absence when practice got under way for the fourth round of the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.
The team earned victory back in 2017 and began preparation for this year’s 8 Hours of Bahrain, the final race for the TS050 HYBRID in the Middle East in its farewell season, with two 90-minute practice sessions, one in daylight and the other in darkness.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López in the #7 were the lead TS050 HYBRID on the opening day, recording the third fastest time of 1min 44.221secs, 1.750secs slower than the pace-setting #1 Rebellion which benefits from less success handicap. Mike’s lap was over four seconds slower than the best TOYOTA lap at this stage of the event in 2017.
The #8 TS050 HYBRID of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley battled against the maximum success handicap, which imposes limits on hybrid boost and fuel use per lap, and ended the day fourth, 2.250secs behind.
“It has been a smooth day with no problems and a lot of good test items to look at overnight,” commented Hartley. “We put most of our focus on long runs, with high fuel levels and doing high tyre mileage. We know that with the success handicap for this weekend, pole is maybe out of the question so we put a lot of focus on the race. It’s a long race and we do not stop fighting, but qualifying will be tricky.”
There was no sign of the rain which struck earlier in the week when practice began on a warm, dry track as the team dedicated itself to optimising the set-up of its two cars, focusing on aerodynamic and powertrain settings around the 5.412km Bahrain International Circuit.
As usual in Bahrain, the track surface was dusty at the beginning of the day but soon cleared when the 31-car grid took to the track. That resulted in steadily decreasing lap times, while track temperatures followed, dropping 9°C from first to second practice, which took place from 6.30pm to 8pm local time.
With conditions likely to follow a similar pattern during Saturday’s race, the team conducted extensive tyre comparison tests in practice to identify the most appropriate Michelin compounds for the various conditions.
At the end of three hours of practice, the two TS050 HYBRIDs had completed a total of 157 laps, 849km. The team expects a challenging qualifying session but will focus its energies on maximising performance for the race, when it intends to challenge for a third victory of the season.
Following a one-hour final practice on Friday morning, qualifying takes place in the afternoon. Saturday’s race will begin in daylight at 3pm local time, running for eight hours into the night with the chequered flag flying at 11pm.
Free practice 1 results:
1st #5 Ginetta (Robertson/Hanley/King) 1min 44.791secs 11 laps
2nd #1 Rebellion (Senna/Menezes/Nato) +2.185secs 35 laps
3rd #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +2.665secs 40 laps
4th #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +2.817secs 35 laps
5th #6 Ginetta (Simpson/Dyson/Smith) +3.214secs 15 laps
6th #22 United Autosports (Hanson/Albuquerque/di Resta) +3.482secs 33 laps
Free practice 2 results:
1st #1 Rebellion (Senna/Menezes/Nato) 1min 42.471secs 41 laps
2nd #5 Ginetta (Robertson/Hanley/King) +1.411secs 31 laps
3rd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +1.750secs 44 laps
4th #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +2.250secs 38 laps
5th #37 Jackie Chan (Tung/Aubry/Stevens) +3.676secs 44 laps
6th #6 Ginetta (Simpson/Dyson/Smith) +3.902secs 10 laps