WEC Prologue: Day Two – 02/04/2017

With the pre season testing now complete before the season opener in a few weeks at Silverstone, it is still not clear as to which teams are on top of their respective classes. Both Porsche and Toyota finished the day with a fastest lap, whilst LMP2 still looks to be a mixed field with every team running the same chassis and engine combination. Only in the LM GTE fields do things look a bit clearer, but Balance of Performance could see the predicted order muddled when we get to the first race of the season.

Today’s running consisted of only two track sessions. Both lasted three hours and one took place in the morning and one in the afternoon. A new fastest lap time was set today, with Nicolas Lapierre putting Toyota on top in the final session of the test with an impressive 1:30.547, nearly a second up on Mike Conway’s faster overall lap time set yesterday.

Only one incident saw track action halted in today’s sessions. With half an hour left of the afternoon, and final, session, an unexpected rain shower glanced over the track. It did not seem to be too heavy down at Variante Tribune, but at the top end of the track (near the Lesmo corners) there was a lot less grip. Due to this it is assumed that is the direction the rain came from, meaning it hit the Lesmo corners first.

Matthew Rao was out in last’s year’s LMP2 champion car #36 Signatech Alpine when, going through Lesmo One, the car snapped away from him on the damp track. Caught unaware, Rao was a passenger as the car spun out and into the tyre barrier. As there was a lot of damage to the tyre barrier, the session was red flagged for ten minutes. Rao was surveyed trackside and cleared by the medical doctor, not even needing to go to the medical centre.

When the track returned to green the rain shower had made what had been a dry track, after last night’s fully wet evening session, damp. This meant that most teams did not risk taking back to the track and the test ended slightly anticlimactically with only Toyota lapping round in short stints.

Lapierre set the fastest lap of the prologue at the start of the afternoon session. The morning session started a little damp as the track was still wet from last night’s downpour. It was the #1 Porsche crew who took the fastest lap in the morning session with the sister #2 car finishing 0.004 seconds slower than their fastest lap of a 1:32.020.

But it looked like, in both sessions, the LMP1 Hybrid teams were focusing on mileage rather than fastest laps. In the morning session, Porsche were able to put 212 laps on the Porsche 919s collectively and without fault on the cars. Porsche also elected to run some hybrid tests where they completed a lap or two on only hybrid power. This was to make sure that, if there is an engine failure on the cars during a race, the drivers can get them back to the pits on hybrid power alone for repairs.

After such a bad first day of the test yesterday, it had looked more positive for #4 ByKOLLES entrant as they managed to get their car out for six laps towards the end of the evening session last night. Sadly, this seemed to be full of false hope. Within an hour of the first session today the team withdrew from the rest of the test without getting the car out for one lap. It does not look like the best start of the year for the team nor the best start to their advantage over Ginetta for the 2018 season. There will be no advantage to gain if they cannot have the car running competitively or, at least, full race distance.

LMP2 did not disappoint today in promising what looks like a closely fought season. The #28 TDS Racing car took the fastest lap time in the morning session, whilst Oliver Jarvis put the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car fastest in the afternoon in what was effectively his first outing in the car. But the LMP2 field remained close for the entire day, with the field being covered by around 2 seconds.

In the morning, a few of the LMP2 cars suffered with a few issues, one of those being the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing. The car managed to get out for a few laps towards the end of the session when Jarvis got on board for the first time with his new team. He managed to get eighth fastest in that session and picked up the fastest lap in the afternoon session within the first hour. His pace showed consistency and competitiveness, so hopefully Jarvis will be able to convert his talents from LMP1 to LMP2 for the 2017 season.

The #31 Variante Rebellion entrant also suffered some issues in the morning session. The team managed to get 25 laps on the board and took to sending the car out for short stints throughout the session. But whatever troubles seemed to ale the car in the first session of the day were resolved when it came to the second one. LMP2 is looking like a strongly competitive field, with not one car breaking away from the pack. Hopefully this will be something that is echoed in the season opener in a fortnight’s time and will lead to some excellent racing in the class over the season.

The #92 Porsche GT Racing team were not able to take a clean sweep of fastest LM GTE Pro laps for the test as the afternoon test was taken by Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK. Ford have been the closest contenders to Porsche in the Pro class all weekend. They may have been finishing as the third and fourth car for most of the sessions, but the time gap was never over a couple of tenths of a second.

Aston Martin looked to be struggling the most in class, with their two cars consistently occupying the bottom two spots of the class in every session. Again, the deficit is not massive (around half a second on average) and over the course of a six-hour race they could make up for any lap time disadvantage they have. But they are the slowest of the Pro cars and this should cause some concern for the Aston Martin crews. It looks like they will not be able to push for wins on a pace basis by may need to rely on other cars failing to get onto the podium.

The second day of testing saw a new manufacturer on top in the GTE Am field. #61 Clearwater Racing took charge in the afternoon whilst the morning had belonged to the other Ferrari 488, the #54 Spirit of Race. Ferrari didn’t run away with it, with the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche only three-tenths off the leading pace in the afternoon in third and two-tenths, in second, off the fastest lap time of the #54.

Aston Martin were, once again, at the back of this field. The situation here is very similar to the one in LM GTE Pro: the Aston Martins are not significantly slower on pace time but are certainly and consistently the slowest in class. The #98 Aston Martin Racing piloted by Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda, and Pedro Lamy was four-tenths off the fastest lap in the afternoon session, but they did not look like the were possible of closing that gap down as they proved by being consistently slowest in the LM GTE Am class.

For reasons undisclosed by the team, the Dempsey-Proton Racing #77 Porsche sat out the final three-hour session, not coming out of the garage at all. It joined the #4 ByKOLLES LMP1 privateer car on the sidelines and ended the session early. The car had been running strong in the morning session with no problems seeming to be on the car.