Toyota Gazoo

  • "Le Mans is an incredible place" - Mike Conway Interview

    Earlier in the week ahead of the first practice session for the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans we caught up with Mike Conway to find out about some of the preparation work that has gone into the race and hear his thoughts on how things will pan out for Toyota Gazoo Racing.

    ”For me personally, I am as prepared as I always am. I am not approaching it any differently apart from that every year, you feel a bit more prepared. You know what’s coming I suppose. You kind of prepare for the worst situation, knowing that anything could be thrown at you. It’s Le Mans.”

    ”The team has done a lot of perpetration with the drivers as well so that if something does go wrong, and the systems fail, then we know what to do to get the car home and back to the pits. With all that work in place and the work that has gone on through winter testing, we just need to go out and do it. We are now just counting down the days until Saturday now. It’s really fun though and I’m really looking forward to getting out on track later today to get some more laps done. I am hoping for some mixed conditions because you never know what could be thrown at you on Saturday and Sunday.”

    ”There was a 2-lap gap to the privateers at Spa but they were closer at test day and I think they will be pretty close to be honest. They run pretty quick through Sector 1 and Sector 2 as they are running a lot more downforce than us, so they will be quick through there. But of course, they are at a disadvantage as well. They have one lap less running per stint and have a longer fuel time and stuff to meet so we’ve just got to keep that in mind all the time. They may be quicker at the start, so be it. We just need to live with it and fight when we can fight. I think it will be a good race.”

    ”2018 is an important year for us. Obviously the last few years it just hasn’t happened, but we’ve always shown that we have the fight, the spirit and the speed to be there. We just now need to execute the win and the 1-2 finish. A winning result for the team is a 1-2, and that is a bloody hard thing to achieve, two cars over the line and on the same lap close together. That’s the objective and that’s what we will be trying to do, we will be pushing as hard as we possibly can for that.”

    ”We have tested loads of system failures and punctures, any scenario we could think of, over the winter break. All of the issues were sprung upon us unknowingly. Initially you think it could be a problem with the simulator and you find yourself crabbing down the road at speed, then you realise you’ve had a puncture or the suspension has collapsed or something. It’s good to get prepared because there is a high risk of getting a puncture at this place and you can destroy the car if you try and recover the car too quick. Hopefully its all enough and it will get us a good result.”

    ”We saw last year that the LMP2’s are quicker at the end of the straight, especially with a fuel lift so if we haven’t quite got a move done and have to lift to conserve fuel, then the LMP1 and LMP2 cars will get back by. They have more top speed and more power so it’s always a case of juggling where about we are in the corner, whether we fight them or let them by. Of course, we have the advantage of over boosting and things like that to make sure we get the move done so that’s definitely on our side. But they have great speed through a lot of the corners so if we don’t get by through Porsche Curves, chances are we won’t pass them through turn one, possibly all the way down to turn 7 before we can get the move done. You’ll see them go through traffic just as easy as us so it’s going to be a close fight in LMP1 and LMP2.”

    ”We have discussed team orders within the team, they are always in place to make sure we achieve the best result for the team. We don’t want to risk any un-necessary fights amongst ourselves that cost the result for one of the cars. So sometimes, it’s the right move to make the call to bring both cars home in one piece. We should be able to race properly for 95% of the race, however, things change during the race so much that it is incredibly hard to plan an effective team strategy from the get go. At one point, you may have a 40 second advantage but you could easily lose that with a safety car, and let’s face it, there have been a few at Le Mans over the years. We will focus on running our race and see where we are by the final hour. As drivers, we are smart enough to make the right move and think about the big picture. We’ll do whatever we need to do. We’ll see how it all pans out. Le Mans is an open book. Hopefully we’re all together close to the end.”

    ”The passion and excitement surrounding Le Mans is definitely still there for us as a team. The car has been developed around this race but as soon as it is done, our focus will shift to Silverstone. Le Mans is an incredible place, the excitement, the occasion and the track. It’s special. You don’t get to drive it whenever you want, it’s a special place and all the drivers love being here. There is an excitement within the team. It’s intense and intimidating but it is what we live for. You want to be the guy that is driving the car the wrong way down the pit lane a couple of minutes after three on Sunday afternoon on the way to the podium. You want to be on the top step, seeing all the fans down there. It is an incredible moment and for the team, they just want a 1-2 finish. It is entirely open between the two cars as to who takes the win, so we will wait and see who is in the best position come Sunday afternoon.”

  • #7 Toyota Disqualified from qualifying

    #7 Toyota disqualified from qualifying after failing to disclose the correct technical information.

    Short Image Description

    In a late turn of events last night, long after qualifying had finished, the #7 Toyota was called in front of the Stewards. Toyota had incorrectly declared the fuel flow meter. As a result of this, the qualifying times set by the #7 have been cancelled, promoting the #8 car of Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi to the front of the grid. The #7 “will start from the pit lane, and shall not join the race until the last car in the field has covered his first lap and following Race Director Instruction.”

    Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna will now start alongside the #8 Toyota on the front row.

    Following the decision, Toyota Gazoo Racing released a statement: “The team accepts full responsibility for the error, which had no impact whatsoever on car performance. The fuel flow meter which was used in the #7 was fully homologated and calibrated. Team processes and procedures will be strengthened immediately to avoid any repeat of this unfortunate error”

  • 2017 WEC Season

    We are now quickly approaching the first race of the season. The cars made their first appearance at Monza at the beginning of the month and whilst there has been a lot of changes over the winter, it is shaping up once again to be a fantastic season.

    LMP1

    For the first time in nearly 20 years, we will not see an Audi Prototype fighting at the front of the grid, all good things come to an end however, times change and things move on. From first impressions at Monza, it would appear that both Toyota and Porsche are cable of filling the gap, both teams running redesigned variations of their TSO50 and 919 Hybrids. The future of LMP1 is certainly bright with a number of customer cars due to enter in 2018 with the newly designed Ginetta chassis. Away from the Hybrid factory cars, ByKolles return for the season with a new engine and a newly designed car.

    Porsche return to the championship with a substantially updated 919 Hybrid, comments from Monza indicating that around 70% of the car has been newly developed including new body work and substantial changes to the front aero and head lights. The Porsche driver line up has also seen a number of changes over the winter, beginning with the announcement towards the back of 2016 that Mark Webber would retire at the end of the year. Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb stepped down from the team at the end of the season with Earl Bamber and and Nick Tandy returning to the team after their 2015 Le Mans success. Andre Lotterer also joins the team stepping in to the #1 car alongside Bamber and Neel Jani.

    The 2017 Toyota TS050 Hybrid like the Porsche has been substantially updated, the far has a brand new aero package and a brand new 2.4 litre twin turbo V6 petrol engine. Feedback from members of the team in Monza, confirmed the car had undergone 30,000 KM of testing, including four 30 hour endurance sessions. Toyota will also be running a third car at Spa and Le Mans this year featuring a reshuffled line up. FIA World Touring Car Champion Jose Maria Lopez joins Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi in the #7, the #8 line up stays unchanged. Stephane Sarrazin makes the switch to the #9 car partnering alongside Super Formula Champion Yuji Kunimoto and former Toyota driver Nicolas Lapierre.

    ByKolles return with an updated chassis and a new power plant. The 2016 car suffered with serious overheating issues in 2016 which saw the AER engine blow up on more than one occasion, including Le Mans. The updated car now features the Cosworth designed Nissan LMP1 GT-R LM engine from 2015. The Prologue was a troublesome weekend for ByKolles however, only venturing out of the garage for six laps the whole weekend before the rear wing collapsed. Oliver Webb got the only track time in the car. Robert Kubica was announced as a new driver for 2017 but there is yet to be an official announcement on a third driver. Dominik Kraihamer was due to test the car in Monza but there are no further announcements on his plans for this year. It is unlikely that ByKolles will offer any competition for Toyota and Porsche but it will be an important development year for the team with the Ginetta customer chassis coming in next season.

    It is hard to take any firm conclusions away from the Prologue with teams running various different set ups. Porsche were visibly quicker through the speed traps, topping out at 319.5 KPH in the hands of Earl Bamber. In comparison, Toyota only managed to hit 306.8 KPH in the hands of Nico Lapierre. However at the Prologue last year, Toyota topped the time sheets by over 20 kph and struggled early on in the season.

    LMP2

    LMP2 is very much a one make series this year in the WEC, each team running with the Oreca 07, Alpine running a modified version of the chassis. Le Mans will see a variety of chassis entries though with both Ligier and Dallara to be represented at the 24 Hour in June. The new cars are quick. They have an additional hundred horse power, the Alpine hit 314 KPH through the speed traps in the hands of Romain Dumas, beating the Toyotas in a straight line.

    There has been some big changes in LMP2 this year, Jota have signed to run the Jackie Chan DC Racing cars with Ho-Pin Tung, Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent in the #38 car with David Cheng, Alex Brundle and Tristan Gommendy in the #37.

    TDS Racing have made the step up this year from the European Le Mans Series to the World Endurance Championship. They are partnered with G-Drive Racing, Pierre Thiriet joining Roman Rusinov and Alex Lynn in the #26 car, former GTE-Am runners Francois Perrodo, Mattheiu Vaxiviere and Emmanuel Collard running the #28 TDS entry.

    Manor WEC return with new sponsorship and backing in the form of China Energy and SMP with Vitaly Petrov confirmed as the third driver in the #24. Both cars feature a new look livery for 2017, with a substantial amount of sponsorship coverage in comparison to last year.

    Rebellion made the switch over the winter to LMP2, returning to the class with a new look livery and sponsorship package, the team now officially called Vaillante Rebellion. David Heinemeier Hansson makes his return to prototype racing, partnering up in the #13 with Mathias Beche and Nelson Piquet Jr. The #31 car will be driven by Bruno Senna, Nico Prost and Julien Canal.

    GTE Pro

    The big news in GTE Pro is Porsche making their factory return to the championship having take a year out to develop the new “not mid-engine’d” 911 RSR. Aston Martin return with the next iteration of the Vantage, a fairly old car now in comparison to the Ford and Ferrari entries. The new 911 is a serious piece of kit and certainly a title contender. The engine has been moved closer to the middle of the car, but as per the launch press conference in Monza, it is not a “mid-engined” car. Porsche have admitted that there will be no road going variants of the car. With a number of teams making the mid season switch to two drivers, it is slightly surprising to see Ford and Aston Martin running three drivers in each car. Pipo Derani (of ESM fame) joins the #67 team whilst Billy Johnson joins Mucke and Pla in the #66. Richie Stanaway joins the #95 with Aston Martin development driver Daniel Serra joining Jonny Adam and Darren Turner in the #97. As ever in GT Racing, it is hard to tell just where every body stands with the development of Balance of Performance measures, however, this season will hopefully be better managed with a new automated BOP system. Last years restrictions were often altered on a session by session basis rather than between race weekends.

    GTE Am

    As with the rest of the grid, there have been some big changes to the class. Clearwater Racing join for a full season after a strong debut at Le Mans, they will be racing the ex Gimi Bruni AF Corse 488 with Matt Griffin partnering Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok. Spirit of Race join the championship with Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Miguel Molina at the wheel. They will have backing from AF Corse throughout the season.

    Aston Martin return with the loan season entry, Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Matthias Laura all returning for the season. The trio missed out on the championship last year despite taking a number of wins. Gulf Racing return with the old shape 911 RSR, Ben Barker joining Michael Wainwright and Nicholas Foster, who steps in to replace Adam Carrol. Dempsey Proton drop down to the Am Class, Christian Reid partnering Matteo Cairoli and Marvin Dienst. It will be a shame not to have a full season Corvette entry registered, however we will once again be joined by an American contingent of Corvettes at Le Mans.

    Audi maybe gone, but 2017 is going to be a fantastic season. There is a chance that LMP1 could be a very one way fight, however, if both cars are on par with each other then it is going to be a fantastic fight at the top. Fuji last year being a prime example where Toyota took their home race win by just over a second. Add into the mix that the LMP2 cars now have an extra 100BHP, there is a very real chance that a P2 car could finish on the overall podium. At Le Mans, if close enough, the LMP2 cars may even stand a chance of passing the LMP1 cars down the Mulsanne Straight, to then lose the ground through the corners.

    Both GTE fields are going to be as varied as always with each class managed by BOP. Traffic management will be incredibly important for each of the four classes, the speed differentiations being so different both through the corners and in a straight line.

    It all kicks off in less than a weeks time at Silverstone, what ever happens, one thing for sure is its going to be a great season!

  • 6 Reasons for Loving Spa Francorchamps

    The 6 hours of Spa Francorchamps kicks off a new era for the FIA World Endurance Championship on May 5th as the premier series for long-distance sports car racing launches its unique ‘super-season’ – and you can be there to witness it with Speed Chills.

    As you may have seen, your favourite motor racing travel operator has some great offers for the race at Belgium’s majestic Spa-Francorchamps circuit – and it got us thinking: what exactly is it about this place that makes it a mecca for motorheads?

    Having fun at Spa Francorchamps

    So here it is: our six-point guide to the jewel of European motor racing. If you haven’t been, it’s a must for any bucket list. And if you have, well, treat this as a reminder why a return is long overdue.

    1. Spectators’ paradise

    From Les Combes to Rivage, down to No Name and Pouhon, sweeping through the Les Fagnes esses to Stavelot and on to Blanchimont… there’s no finer strip of race track anywhere in the world. The elegant pines of the Ardennes forests make for a stunning setting as the circuit climbs through the epic Eau Rouge and Raidillon, then along the Kemmel straight before swooping and diving back through the valley over 4.3 magnificent miles. Our tip: take a decent pair of walking boots and stroll all the way up to the inside of Rivage. The views all the way back to the paddock are stunning, and there’s nowhere better to watch (and listen) to the world’s finest racing cars.

    2. The adorable Ardennes

    There’s something in the air around these parts – and we don’t just mean the odd drop of rain… Even away from the circuit, you can almost taste the motor racing history that has seeped into this ancient woodland over the past near-century. Francorchamps village, just a wander up the hill from La Source and the prime location for the Speed Chills guest houses, is quite charming – the perfect place to relax with a glass of something good after a day at the races. And a visit to the town of Spa itself, connected by superb Belgian country roads, is worth a visit too – especially if you’re looking for somewhere with a touch of class to eat. Fine restaurants are plentiful.

    Porsche 911 GTE-Pro at Spa Francorchamps

    3. frites and mayonnaise: magnifique!

    But in truth, who needs haute cuisine when you can indulge in the pride of Belgian fare. After a long hike around the circuit’s sweeps, the sustenance from a portion of local frites topped with a dollop of mayo will be the best thing you’ve ever tasted – and that’s a cast-iron promise. We know: you’re thinking ‘they’re only chips’. But think again. In these parts, they are a genuine delicacy that are an essential side order to a weekend feast of motor racing.

    4. Belgian beer (hic!)

    And what better way to wash them down than with a glug of the area’s famous local mineral water… Only joking! Belgium is quite correctly famous for its range of dark and blond beers. Our next vital tip: tuck the car up for the night and take a table at L’Acqua Rossa or Le Relais de Pommard in Francorchamps. The food is good; a quaffed beer or three even better.

    5. The awesome old circuit

    ‘If you love the new circuit, you should have seen the old one…’ It’s something of a cliché for old timers to rave about the ‘old’ Spa – but clichés usually only enter the lexicon because of a fundamental truth, and that’s certainly the case here. Brian Redman, veteran of fearsome Porsche 917s and Ford GT40s and one of the finest sports car races ever, admits he used to cry himself to sleep the night before a race, such was his white fear for the flat out 8.7-mile triangle. Where the modern track turns right at Les Combes, the original circuit ploughed straight on downhill to Burnenville, sweeping right and on to Masta before turning again at Stavelot for the tree-lined blast back to Blanchimont. A true road course, it’s all still there to experience – albeit at a somewhat more modest pace than Henri Pescarolo’s all-time lap record set in 1973 (in a Matra sports car, not a Formula 1) of 163mph… Do not even consider visiting Spa without a drive around the old track, ideally after digging out some old photos to understand just how crazy it used to be. You’ll be mesmerised.

    6. Be a part of history

    A trip this year to the 6 Hours will stand out in the memory for one more significant reason: the birth of the exciting ‘super-season’. In a bid to break with tradition and end a world championship season at Le Mans in June, WEC’s organisers have chosen a new format for their series. Starting at Spa, the championship will then head for the famous 24 Hours at Le Mans, before three more six-hour rounds at Silverstone, Fuji and Shanghai complete the schedule for 2018. But the season won’t stop with the calendar year. In March 2019 it continues with a new 1500-mile race at Sebring in Florida, before returning to Spa for another 6 Hours and finishing at Le Mans. So yes, two 6 hours of Spa Francorchamps and two Le Mans 24 Hours counting for one, single season. It will surely live up to its ‘super’ status.

    Oh, and if this isn’t all reason enough for a visit, there’s also the small matter of a certain Spaniard making his WEC debut at Spa this year. Some bloke from F1. Fernando Alonso, we believe he’s called. In a Toyota LMP1.

    Toyota LMP1 at Spa Francorchamps

    You won’t want to miss that, will you? Come on: what are you waiting for? More on the WEC 6 hours of Spa-Francorchamps

    Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine

  • Alonso on top at Le Mans Test

    Toyota has never faced a better chance to end its famous Le Mans curse than this year, and you can only say its campaign for glory at the 24 Hours is right on track following the traditional test day on Sunday, with Formula 1 superstar Fernando Alonso heading both the morning and afternoon sessions at the 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe.

    As the only manufacturer team in the top LMP1 class following Porsche and Audi’s withdrawal, the Japanese factory team is the sole hybrid entry in the field, with its pair of powerful TS050 HYBRIDs expected to dominate for pace. But after 30 years of hurt at Le Mans, the big question is not whether Toyota can beat its privateer opposition – but whether it can overcome its own demons and banish the so-called curse once and for all. The near-misses, including the past two Le Mans, has made this race a psychological barrier that Toyota feels it simply must conquer.

    Toyota LMP1 Le Mans Test Day 2018

    Double Formula 1 world champion Alonso is not only considered by many as the best all-round racing driver in active competition, but also a genuine all-time great. As McLaren continues its struggles to hand him a competitive F1 car, the Spaniard has admirably realigned his sights on what else he wants to achieve from his career. A third F1 title is the dream, but looks increasingly likely to remain exactly that. Instead, he is now chasing motor racing’s unofficial Triple Crown: the Monaco Grand Prix, which he won twice in 2006 and ’07, the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans.

    A stunning debut at Indy last year could have resulted in the second of the big three being ticked off, only for a Honda engine failure to rob him of his chance in the late stages. The 36-year-old will have to return to the American oval in the future to try again.

    But for now, a plum drive at Le Mans with the manufacturer that really should win this year could allow him to claim the endurance jewel in the triple crown at his first attempt. And that performance at the test day on Sunday suggests Alonso is more than ready to step up on his first appearance at the race.

    His #8 Toyota was fastest in the morning session, with a time of 3m21.468s, but in the afternoon Alonso went even quicker to lodge a mark of 3m19.066s. Given who we’re talking about, we shouldn’t be too surprised by his benchmark pace. Still, it was an impressive performance for his first time on the daunting circuit.

    Pleasingly, the #7 TS050 didn’t end up second to complete a Toyota one-two. Mathias Beche was only 0.7s down on Alonso’s best in the new Rebellion-Gibson R-13, tipped to be the strongest privateer threat to Toyota’s dominance. To be so close at the test day is encouraging and a testament to the great work put in by Rebellion and ORECA, the company that has built its new LMP1 non-hybrid racer. Living with the Toyotas on pace during the race is another matter, but Rebellion’s reputation for reliability means the team could be well placed to pick up the pieces if the TS050s hit trouble. At the test day, the team’s other car was fourth fastest, with ex-Audi race winner Andre Lotterer setting a quick lap late on Sunday afternoon to trail Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota.

    Along with Alonso, another famous name from F1 acclimatised to Le Mans on Sunday with his first laps of the track. Jenson Button, Alonso’s former McLaren team-mate and the 2009 world champion, managed 20 laps in SMP Racing’s new BR1. He was man enough to admit Le Mans took some getting used to and Button is desperate for more time in the car once practice begins on Wednesday June 13. But his best time was in the 3m24s – respectable at this stage – and the pair of BR1s finished fifth and sixth fastest behind the Toyotas and Rebellions.

    In the secondary prototype class, LMP2, competition was as tight as it ever is. Nathanael Berthon’s DragonSpeed ORECA-Gibson was fastest with a time of 3m27.228s, ahead of IDEC Sport’s ORECA and the G-Drive entry driven by ex-F1 racer Jean-Eric Vergne. The class is almost impossible to predict and will provide much entertainment over the course of the 24 hours, even if Toyota breaks its long established habit for drama and has a clean race at the front.

    LMP2 Le Mans Test Day 2018

    GTE was just as closely fought during the test. Porsche might have pulled out of LMP1, but the German giant is putting plenty of effort into the Grand Touring class and clearly is going all out to win a category bursting with manufacturer interest. Patrick Pilet ended up fastest in his CORE Autosport 911, the car you won’t be able to miss during the race. That’s because the American IMSA entry is painted pink, in a tribute livery to the wonderful ‘Pink Pig’ long-tail 917 that graced Le Mans way back in 1971. The Pink Pig remains a cult car in Le Mans history and it’s typical of Porsche that such heritage should not be forgotten in the modern era. It’s even painted another 911 in Rothmans colours, in deference to the 1980s Group C works 956s and 962s. Tobacco sponsorship has long been banned, but the colour inference from a bygone age is a nice touch.

    At the test, Porsche shaded the Ford GTs, while BMWs new M8 looked competitive too. With Ferrari, Aston Martin and Corvette all in the mix too, GTE honours will be wide open come June 16/17.

    Porsche GTE Pro Le Mans Test Day 2018

    Anticipation for what should be another great Le Mans 24 Hours is building a head of steam. For Toyota and Alonso, they will just be hoping it doesn’t boil over all too early.

  • Bumper Le Mans and WEC Grids announced

    This afternoon in Paris, the ACO/FIA unveiled the entrance list for the 2018/2019 FIA World Endurance Championship "Super Season" and the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans.

    The "Super Season" consists of 36 entries across the four categories with teams representing 12 different countries. The grid consists of 10 LMP1 cars, 7 entries in LMP2, 10 entries in GTE Pro with the addition of BMW for this year and 9 entries in GTE Am.

    "It's very satisfying to have 36 competitors including six major manufacturers and a good balance between prototypes and GTEs. This is just the start!" WEC CEO Gerard Neveu said. "Now the show goes on and we are confident the figures will continue to increase as they have done for the last six years. Welcome to the Super Season!"

    After Porsche pulled out of the championship towards the end of 2016, everyone thought LMP1 was done but just six months later, there are 10 full season entries in the class, one of which has Fernando Alonso at the wheel. Toyota recently announced their updated TS050 for the 2018-2019 season and a commitment to the sport and the championship to help them develop further their hybrid technology.

    Toyota will be the only two hybrid cars on the grid this year which features eight privately entered cars. Rebellion make a return to LMP1 with the R13, Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani included in the line-up after making the switch from Porsche.

    ByKolles dropped out of the 2017 season after the European leg to focus on developing the 2018 car. They will make a return to the championship this season in the ENSO CLM P1/01. They will be joined by two CEFC TRSM Racing entries, the new Ginetta G60 LT-P1.

    BR1 LMP1 2018

    BR Engineering unveiled their new car in Bahrain at the end of 201, two of them will be run by SMP Racing who return to the series for the first time since 2016 with an AER engine and the third will be run by Dragon Speed who have established a new driver line up that includes Renger van der Zande and Ben Hanley. In LMP2, there will be seven entries across three different chassis manufacturers, Oreca, Dallara and Ligier. Signatech Alpine Matmut and TDS Racing make a return alongside Jackie Chan DC Racing. Along with their LMP1 entrant, DragonSpeed will also field an LMP2 entry and Racing Team Nederland join the championship with Giedo ven der Garde leading their line up. Making their return to the FIA WEC, Larbre Competition make the switch from the GTE Corvette in to LMP2 having sat out the 2017 season.

    GTE sees the addition of BMW to the grid this year with the M8 GTE, the two cars will line up alongside the all new Aston Martin Vantage AMR, (with two new drivers this year, Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin). AF Corse Ferrari of course return with the latest generation 488GTE whilst Ford return with the two Chip Ganassi Team UK GT's and Porsche return with the latest generation 911 RSR.

    The LM GTE class is the largest it has been this year featuring nine full season entries across three different manufacturers. 2017 champions Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda return for Aston Martin and will be joined by a second Aston entered by TF Sport. Clearwater Racing return to the championship alongside Spirit of Race along with new entry MR Racing. The Aston Martins and Ferrari's will be joined by four Porsche 911 RSRs from Depsey Proton Racing, Gulf Racing and Project 1.

    Start of the Le Mans 24 Hours

    The entry list for the 24 Hours of Le Mans was released shortly after the WEC announcement with a capacity grid of 60 cars announced for the event due to take place on June 16th-17th.

    All 10 LMP1 cars will challenge for the overall win, eight non-hybrid LMP1 cars alongside the two Toyota TS050 Hybrids.

    In LMP2, there will be three chassis manufacturers represented this year with entries from Ligier, Oreca and Dallara. The 7 full season entries will be joined by 13 other LMP2 entries totalling 20 LMP2 prototypes alongside the 10 LMP1.

    17 cars have been entered in the GTE Pro class at Le Mans with Ford also entering the two IMSA GT's along with Porsche who will also field the two American 911's. Corvette return for the French endurance classic whilst Ferrari will also field an additional 488 GTE under the AF Corse team.

    In GTE Am, the 9 full season entrants will be joined by an additional four cars from Ebimotors, JMW Motorsport, Proton Competition and Keating Motorsports. There are nine reserve entries this year including Scuderia Corsa, Krohn Racing and BAR1.

    Alongside the FIA WEC and Le Mans entry release this afternoon, Ginetta confirmed their first two drivers for the G60-LT-P1 which will both be run by CEFC TRSM Racing (Manor Endurance). Formula 2 race winner Oliver Rowland and 2015 European Le Mans Series LMP3 Champion Charlie Robertson will each pilot one of the cars.

    Ginetta LMP1 2018 - Manor Endurance

    Ginetta Chairman Lawrence Tomlinson said; "I'm delighted to confirm that CEFC TRSM Racing will be running a two car effort in the FIA WEC and LE Mans 24 Hours. Our LMP1 project has brought together some of the brightest stars in motorsport design and engineering, and the next chapter will see CEFC TRSM Racing announcing driving talent of equally high measure. Personally, I am delighted to see Charlie Robertson's name on the entry list. We have taken him from a 14 year old experiencing his very first race car in the Ginette Junior Championship, all the way to the pinnacle of international motorsport and that's something we strive to do for every one of our drivers."

    Graeme Lowdon, President and Sporting Director: "We are very happy to welcome Oliver to the team, we have followed him closely over the years and have been very impressed with his performances. Although this will be his first season in sports cars we have every confidence that he will adapt to LMP1 very quickly. It is great to be returning to FIA WEC and we are looking forward to starting the season at the Prologue in April."

    Oliver Rowland, Driver: "I am very excited to be joining TRSM for the LMP1 World Endurance Championship. Endurance racing is a new experience for me and it will create a fresh challenge, but I am really looking forward to working with the team and driving such an amazing car.

    Competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans is extremely exciting and it's something that I've always wanted to race in. I can't wait to get started with the team to ensure we get the best out of the package and moving forward seeing if we can challenge for some fantastic results in the championship."

  • Fernando Alonso leads FP1 at Spa

    Toyota Gazoo Racing finished FP1 at the top of the time sheets, Fernando Alonso leading the way.

    Short Image Description

    The FIA WEC debutant topped the time sheets in FP1 this morning at Spa; besting Mike Conway by just 2 tenths of a second with a time of 1:58.392 in the #8 Toyota TSO50. Rebellion were the best of the non-hybrid runners, the #3 Rebellion R13 Gibson of Menezes, Laurent and Beche was four tenths of the pace of Toyota. Championship new comers, CEFC TRSM Racing spent the session in the Garage after setting an installation lap at the beginning of the session in the Ginetta LMP1.

    Fernando Alonso:

    “I think its going to be an interesting season. Obviously we’ve done some tests already in Spain and Portimao. I missed the Prologue, I was racing in F1. Now is really the first time we meet with all the traffic and all the other cars, so definitely still a lot to learn, but step by step, I’m trying to learn this as much as I can with every single lap in the car. We’ve been training a lot in the simulator, this kind of traffic and these kind of situations, I hope I’m as prepared as I can be. We’ll see on Saturday. I’m not too worried about traffic management." Short Image Description

    In LMP2, it was the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca in the hands of former F1 driver Pastor Maldonado which set the quickest time of the session, a 2:03.494. Alpine took second in class in the #36 Alpine A470, Andre Negrao setting a 2:04.134 with Jean Eric Vergne putting the #26 G-Drive Oreca third in class with a time of 2:04.198.

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    Ford and Porsche pick up their 2017 rivalry where it left off, both demonstrating strong pace in the opening session. The #67 Ford topped the time sheets, Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Tony Kanaan piloting the car this weekend. The #66 Ford of Stefan Mucke, Oliver Pla and billy Johnson took second in the session, two tenths off the pace with a time of 2:15.273. Gianmaria Bruni rounded out the top three with a time of 2:15.631. Ferrari and BMW alternated between fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh whilst the two Aston Martin Vantage’s well a few seconds short of the pace, the #97 posting a time of 2:17.993 and the #95 posting a time of 2:18.227.

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    And in GTE AM, the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR posted a time of 2:16.601 with Matteo Cairoli behind the wheel. The #86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR took second thanks to a 2:17.552 lap from Ben Barker. The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche took third in GTEAm.

  • For the night is dark and full of Safety Cars

    At the half way mark, Toyota hold a commanding lead. With sunrise not far away, it will be a great relief to those still running to have made it through the night.

    The #7 Toyota TS050 continued its domination at the top of the standings as teams battled through the night and into the morning at the 87th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Despite Fernando Alonso’s attempts in the sister #8 to close the gap in the darkness, the combination of Jose Maria Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi rarely looked under threat as the trio ran like clockwork through the darkness, through the dawn and into the morning. The two Toyotas are four laps ahead of the best of the privateer LMP1s, which is currently held by the #11 SMP Racing BR1. The Russian crew has ended up in third thanks to their clean run through the night, as their rivals faltered. The first was the sister #17 as Egor Orudzhev crashed at the Porsche Curves just after 1am, and then – after a night of great action between it and the #11, Thomas Laurent beached the #3 Rebellion Racing R13 in the gravel at that hub of activity the Porsche Curves. Laurent was recovered to the track, but lost nine minutes in the gravel and then another chunk of time as the car was inspected by Rebellion mechanics. It came back out in fourth, three laps down on the #11 but a lap ahead of the #1 Rebellion which had issues yesterday afternoon. Both the ByKolles and DragonSpeed entries have retired, after races filled with mechanical issues for the pair.

    The titanic struggle between the G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 and the Signatech Alpine A470 continued through the night as the pair proved to be in a class of their own at the head of the LMP2 class. Swapping positions on a regular basis as the two teams ever so slightly alternated their pit schedules, Roman Rusinov ended hour 18 with a small advantage. Third proved to be the biggest battle in the class. Long-time podium sitters DragonSpeed retired in the 17th hour as Pastor Maldonado crashed the Oreca at Tertra Rouge. His off promoted the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car onto the podium, but Gabriel Aubry had a minor scare as the car dramatically slowed on the Mulsanne Straight. He managed to get back to the pits and the problem was quickly resolved as Ho-Pin Tung got into the car and proceeded to extend its hold on third to over 90 seconds to the fourth-placed TDS Racing entry.

    Corvette Racing led the way in GTE Pro, but was yet to make its latest pitstop as the class found itself dominated by the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo for the majority of the night running. That car, most recently raced by Alessandro Pier Guidi, having stopped before the #63 C7.R. Despite the diverging pit strategies, the pair have been closely battling for a number of hours with advantage slightly heading towards the Italian team after a great stint early in the morning by Daniel Serra.

    Third and fourth are two of the four Porsche GT Team 911 RSRs, with the #93 CORE Autosport-run entry heading the #91 Manthey car which is on course to secure the GTE Pro WEC title for Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni. Their title hopes were assisted by exhaust problems for the #92 Porsche of Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor. Christensen and Estre are currently 12th in class but need to finish eighth if they are to snatch the title away for themselves.

    Keating Motorsports enjoys a one-lap lead at the head of GTE Am in its eye-catchingly liveried Ford GT. The majority of running has so far be done by Felipe Fraga and Jeroen Bleekemolen with team owner Ben Keating telling TV that he still has to do a lot of his mandatory running as the bronze driver in that entry. Second proved to be a slightly closer battle as Patrick Lindsey held a 40 second advantage over the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 in the Team Project 1 Porsche. One of the biggest losers in the class overnight was the TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage. Running in the podium places as Saturday ticked over to Sunday, Euan Hankey beached the #90 in the gravel at Mulsanne Corner while running in second. The car did get recovered, but is currently 13th in class – eight laps down on the leader.

  • Incredible Lap Puts Toyota On Pole

    Kamui Kobayashi has set the fastest lap time of the weekend to take pole position for the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing. The lap time was unrivalled throughout the session, and made teammate Mike Conway’s job fairly easy when generating the aggregated lap time for pole position. A close battle in LMP2 saw #26 G-Drive Racing picking up the pole position point this weekend. Ford retained the rapid pace they had shown in the final practice session to clinch LM GTE Pro pole, whilst Aston Martin stole Am pole from Ferrari’s grasp.

    Porsche did not have a chance at challenging for pole position when Toyota’s Kobayashi set a 1:36.793 on his second flying lap. Pole was fairly secure for the car as Kobayashi handed over to teammate Mike Conway. Although there was a moment of concern for the team when Conway’s first lap time was deleted due to exceeding track limits, the car still comfortably took pole in the LMP1 class. Locking out the front row, it will be two Toyotas at the front for the start of the first race of the 2017 WEC season, with Porsche having to settle for the second row.

    The LMP2 times were changing so rapidly throughout the session it was hard to keep track of who was on provisional pole. At the halfway split, it was Alex Lynn leading the field in the #26 G-Drive. But the advantage was not unreachable and the tension was high as the second drivers climbed into the cockpits. Pierre Thiriet did what he needed to make Lynn’s hard work count and secured pole position for G-Drive with an average of 1:44.387. #36 Signatech Alpine’s Nicolas Lapierre did what he had been accomplishing all weekend and put in a fast enough lap as the second driver to place the ORECA/Gibson second in class. He leaped ahead of the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car and the #28 TDS Racing machine with his flying lap. Due to multiple deleted lap times, the #28 fell from its provisional second in class to seventh in class. #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing appeared to have a torrid session and ended slowest of all the LMP2 cars.

    ByKolles made a step up for qualifying but were still off their desired pace. It classified ninth overall, which meant it was slower than four of the LMP2 cars. The average of the car was nine tenths off the average of the pole sitting G-Drive. It was a better performance than they showed in the morning practice session but still the team have some big gains to make.

    LM GTE Pro became a battle between Ford #67, Ferrari #71 and Aston Martin #95. None of the other Pro cars could get close to the top three as the twenty-minute session panned out. Harry Tincknell set the pace to beat in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car but David Rigon was not far behind in the #71 Ferrari. After the first drivers had set laps, it seemed to be a two horse race, but Marco Sorensen put an end to that with a fantastic lap that put the #96 Aston Martin’s average lap time less than a tenth off the pace of the #71 Ferrari. It seemed the second drivers did enough to maintain the position their teammates set before them, with the #67 sitting on the first 2017 WEC LM GTE Pro pole. Porsche suffered a lot throughout the session and could not seem to get the 911 RSRs into optimum running. Both the Pro cars sat at the back of the Pro field over two seconds off the pole-setting pace.

    It was a two car fight in Am, with the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE taking on the #98 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage. After the first drivers got out of the cars, it was the #61 ahead with a small margin. Paul Dalla Lana hopped into the #98 and found the time Pedro Lamy could not out on track, taking the class poll position by six-tenths in average lap times. Porsche were a little bit more competitive in the Am class, taking third place for tomorrow’s grid, but they were nearly a second off of first place. Challenging for anything higher than third was out of reach. The battle at the bottom of the grid was close with each car separated by around three-tenths. The second Ferrari, #54 Spirit of Race, split the two Porsche–running teams, leaving the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR to take the final spot on the grid.

  • Jani leads the Rebellion at Spa

    The #1 Rebellion Racing R13 topped the time sheets this morning, Neel Jani posting a time of 1:57.12, eight tenths up on Mike Conway in the #7 Toyota.

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    Jani’s time was around two seconds faster than the previous best lap set by Rebellion but still a second off the pace of Toyota from FP2. Rebellion also claimed third spot in the session, the #3 car of Mathias Beche, Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes clocking a 1:58.124 around Spa. Once again, the two CEFC TRSM Manor Ginettas only managed an installation lap before returning to the pit lane. We wait to see if they will take part in qualifying later this afternoon.

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    In LMP2, Dragonspeed once again topped the session, again Pastor Maldonado going fastest in the #31 Oreca 07 with a time of 2:02.281. Jean Eric Vergne took second in class in the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca with the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing claiming third spot, Ho Pin-Tung posting a 2:03.35.7.

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    Ford topped FP3 again in GTE Pro, the #67 topping the time sheets; Andy Priaulx posting a time of 2:13.693 8 laps into the session. BMW broke into the top three for the first time, Tom Blomqvist setting a time of 2:14.225 to split the two Fords. Olivier Pla brought the #66 Ford home in third, posting time of 2:14.249. Porsche took fourth and fifth in session with Aston Martin again struggling with the new Vantage AMR. The #97 posted a time of 2:15.457 whilst the #95 only managed a 2:18.493; slower than eight of the GTE-Am entries.

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    The #77 Porsche 911 RSR went quickest in GTE-Am, Matt Campbell setting a time of 2:15.410. The #88 took second place with TF Sport rounding out the top 3, Euan Hankey setting a time of 2:15.778.

  • Late drama as #8 Toyota secures back-to-back Le Mans victories

    The #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima took both Le Mans 24 Hour wins in the World Endurance Championship’s Superseason after final hour drama for the sister #7.

    Heading into hour 24, the #7 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez were seemingly comfortable with a two-minute lead over the #8. However, a sensor inside the cockpit suggested Lopez had picked up a front-right puncture. The Argentinian pitted to replace the wheel without much delay, but before he reached the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight he complained of a second puncture. Limping back to the pits, it was discovered a faulty sensor had given an incorrect reading and it was the rear tyre on the righthand-side which actually had a puncture. Those two trips to the pits allowed Nakajima to sweep into the lead with just 55 minutes remaining. The Japanese driver made no mistakes during his final stint – and final pitstop – to seal a second victory for himself, Alonso and Buemi, as well as securing the WEC LMP1 drivers’ title in what is set to be Alonso’s final race – for now – for Toyota.

    Third went to the SMP Racing BR1 of Mikhail Aleshin, Stoffel Vandoorne and Vitaly Petrov after they kept their heads down and enjoyed a trouble-free run to the flag – capitalising on crashes, punctures and mechanical issues for its privateer rivals Rebellion Racing. The fastest of those Rebellions was the #1 of Bruno Senna, Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer which leaped ahead of the #3 as the race clock counted down to less than six hours to go as Nathaniel Berthon had to limp the car back suffering from a mechanical issue. Failing to finish was the #17 SMP Racing entry, after a crash at the Porsche Curves overnight while at the hands of Egor Orudzhev. Also failing to make the chequered flag after a gearbox issues was the ByKolles CLM P1/01 and the DragonSpeed BR1.

    In LMP2, Signatech Alpine took its third win in four years after a mega stint from Andre Negaro, Pierre Thiriet and Nicolas Lapierre. Fighting throughout with the G-Drive Racing Aurus 01, the tooth-and-nail battle for victory was decided in Signatech’s favour after G-Drive had to be pushed into the garage in the 19th hour with a wiring problem in its car. That relegated it down the order, but had enough time to recover to sixth but it was scant reward after a faultless drive for Roman Rusinov, Job Van Uitert and Jean-Eric Vergne. Benefitting from G-Drive’s retirement was the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca. After fighting for the podium places for much of Sunday, the retirement elevated them to second, but missed the chance to secure the WEC LMP2 world title, as the drivers’ and teams’ titles both went to Signatech. Rounding out the podium, a lap down on the DC Racing entry, was the TDS Racing car of Loic Duval, Francois Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxiviere. That car had slipped to 13th in class, but double-stints through the night from Duval and Vaxiviere hauled it back up through the order and when Pastor Maldonado crashed the DragonSpeed Oreca in hour 17, the TDS car was well in the fight for a podium place. Fourth went to the United Autosports Ligier – the best of the non-Orecas – with Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta guiding that home with only one real incident of note on Sunday as the engine cover blew off on the way down to Indianapolis. The required trip to the garage to fit a replacement dropped it off the back of the TDS machine.

    Ferrari secured its first GTE Pro triumph in five years as the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra took victory by almost 50 seconds over the GTE title winning #91 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR of Richard Lietz, Gianmaria Bruni and Fred Makowiecki. The Ferrari squad was battling closely with the #63 Corvette Racing C7.R in the second half of the race but the race was eventually decided in the Italian manufacturer’s favour after a risky pit strategy didn’t pay off for the American squad. After a safety car was called for to recover the Nyck De Vries-driven Racing Team Nederland Dallara LMP2 – who crashed into the barrier after running straight on at the kink heading into Indianapolis – the Corvette crew called in Antonio Garcia for a stop in the hopes of jumping the safety car train. Despite rapid pit work from the team, Jan Magnussen got the car to the end of pitlane only to be presented with a red light. The three-minute stop meant the #63 lost a lap, before losing more time after a spin and impact into the wall at the Porsche Curves for Magnussen. An extended stint in the pits to repair the front-end dropped the car down to 10th. Back up at the sharp end and the #93 Porsche GT Team entry of Patrick Pilet, Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy made it a double-podium for the German manufacturer as they finished a minute ahead of the #68 Ford GT of Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais. The #68 led a train of four Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs – in their final Le Mans as a factory-backed team – with the leading Ford in qualifying, the #67 of Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito finishing fifth.

    Ford also came up trumps in GTE Am – but only just – as the Keating Motorsports car of Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Felipe Fraga managed an extend stop for a nose change, and a stop/go penalty for wheel spinning out of the pitbox, to take class victory by 44 seconds. Having led by more than a lap earlier in the race, the team’s strategy of having bronze-rated Keating completing most of his mandatory time on Sunday afternoon almost looked like it hadn’t paid off as the Team Project 1 Porsche closed in on the Ford. But a late stop to hand back over to Bleekemolen allowed the Dutchman to slowly build back up an advantage over Jorg Bergmeister in the Porsche. Rounding out the podium was the JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Jeff Segal, Rodrigo Baptista and Wei Lu which had closed to within 40 seconds of the Team Project 1 entry after a rapid final stint from Baptista.

  • Le Mans preview: the race Toyota must not lose

    This time, surely. That’s the overriding sentiment of the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours at the start of the biggest week of the motor sporting year. Toyota will finally banish the 30-year curse and win the big one – won’t it?

    Well, it really should. The Japanese giant is the last manufacturer standing in the top-class LMP1 hybrid category, following the withdrawal of both Porsche and Audi over the course of the past two years. For pace alone, the band of plucky privateers and their non-hybrid LMP1s really shouldn’t be able to live with the pair of TS050 HYBRIDS.

    Then consider Fernando Alonso, the McLaren F1 driver considered by many to be the greatest active racing driver in the world. At 37, the Spaniard’s hopes of a third F1 world title have probably slipped away with McLaren’s failures to deliver him a competitive car. Therefore, his focus has switched to motor sport’s unofficial Triple Crown: the Monaco Grand Prix, which he has won twice, the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours. All-round racing greatness awaits if he can equal the feat of winning all three that only Graham Hill has previously managed.

    Alonso has a great shot at ticking off Le Mans this week. Fastest at the recent test day, the great man knows only misfortune (and a rapid team of drivers in the sister TS050, of course) stands in his way of glory on his debut at the greatest race in the world.

    But that’s where the intrigue is: Toyota’s misfortune at Le Mans is the stuff of legend. Agonisingly close to the tune of just three minutes in 2016, it missed out last year too, following four previous occasions in the past three decades when the manufacturer looked set to win this race. Nothing can be taken for granted at La Sarthe. The team must conquer the 8.4-mile track first, but also its own psychological barriers to finally deliver what should be a victory of sheer relief on Sunday afternoon.

    Privateers on parade

    If Toyota does falter – and history shows quite plainly it might – the privateer entries could pick up the pieces for an incredible Le Mans story.

    Rebellion is established as the best of the privateer teams in long-distance endurance racing at this level and has three top-six Le Mans finishes to its name already. Its pair of ORECA-built Gibson-powered prototypes mixed it with the Toyotas at the test day and with drivers such as former Audi race winner Andre Lotterer among the line-up, the experience to achieve greatness is in its grasp. The rules favour Toyota and its hybrid, in terms of stint length as well as out-right pace – but if Rebellion can run a clean race for at least one of its cars, you never know.

    Of the other privateers in the top LMP1 category for the fastest prototypes, Bykolles Racing’s singleton entry and the three BR Engineering cars will all hope to be contenders. Ex-F1 world champion Jenson is among those hoping to spring a surprise, driving for the Russian SMP Racing team. In Mikhael Aleshin and fellow F1 old boy Vitaly Petrov, he has quick team-mates, but as is the case for all the privateers, avoiding new-car reliability problems is a tough task at Le Mans. New racers have won first time out at the 24 Hours in the past – but not often. Top six finishes and podium aspirations are more realistic than a victory. But again, with this race, you never know.

    Can LMP2 pull off the shock of the century?

    If Toyota does implode once again, it might be just as likely that an overall winner comes from the slower LMP2 prototype class. Once upon a time, such a suggestion would have been scoffed at. But last year, it almost happened – and with doubt always nagging away at Toyota and the LMP1 privateers coming to the race so unproven, the reliable LMP2 brigade of seasoned campaigners could be in with a shout of an unforgettable result.

    Among the entries, the throng of teams running ORECAs could all contend for the class victory (and maybe more), but the good news is the Ligiers should be more competitive than last year following an aerodynamics rules break. Driver talent in this class is becoming richer by the season and boasts this year such stars as Le Mans debutant and former F1 grand prix winner Juan Pablo Montoya, a veteran of the Daytona 24 Hours in the US. As ever, the form guide suggests the class is wide open.

    To spot the difference between LMP1 and LMP2, look out for the blue number squares instead of red for the secondary prototypes, and the ‘P2’ stickers on their flanks.

    GTE: supercar heaven for the big manufacturers

    While LMP1 has struggled to retain interest for car manufacturers frightened off by multi-million dollar budgets to build sophisticated hybrids, the ‘grand touring’ GTE category for familiar-looking supercars continues to attract massive attention from some of the world’s most famous makes.

    This year, the race within a race presents Porsche vs Ford vs Ferrari vs Corvette vs BMW vs Aston Martin… what a stunning prospect.

    One of four Porsche 911s entered topped the test day times, but Ford’s GT was mixing it for pace too. Aston Martin won the race last year with its ageing Vantage, but returns with a stunning new version of the car this time and with an impressive testing programme under its belt, the British team has high expectations. Can Aston win again in its new bright green livery?

    Ferrari’s factory-blessed AF Corse team is full of ambition to take the Prancing Horse back to the top at Le Mans, while BMW’s stunning new M8 promises to offer more than just good looks. And you can never rule out the Corvettes, which are almost becoming ubiquitous at a race the American Pratt & Miller will take on for a 19th consecutive time. That’s simply remarkable.

    Honours in both the Pro and Am GTE classes are wide open. Look out for the green square backgrounds for the numbers on the Pro-class cars, while the Am entries feature orange number squares. These stunning looking cars are more than just traffic for the prototypes to negotiate. The will contribute plenty to what looks certain to be another unforgettable Le Mans 24 Hours.

    Enjoy the biggest race of the year!

  • Lopez heads Toyota 1-2 in final Sebring practice

    Jose Maria Lopez continued Toyota Gazoo Racing’s domination of the 1000 Miles of Sebring as the Argentinian headed another 1-2 for the team in Free Practice Three.

    The #7 was the pacesetter from the very start of the 60-minute session with Mike Conway setting an early benchmark time in the TS050 Hybrid. Fernando Alonso briefly knocked Conway off the top spot in the sister #8, but Lopez struck his decisive lap – a 1m41.448s – with just less than 40 minutes of practice remaining.

    Claiming third in LMP1 was the DragonSpeed BR1-Gibson, in a remarkable turnaround in fortunes from Thursday’s running. The team finished bottom of the class in both sessions yesterday but a 1m44.156s from Renger van der Zande propelled the #10 ahead of both the Rebellions.

    The Rebellions occupied fourth and fifth, with SMP Racing taking sixth and seventh, the #11 finishing ahead of #17.

    In LMP2, Gabriel Aubry stole a march on his category rivals as he took the top spot for Jackie Chan DC Racing after unseating long-time class leaders Racing Team Nederland. The Dutch team, making up for lost time after a suspension issue in its Dallara P217 in FP2, was running in first thanks to another stunning lap from Nyck De Vries who set a 1m49.028s. However, the squad ended FP3 in third after Signatech Alpine’s Andre Negrao ensured the French squad secured second in every practice in Florida.

    Andy Priaulx ensured Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK finished top of a practice session in GTE Pro – having finished second in both of Thursday’s practices – as he beat Kevin Estre in the #92 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR by three-tenths of a second. Gianmaria Bruni ensured a Porsche 2-3, ahead of the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 Evo shared by Daniel Serra, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado. Aston Martin Racing, which paced the opening two sessions with the #97 of Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn, finished last in class – the #95 of Marco Sørensen, Nicki Thiim and Darren Turner five-hundredths of a second quicker than the #97. Julien Andlauer set a time that was good enough for fifth in the combined GTE standings as he took the top spot in GTE Am for Dempsey-Proton Racing. The German, in the #77 Porsche 911 RSR, finished 0.7s ahead of the sister #88 car piloted to second by Giorgio Roda.

    Team Project 1 made it a Porsche top three, as the hastily built car – the squad’s European Le Mans Series machine - claimed the top spot ahead of the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari. The only significant accident in the session came from the #98 Aston Martin piloted by Paul Dalla Lana. The Canadian was caught out by the fearsome Sebring bumps at turn 17 and crashed into the tyre barrier rear-first. He managed to get the Vantage back to the pits, albeit with significant rear bodywork and suspension damage.

  • Silverstone Qualy - Toyota on top

    Qualifying for the LMP1 class looked, in the end, to be fairly one sided. Porsche did not seem to be able to get close to the rapid pace of the Toyota TS050 Hybrids. Kamui Kobayashi setting the fastest lap of the weekend, a 1:36.793, that Porsche could not get any closer than 1.3 seconds slower than. With the battle of down force packages seeming to be the main talking point in the LMP1 field, it will be interesting to see just how far behind, if at all, Porsche are come race day tomorrow. Speed Chills got a chance to talk to some of the LMP1 drivers after their qualifying session.

    Being one of the drivers to qualify, Anthony Davidson was happy with the set up of the car and the performance of his #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid. He stated that this year’s Toyota is the “Best the car has ever been in Silverstone,” with it “just doing pretty much everything I wanted.” Davidson explained that the impressive time set by Kobayashi was at the result of the two Toyotas running different options of down force in different set ups for the weekend. Even so, Davidson had nothing but praise for the 2017 challenger, claiming the #8 crew is “really confident with our car for the race,” and he is “Really happy to drive such a good car.”

    However, Toyota are under no illusion that tomorrow’s race will be an easy one to take the victory for. Although they have an advantage running the high down force package compared to the low down force aero kit Porsche elected for, Davidson is confident Porsche will be back and closer in the race. “They’re definitely going to be closer in the race than they were in qualifying,” Davidson admitted. “This has never been a strong circuit for us in terms of how we use our hybrid system. Our system is a kinetic system only whereas the Porsche system lends itself a bit better to this kind of track where you don’t get much kinetic recovery. They rely more on their turbo for the heat recovery than we can do round here.

    “We are expecting them to be closer but we’re still unsure about how it’s going to pan out in terms of the double stint. How we’re going to use the tyres compared to them. Normally, under the normal circumstances, you’d say we use the tyres better than them, we’d be able to eek out more life in our tyres than them because running more down force should keep the surface of the tyre in better condition, putting less friction through them, we don’t know. One thing is for sure, they’re going to be closer in the race.”

    Brendon Hartley was keen to echo this sentiment when discussing the benefits and downsides to running the low down force ‘Le Mans’ specification aero package at a track that prefers high down force. Although he stated that “Qualifying wasn’t very important with only four cars,” and that the #2 crew and Porsche were “really focused on the race.” in the free practice sessions, Hartley believes Porsche is not that far off the pace Toyota was setting in their long runs. “Toyota’s pace was awesome in qualifying but we didn’t see the same in free practice.

    “Honestly their time this morning [in qualifying] was really impressive but I think that also there’s a bigger gain for them in qualifying compared to us for a few reasons, with how you manage energies and what not. It was an impressive lap, but I don’t think you’re going to see such differences tomorrow.”

    Hartley revealed that the #2 car never ran any qualifying simulations in free practice, opting to use the 240 minutes of free practice time to fully focus on long runs and making sure the car was set up perfectly for the race whilst collecting as much data about tyre wear. This meant they never got the balance right when they put the qualifying set up on the car for the first time in the qualifying session which is what Hartley suggests is the reason they start at the back of the hybrid field. On average, the lap times the Porsches were setting on their long runs were fairly close to the pace of the Toyotas in the same circumstance.

    Although Neel Jani has been fairly avoidant that Silverstone will be Porsche’s “joker” race, one that he does not expect them to perform well at due to using the low down force aero kit on the Porsches, Hartley is optimistic about his expectations of tomorrow’s race. “I think we can win.” He claimed boldly. “There is gonna be a fight, everyone has to pull together; strategy, pit stops, there could be a bit of weather in play so there is always a challenge. We’re going for the win.”

    The low down force aero package appears to not be as much of a deficit to Porsche this weekend, something the team is pleasantly surprised about. However, qualifying third and fourth ahead of the six-hour race tomorrow was all Jani expected out of the cars today. “P1 and 2 definitely out of reach just due to strategy with the down force package over the season.” Jani explained, using a term he has used a lot this weekend by calling Silverstone Porsche’s ‘joker race’. “We know we give away performance but we hope to gain a lot in the second half [of the season].”

    In terms of the pace Porsche produced in qualifying with all things considered, Jani was ‘positively surprised’. “I think is important to mention. Last year, we did a 39.6 with a high down force package, or a higher down force. This year with the low down force package and we go one second quicker. Even though we lost down force and whatever we still went quicker. So I think that’s actually giving me a positive outlook for the future with that car.”

    Unlike his teammate, though, Jani does not think there is much they can do to catch the Toyotas in tomorrow’s race. “I think the only chance is if we pass them lap one.” He said when asked if there was any possibility they could challenge for a higher position. “2015 I had this big battle with Marcel, with the Audi. Audi was two seconds a lap quicker but because we were so much quicker on the straight they couldn’t overtake us. That worked out nearly until the end with a four second difference at the end. So I’m not sure that would work tomorrow but I would say that is our only big chance on track.

    “But on the other hand, just with racing, you need a bit of luck. Like last year, we won, we were not meant to win but we still won. You know, you never know how a race can turn out.”

    Jani may have written off the first round of the championship but he is nothing but positive about the prospect of round two at Spa-Francorchamps even with the low down force package on the car. Silverstone, in Jani’s opinion, should be the only race that sees Porsche losing performance to Toyota. “We think in Spa we could be not looking too bad. If we look really bad in Spa I think we should get a little worried.

    “I also think at Spa it could help us overall with traffic management because you can only do lap time on the straight line and over take on the straight line. In the middle sector you cannot overtake. So maybe in the race it will be helping us more than it will help us in qualifying. But I think we go with the positive outlook or view to spa after what we felt here.”

  • SMP Racing ends opening day fastest after infamous Spa rain strikes in FP2

    For the first time in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Superseason, Toyota Gazoo Racing didn’t set the fastest time of the day after SMP Racing stormed to the top spot.

    In a dry Free Practice One, ex-Williams F1 racer Sergey Sirotkin set the pace for the Russian squad as he tackled Spa-Francorchamps in a mammoth 1:56.264s - almost two seconds clear of another ex-F1 driver in the sister BR1 - Stoffel Vandoorne. Toyota struggled to match SMP’s rapid pace with Sebastien Buemi’s 1:58.742s half-a-second down on the non-Hybrid LMP1s and Mike Conway a tenth behind that in the #7 TS050. Rebellion Racing claimed fifth and sixth, both R13s 3.4s clear of the returning ByKolles entry, which was slower than the leading LMP2 runners.

    In the second session, which was red-flagged four times as the infamous Spa rain turned heavy at numerous points, Toyota found itself back up at the top as Fernando Alonso, in the #8, pulled more than a second clear of Mike Conway as the Hybrid’s four-wheel drive system proved the difference in the wet. The #11, driven to second earlier by Vandoorne, finished the session best of the rest behind the Toyotas this time with Vitaly Petrov doing what team-mate Stephane Sarrazin couldn’t as he aquaplaned off the track earlier in the 90-minute session. Rebellion were fourth and fifth, with ByKolles sixth - a lot closer to the rest of the competition.

    Sébastien Buemi – Toyota Gazoo Racing “We are happy to be back and we have good memories from here but it might be a completely different weekend to what we are used to in Spa because, since 2013, I have never experienced a wet race here. Some of the privateers this morning seem quite quick so we will see how it all goes.”

    Signatech Alpine and DragonSpeed shared the top spots in the pair of practice sessions as the Michelin runners - the former using the French rubber for the first time - had the measure of their Dunlop-shod rivals. In FP1, Andre Negrao’s 2:03.441s was enough to deny Jean-Eric Vergne the top spot as he put in a strong showing for G-Drive Racing on its return to the WEC with the Aurus 01 - a rebadged Oreca 07. The Racing Team Nederland Dallara P217 split the Oreca domination by claiming third, 0.147s ahead of the DragonSpeed car. It was that car that made the best of the soggy second session as Pastor Maldonado proved himself a league above the rest - 1.613s above to be exact as Matthieu Vaxiviere couldn’t get any more speed out of the Dunlops on the TDS Racing machine. The Frenchman was close to losing second though, as the Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca finished 0.135s behind in third.

    Aston Martin Racing took the top spot in both sessions with its Vantage in GTE Pro. In the lunchtime session, it was the #97 of Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin who took the top spot before the Dane Train #95 of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen swept to first in the latter session. In the first session, Aston Martin was fortunate to hang on to the top spot as Harry Tincknell’s late charge matched Martin’s 2:15.290s exactly but, because it was set later in the session, the Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK machine was classified second. Third went to the BMW Team MTEK BMW M8, splitting the Ford GTs as Porsche and Ferrari propped up the leading GT class.

    Maxime Martin – Aston Martin Racing “We have been improving through the season and learning the Vantage car which is new, and we also have a new tyre manufacturer as well [Michelin]. It is getting better and better. For me it is always nice to have a race in my home country so we are looking forward to the race. Belgium has had in the past, and still has, some really good drivers at high levels. Racing at Spa in the 6 Hours or even the 24 Hours has produced great Belgian drivers so it is special.”

    The order was upended in the second test, as Gianmaria Bruni finished 0.250s behind Sorensen in the #91 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Third went to the Lynn/Martin Aston Martin with both the AF Corse Ferraris finishing fourth and fifth. In contrast to FP1, Ford seemingly struggled in the wet with seventh and eighth the best the team could manage, beating only the BMWs.

    Porsche took the top spot in GTE Am in both sessions as Ben Barker’s early hot lap put the Gulf Racing 911 on top in FP1, before Matt Campbell did the same for Dempsey-Proton Racing in FP2. In a feat of remarkable symmetry, Ferrari teams finished second in both sessions with Giancarlo Fisichella and Olivier Beretta taking the runner-up spot for Spirit of Race and MR Racing respectively.

    Paul Dalla Lana – Aston Martin Racing “This is a place we all like to come to and, in my mind, it is one of the reasons I came into racing because it is such a fantastic circuit. So to come here is great because the fans are so knowledgeable and supportive and it is such a great event. This year we are on the backfoot a little so it will be a lot tougher in LMGTE Am than in previous years so I am not sure about winning number five [in class]. But, even just to have won four in a row here at such a tough race, makes us feel very proud.”

  • Toyota back in front in Free Practice 3

    Toyota Gazoo Racing put its slow pace behind it as the Hybrid team locked out the top two positions on the timing sheet after dominating FP3 at Spa.

    Having been down on pace in Thursday’s dry FP1, Kamui Kobayashi proved that was just a blip as he used the dry but cool session to obliterate last year’s qualifying time by three-tenths. His 1:54.105s was 2.2s quicker than the sister TS050 of Kazuki Nakajima which was more focused on race preparation than outright speed. SMP Racing once again proved to be the team to beat in the Privateer section of LMP1 as Egor Orudzhev set a 1:56.842 - half-a-second down on the #8 Toyota and the same margin up on Stoffel Vandoorne in the sister BR1. Rebellion Racing secured fifth and sixth, with ByKolles a distant seventh-in-class but behind all the LMP2 runners in the overall classification.

    Jean-Eric Vergne topped the times in the secondary prototype class once again for G-Drive Racing as the Aurus badged Oreca team opened up a healthy 0.6s gap over the chasing Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07s. Will Stevens came out on top for the team, beating Gabriel Aubry to second by 1.004s.

    Gianmaria Bruni topped GTE Pro for Porsche GT Team with his final flying lap of the 60-minute practice as he relegated Harry Tincknell’s Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT to second by 0.223s. The second Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Kevin Estre was third, ahead of the second Ford GT of Olivier Pla. Compared to Thursday’s running, Aston Martin Racing was off the pace in the final practice session, with Maxime Martin & Alex Lynn only seventh fastest in the #97 Vantage and the Dane Train of Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim ninth.

    GTE Am was a Porsche lock-out as Matteo Cairoli headed his Dempsey-Proton Racing team-mate Matt Campbell by 0.190s. Team Project1 secured third, more than half-a-second clear of the TF Sport Aston Martin, which occupied the best of the non-Porsche entries in fourth.

  • Toyota Lead By 2 Seconds

    The #7 TSO50 topped the time sheets in FP2, Mike Conway setting the pace with a time of 1:56.172, a considerable margin over the non hybrid LMP1 entries.

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    The #10 DragonSpeed BR1-Gibson fell over 2.5 seconds off the pace with a time of 1:58.835 in the hands of Pietro Fittipaldi. Once again, both the CEFC TRSM Racing Ginetta’s failed to run a competitive lap, both cars did one installation lap before returning to the pits. Speculation is rising in the paddock that the team are suffering financial problems with one of the Chinese backers under investigation. Whether this has any impact on the teams involvement with the rest of the season is unclear at this moment in time. SMP Racing were also having problems with the #17 BR1, the car came to a stop mid way through the session causing a red flag whilst the car was recovered.

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    In LMP2, Pastor Maldonado continued to set the pace in the #31 Dragonspeed Oreca 07, posting a time of 2:02.901 ahead of the second place #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07; Nail Jeffri posting a time of 2:03.306. Roman Rusinov took third in a one off return to the championship in the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07. Matthieu Vaxiviere caused the second red flag of the session, going off at Turn 14.

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    In GTE-Pro, Ford returned to the top of the time sheets, the #66 car posting a time of 2:13.733 in the hands of Stefan Mucke. Gianmaria Bruni lead the session early on however in the #91 Porsche, the #66 Ford was late to the session after spending the first 40 minutes in the garage. The #67 Ford rounded out the top three. As per FP1, the new Aston Martin Vanatage AMR and the new BMW M8 GTE struggled for pace this session, the #82 BMW setting a time outside of the top three times in GTE-AM.

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    Porsche once again led the way in GTE-AM, the #86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche topping the session with a time of 2:16.113 in the hands of Benjamin Barker. The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche finished second, but it was the #98 Aston Martin that broke Porsche’s dominance, Pedro Lamy posting a time of 2:16.790.

  • Toyota Lead The Way At Quarter Distance

    The #7 Toyota TS050 has led the way in the opening six hours of the Le Mans 24 Hours, with Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez not relinquishing their lead throughout the opening stages.

    Making a quick getaway from pole position, the sister #8 couldn’t challenge from second as Sebastien Buemi found himself briefly relegated to third by a hard-charging Gustavo Menezes in the #3 Rebellion Racing R13. Menezes had a straight-line speed advantage over the Toyota, but Buemi’s acceleration out of the corners allowed him to quickly nip back up into second. By that point, though, Conway had powered off into the distance and was adding chunks of time to his advantage every lap as the #8 struggled for pace around the Circuit De La Sarthe. Throughout the opening quarter of the race, the front of the field continued much in that fashion with the #7’s lead ever so slightly decreasing as Fernando Alonso – in the #8 as the first six hours reached its conclusion – started to eat into the deficit.

    As 9pm local time came up on the clocks, the #7’s lead is down to 22 seconds as the field bunches up under a safety car following a crash for Marcel Fassler in the #64 Corvette Racing C7.R at the Porsche Curves. The American car went off after receiving contact from the #88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche which has been having a race to forget after an early spin from the lead of GTE Am while Satoshi Hoshino was behind the wheel. With the Toyotas comprehensively in the lead, albeit with the #7 extending its advantage over the #8, the focus of the LMP1 class fell to the captivating battle for third between the #3 Rebellion and the #11 SMP Racing BR1.

    For the majority of the opening quarter, third belonged to the Swiss team but throughout his stint Stoffel Vandoorne in the Russian car was gradually looming ever larger in Nathaniel Berthon’s mirrors. The eventual move didn’t come on track. A slow stop for the #3 as Berthon handed the car over to Thomas Laurent allowed Vandoorne to power past before making his own handover to Mikhail Aleshin. A slick stop from SMP allowed the #11 to swoop out ahead.

    However, just as the six-hour mark was reached Laurent had a better restart after the safety car – to recover the stricken Corvette – came back in. Tucking himself underneath the rear-wing of the BR1 coming out of a slow zone at the second chicane on the Mulsanne Straight, Laurent was all over the back of Aleshin, eventually making his move at the Porsche Curves. Fifth is currently safely in the hands of the second SMP car, which has a two-lap advantage over the #1 Rebellion which lost time in the opening hour with a puncture.

    A frenetic LMP2 battle currently has Signatech Alpine leading the way after a mega back-and-forth battle between the French team and G-Drive Racing in the last couple of hours which has seen the crews swapping the top spot on a number of occasions. With strategies roughly similar, the action has been taking place out on track with Job Van Uitert fending off the advances of fellow Silver – but less experienced – Pierre Thiriet during the pair’s respective stints. The Dutchman’s hard work was undone though, as the team was slapped with a ten-second penalty for speeding under a Full Course Yellow. The additional delay handed Signatech the lead, but that seemingly fired up Roman Rusinov – who took over from Van Uitert – as he bridged the gap and retook the top spot in class. However, that changed again just before the end of the sixth hour as Andre Negrao stuck his elbows out and muscled his way past Rusinov at the second Mulsanne chicane.

    Third was held by the DragonSpeed entry with Pastor Maldonado finding his way past the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca – which had pitted just before a full course yellow was called to recover the stricken Spirit of Race Ferrari as Francesco Castellacci had a wild spin at the Porsche Curves and beached the 488 in the gravel. With its rivals able to pit under the caution, the #38 dropped from third to fourth.

    The GTE Pro battle has been a merry-go-round for most of the opening quarter as a number of teams have taken stints at the head of the field. The pole-sitting #95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage started by Nicki Thiim found itself quickly relegated to second as Antonio Garcia powered the #63 Corvette up the field in the opening hour and into a lead he retained for a significant chunk of the running as the American muscle car proved it had the speed at Le Mans. However, as the race went into the evening, the Porsche GT Team showed its hand with the #92 and #93 Porsche 911 RSRs moving to the fore as Laurens Vanthoor and Nick Tandy – normally team-mates in IMSA competition – squabbled between themselves for the lead. Despite Daniel Serra briefly taking the lead in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari just before the safety car was called to recover Fassler’s C7.R, he ended the sixth hour in second as Kevin Estre – who took over from Tandy – reclaimed the lead as the pitstops started to cycle through. The sole Corvette – taken over again by Garcia – currently runs in third, with the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT of Harry Tincknell in fourth.

    GTE Am continued to be dominated by the Keating Motorsport Ford GT as Felipe Fraga and Jeroen Bleekemolen did a great job to power the Blue Oval up through the class and into a commanding lead. Thanks to a clean run, they have a three-minute lead over the #84 JMW Motorsports Ferrari. Third is the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche with the WeatherTech Racing 488 further back in fourth.

  • Toyota lock out the front row in China Qualifying

    Toyota continue their dominance in LMP1, locking out the front row in qualifying for the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai.

    Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi took pole position with an average time of 1:42.931 with the championship leading #8 car of Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima just 0.228 seconds behind. During the first half of qualifying, Bruno Senna split the Toyotas going quicker than Fernando Alonso. Nakajima fought back in the second session though to best Andre Lotterer by just three tenths of a second. The resulting average times meant that the #1 Rebellion took third, losing out on second place by six hundredths of a second! The #17 SMP Racing took fourth with the #3 Rebellion rounding out the top five.

    In LMP2, Jackie Chan DC Racing took a 1-2 front row lock out for their home event. Ho Pin Tung and Gabriel Aubrey posting an average time of 1:48.888 around the Shanghai circuit. The #37, which took the win in Fuji averaged a time of 1:49.138 – three thents off pole position. With the #38 scoring a point for pole position in class, they are now on equal points with Signatech Alpine for the lead of the championship. Alpine will start fourth in class behind the DragonSpeed Oreca on the second row.

    In GTE-Pro, Stefan Mucke and Olvier Pla took Ford’s third pole of the season after a close fight with BMW Team MTEK. BMW were on for a 1-2 finish in qualifying before Mucke put the 66 Ford top of the time sheets with a time of 1:58.464. The #81 BMW M8 GTE of Martin Tomczyk and Nicky Catsburg will start second with the #82 car in fifth. The #97 Aston Martin and #92 Porsche dropped the BMW down the order, setting fast times late in the session.

    A last-ditch lap from Pedro Lamy saw the #98 Aston snatch pole position in GTE-Am ahead of the #88 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR. The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari will start in third.

    Tomorrows race looks set to be a wet one and gets under way at 11Am local time.

  • Toyota masters Sebring after opening day & night practice

    Toyota Gazoo Racing has laid down a marker to its rivals by breaking the Sebring lap record after sweeping the first day of FIA World Endurance Championship practice in Florida. In Thursday afternoon’s opening session, Kazuki Nakajima – in the #8 TS050 Hybrid - left it until the final two minutes to snatch away the fastest lap from the sister car of Jose Maria Lopez. His time of 1m41.857s was two seconds quicker than the 1m43.886s lap record set by Marcel Fassler on his pole lap for the 2013 Sebring 12 Hours in the Audi R18 e-tron Quattro. The positions were reversed in the second session – held under the cover of darkness - as Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 lowered the fastest lap even further as he set a 1m41.730s to lead the #8 by 0.8s.

    The best of the rest position behind the two Toyotas was shared by the #1 Rebellion Racing R13 of Mathias Beche in the first 90-minute practice and ex-Williams F1 driver Sergei Sirotkin in the SMP Racing BR1 in the second. Struggling in both sessions was the BR1-Gibson of DragonSpeed, which finished bottom of the LMP1 class. Ben Hanley told Radio Le Mans that the team was struggling to find the same ‘sweet spot’ it had found in pre-race testing.

    In the LMP2 class, Formula Two race winner Nyck De Vries topped the times for Racing Team Nederland in its Dallara P217 in FP1. However, in night practice the team had its running cut short after a broken rear-left suspension curtailed its running – stopping De Vries, Giedo van der Garde and Frits van Eerd from setting their minimum five laps of running in the dark. Making the opposite journey in the two sessions was the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07. Finishing fifth in the opening practice, Stéphane Richelmi was only the second driver on Thursday to drop into the 1m47s – after De Vries in FP1 – as he claimed the top spot in the class. Taking second in both sessions was the #36 Signatech Alpine A470 with Andre Negrão and Nicolas Lapierre setting the team’s fastest times. He finished 0.511s down on the benchmark time in the first session, before closing the gap ever so slightly to 0.497s in the second.Also occupying the same position in both 90-minute tests was third-placed TDS Racing, Matthieu Vaxiviere and XX setting the pace for the Oreca team.

    The #97 Aston Martin Racing crew of Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn were the pacesetters in both practices as they topped the times in the Vantage GTE.Martin led the way in the opening session with a 1m58.044s before Lynn made the most of the far cooler conditions later in the day to drop into the ‘57s with a 1m57.792. The pair were closely tailed by the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK squad of Harry Tincknell, Andy Priaulx and Jonathan Bomarito in their Ford GT – finishing just three-hundredths of a second behind Aston Martin in night practice. Securing third in both tests was the sister #66 Ford GT of Billy Johnson, Stefan Mucke and Olivier Pla.

    Ben Barker set the fastest time of the day in GTE Am as he put in a 1m59.327s in the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR to go almost two seconds quicker than Pedro Lamy’s class-leading time in the first session - the Portuguese driver just 0.009s faster than Matteo Cairoli’s #88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche in FP1. The biggest news in the class came from another Porsche team – the #56 Team Project 1 crew. After a fire in testing at the weekend destroyed its WEC chassis, Team Project 1’s mechanics perform a miracle to get the team’s ELMS chassis prepped and running in time for FP2. The car, which was flown to Atlanta overnight and then trucked to Sebring, was built up and running in less than 24 hours. Jorg Bergmeister set an early class-leading time before slipping down the order as the team focused on setting up the new car.

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