WEC Prologue: Day One – 01/04/2017

The World Endurance Championship Prologue is the first official test of the WEC and the first time that all of the teams race the new cars together on the track. Although it is testing, so lap times and relative pace must be taken with a pinch of salt, it is the first chance to see these cars up against each other and get a sense of where people may be with their cars heading to the first round of the Championship in a fortnight’s time.

Day one of the Prologue consisted of three track sessions: two of three-hours in durations (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) and one of two-hours in duration (the evening session). Taking place for the first time around the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, the cars have been showing a step up in overall pace compared to previous years. Although rain fell in the evening session, reducing the amount of running that took place, the day sessions were filled with a lot of track action and very little incident.

Only three Full Course Yellows fell upon the track today. The first was due to an LMP2 systems check of the Full Course Yellow system and so lasted around three minutes at the beginning of the morning session. Luckily, there were no mistakes or misfortunate moments in the wet evening run. In fact, due to the rain, very few people took to the track for the evening session, with only 15 of the 27 in attendance of the test taking to the track and 13 setting lap times.

The other two Full Course Yellows came in the afternoon session. Just after the end of the first hour, the #24 CEFC Manor TDS Racing went off track at Variante Tribune and was unable to recover itself. The session took a turn for the worse as it was later reported, once the #24 had made it back out on track, that the car was losing liquid around the track. It took about an hour for the car to get back on track with whatever issues it had to have been resolved.

The pace-setting LM GTE Pro Porsche GT Team #92 was the only other car to bring out the Full Course Yellows. Towards the end of the second hour, the car went off at Variante Ascari, getting stuck in the gravel trap on the exit of the corner. The Full Course Yellow soon turned into a red flag to get the truck on track to clear the car, putting a delay of about twenty minutes on the session. Like the Manor, the Porsche #92 was not deterred by the off and finished the afternoon session fastest of the LM GTE Pro cars.

The LMP1 field, of Porsche and Toyota, is looking very close upon reflecting on the first day of the Prologue. Although in the speed trap, Porsche are recording 319kph whilst Toyota are setting 306kph, all of the data we are gathering is relative. It is unknown exactly what set up, tyres, fuel, or programme teams are running to generate these numbers. For example, at last year’s Prologue, Toyota were setting 20kph faster than any other team in the speed trap, but when it came to the first few races their car could not keep up with Audi or Porsche. The difference in pace could also be down to which aero kit the teams have installed on the cars, which Porsche refuses to confirm as of this moment.

Toyota took the fastest lap in the afternoon session, whilst it was Porsche on top in the morning and evening session. However, the fastest time set so far this weekend was a 1:31.332, which was set by Mike Conway in the #7 Toyota about halfway through the evening session. All of the LMP1 cars have now set times in the 1m31s bracket, but no one could go faster than Conway’s time. The evening session was heavily rain affected and it was only the LMP1 cars that set respectable times as they took to the track at the very start of the session and set their times before the track got saturated.

Problems for the #4 ByKOLLES Racing LMP1 privateer held it in the garage for most of the day. The team were waiting for parts to arrive for their Nismo engine and working through some teething problems, meaning they couldn’t get the car out on track. With half an hour of testing left, Robert Kubica took the ENSO CLM P1/01 out for six laps, setting a lap time of 2:17.915 on a rain-soaked track. The hope is that the issues the team were faced with will have been sorted and they can get to their proper testing programme tomorrow when track action gets underway again.

There was also a rumour of potential issues on the #2 Porsche LMP1 from an electrical stand. In the morning session, the #2 slipped down the pit lane silently, implying that there was no power to the car and it was just rolling to the pit box. No issues have been confirmed by the team, but it will be interesting to see if there is any significant improvement to the Porsche in tomorrow’s running.

The LMP2 field suggested a very close fight in the class is expected. With all teams having elected to run ORECA 07 chassis (Signatech Alpine run a modified version of the ORECA 07 to give them the Alpine A470) and all having to run the Gibson V8 engine, the class order will be determined more on aero packages and if teams can capitalise on any innovative technology or design features.

From the testing today, it looks like Vaillante Rebellion may have the best full package. They finished the first session with a one-two and the second session fastest with the #13. The afternoon session was taken by last year’s class champions #36 Signatech Alpine. But most of the time the LMP2 field was covered by just over a second, with the gaps between cars as little as a tenth of a second. It looks like there is not one dominate team in the LMP2 field. Perhaps if a different chassis had been chosen by someone there would have been some more variation, but from the first look at the cars going round the track it looks like LMP2 is going to be closely fought this year.

The new Porsche 911 RSRs look to be the benchmark for the rest of the LM GTE fields. Of course, the lap times and data must be looked at whilst keeping in mind the teams may have been on different programmes or set ups, but the Porsches were fastest in LM GTE Pro with the #92 Porsche GT Team entrant and in LM GTE Am with the Gulf Racing #86 in all three sessions today.

Ford look, at the moment, to be Porsche biggest rival in LM GTE Pro. Although Porsche took the fastest lap time of each session, Ford were never more than two-tenths off their pace. Ferrari looked to be getting into the fight in the afternoon session, placing a car in between the two Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK entries to take fourth fastest in class. Unfortunately, it seems that Aston Martin are a little way off the pace of the other GTE manufacturers. The deficit is not massive – on average, around half a second slower on their fastest laps – but they were always at the bottom of the LM GTE Pro class times.

Aston Martin has a similar situation in LM GTE Am. As of the last chequered flag today, The Am Aston Martin Racing entry #98 was, on average, the slowest LM GTE Am on track. The deficit, like in the Pro class, is not a massive one, but it may be cause for concern for the British manufacturer. There is a potential that the Aston Martins are sandbagging and they could take to the track at Silverstone and be fastest in class. This is the only issue with analysing the data and times that we get from pre-season tests; so much is left unknown and there is a very strong chance that all of the 27 cars have been sandbagging this weekend.

The #86 Gulf Racing Porsche was the pace setter for the Am class today. Like the LM GTE Pro Porsche, the Porsche 911 RSR (991)s of Gulf Racing and Dempsey-Proton Racing dominated the top of the times for their class, finishing the two dry sessions with a one-two. The Clearwater Racing and Spirit of Race Ferraris were next to line up behind the Porsches. The situation in both GTE classes is very similar; where Ford are just off the pace of Porsche in GTE Pro, it is Ferrari who is just off the pace of the Porsches in GTE Am.