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.