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.”