The View From... The Prologue Day One

The Circuit Paul Ricard is alive with the WEC at the moment. The world’s premier endurance series has returned to the track for its test session, now renamed The Prologue, and brought with it a field of cars that will spend the next 8 months duking it out for the title.

PR Lines

This the first time that we’ve seen all of this year’s entries attacking the same piece of tarmac, but there’s only one question echoing around the French Riviera: are Porsche on the pace?

The short answer requires a distinctly Gallic shrug; everybody’s on their own schedule and flat out speed is difficult to judge. However, taking the grain of salt that must be taken, the performance of the shiny new 919 Hybrid is not to be sniffed at.

First we turn to Audi, though. The returning champs have kept their usual level of quiet confidence simmering away despite challenges from both the pedigree of Porsche and the technical advances of Toyota; twelve wins in fourteen years will do that to a team.

Plus, the car looks fantastic in its slightly tweaked grey/black/white livery with blazes of reflective red thrown in; some some much needed fire has been painted over the German understatement. The sound is different too; the familiar whoosh is now followed by the grinding of a well tuned diesel engine and a spaceship aftertaste.

Toyota, meanwhile, have almost 1000bhp. That’s 480 from a 3.7l V8 and a whopping 520 from the electric motors that have been bolted onto each axle. The urgency in the car is immediately visible to anyone standing and watching, with sharp cheekbones replacing the smooth wings from the TS030 and a more aggressive note from the V8 that burbles viciously on the way into the slower corners.

The early times would suggest that Toyota haven’t been able to translate that gigantic power figure into gains on the track, but of all the teams present we suspect that it’s Toyota who are hiding their hand. The drivers certainly appear to be comfortable with the car, which seems to be exhibiting Audi levels of sure-footedness and confidence through the corners.

Surprisingly, Porsche are showing the same planted look. The 919 Hybrid doesn’t appear to be lacking in the set up department, though the crew do seem to be a bit more tentative when putting the boot down. The choice of a V4 is something that needs to be proved rather than just dismissed, but the turbo noise is fantastic.

Less fantastic are the looks. Where the 917, 956, 962 etc. are considered classics it’s difficult to foresee the same happening with the 919. Audi’s perfect proportions and Toyota’s love-or-hate-them front arches at least have a bit of character; Porsche’s new contender looks more functional than anything and isn’t helped by an uninspiring paint job.

PR Porsche 1

Porsche do have two major things going for them though: the pace and the pedallers. There were a lot of very guarded predictions flying around before The Prologue about how quick the returning legends were likely to be, but they seem to have exorcised the gremlins that they had evidenced up to this point; they’ve been top of the timing screens with regularity.

Their three-driver lineups are also very strong, with the teams of Dumas/Jani/Lieb and Bernhard/Webber/Hartley seeming to tick both the youth and experience boxes. But there are signs of a few worries; Neel Jani making so-so gestures when exiting the car and Mark Webber not sounding 100% sure during his press conference could be signs of a less than happy atmosphere in the garage.

The square-jawed Aussie did give some positive insight into his switch from the WEC’s feeder series though. Noting that the LMP1 class isn’t really that different to F1 (bar more weight and less downforce) Webber admitted that he was re-learning a lot from his sportscar-bred team mates and that 2014 prototypes are a different animal to those he raced at the turn of the century. That said, the learning curve clearly can’t be too steep as at the time of writing he’s sitting comfortably at the top of the timesheets.

Talking of old cars, Rebellion’s much publicised R-One wasn’t ready for The Prologue so the Anglo-Swiss team have brought their 2013-spec Lola-Toyotas. They’ve thankfully returned to their traditional red, white and gold livery but it’s fairly obvious that this isn’t the ideal situation for them; other than giving their new signings (Dominik Kraihamer and Fabio Leimer) some P1 track time, they won’t be getting much out of this two-day session.

As for the rest of the field there isn’t much to report; most of these cars have been brought straight through from 2013 with a few upgrades, while Strakka’s new Dome-built P2 contender suffered a lack of readiness and didn’t even turn up. I can report that AF Corse have ruined their once-pretty red, white and green livery with a hefty amount of yellow lipstick, and that the Proton/Prospeed Porsches are as difficult to tell apart as we thought they might be.

Of more interest are Ram Racing in their 458s. The Pro car of Griffin/Parente/Rossiter is the only privateer entry in the class, with all three drivers bringing a wealth of talent to the table. They might be underdogs, but don’t write them off.

Ram’s Am entry is equally interesting, with old hand Johnny Mowlem and old stig Ben Collins joining USA’s Mark Patterson in the gentleman drivers’ field. They’re up against some stiff competition in the form of 8 Star, Aston Martin and a brace of AF Corses, but with an ELMS GT title under their belts they’ll be hopeful of a good look in come the first round at Silverstone.

Day two of the pre-WEC test kicks off tomorrow with an open gate to the public, so the pressure is mounting. We’ll have a more in depth look at the practice times in tomorrow’s View From…, so stay tuned to Speed Chills to find out if Porsche’s form can weather the Audi and Toyota storms.