Duel in the desert begins for Hartley and Toyota

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing kicked off preparations for the final race of the triple Le Mans-winning TS050 HYBRID, and the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season finale and the conclusion of an intense drivers’ title battle. 

The team returned to the track with the TS050 HYBRID for the first time since completing a hat-trick of Le Mans 24 Hours victories in September, with a night-time practice session for the 8 Hours of Bahrain, which will decide the destiny of the 2019-2020 drivers’ World Championship. 

The first action of the week was a 90-minute practice, which started at 6pm local time in temperatures of 28°C, and saw the #8 car of World Championship leaders Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley record the fastest time, 1min 43.457secs. 

“We had no issues in first practice and went through our test programme successfully,” commented Hartley. “We know we have a big deficit to car #7 due to the success handicap but we are going to try to squeeze everything out of our car to try to close that gap. It was a positive first session and we ticked all the boxes so I am happy with that.”

The #7 car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López was second quickest, 0.492secs behind. Although TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is already confirmed as Teams’ World Champions this season, retaining the crown it won in 2018-2019, the fight for the drivers’ title will be decided in Saturday’s finale, with both crews able to take the honours with a victory. 

The #7 drivers have already won once in Bahrain this season, back in December 2019, and they hold a theoretical 0.54secs success handicap advantage over their colleagues in the #8 car, courtesy of the championship points deficit going into this race. 

The team’s target for the race is to provide two trouble-free cars with which the drivers can compete for victory, and the first session went well, with 73 laps completed between the two cars, a total of 395km. 

On Friday, the first point of the week is up for grabs, with the two TS050 HYBRID cars fighting for pole position in a qualifying session under lights. They have two daytime practice sessions earlier in the day to prepare for that battle.

Free practice 1 results:

1st   #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, 1min 43.457secs  36 laps
2nd  #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, +0.492secs           37 laps

3rd  #29 Racing Team Nederland (v. Eerd/v. d Garde/de Vries) +4.498secs           40 laps
4th  #36 Signatech Alpine Elf (Laurent/Negrao/Ragues)    +4.669secs              30 laps5th  #38 JOTA (Gonzalez/da Costa/Davidson)  +4.846secs, 34 laps. 6th  #22 United Autosports (Hanson/Albuquerque/di Resta), +5.014secs, 33 laps

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