Prologue 2018 - What did we learn?

30 Hours of testing, 53,000km covered by all entries and it was Toyota Gazoo Racing who came out on top of the official pre-season test at Paul Ricard.

#8 Toyota

LMP1

Toyota covered 5872km across the two cars, Mike Conway, topping the timing screens with a time of 1:32.662, significantly quicker than the non-hybrid LMP1 cars. It was however confirmed that Toyota had been running an unrestricted set up to test a new cooling system. This will perhaps come as some kind of relief to the competition with the closest non-hybrid entry, the #11 SMP Racing BR1 falling 4.3 seconds shy of the quickest pace. However, this is only pre-season testing, how much are the teams willing to reveal at this stage? Qualifying at Spa in just a few weeks’ time will be the first time to see the cars being pushed to the maximum.

#1 Rebellion

The huge amount of change in LMP1 over the winter break has been a major point of discussion and speculation in the past few months. Rebellion Racing have returned to LMP1 with the Rebellion R-13 piloted by Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna, arguably one of the most experience trios in the class and certainly one to watch as the super season unfolds! A deal was announced prior to the Prologue between TVR and Rebellion which sees the brand return to Le Mans for the first time in over a decade. TVR will be present as an “automotive partner”.

It was a promising start for the LMP1 non-hybrid field with SMP Racing and Rebellion split by just 0.010 on the fastest lap, the #11 SMP besting the #1 Rebellion R-13 to take third and fourth respectively in the overall quickest lap time. An impressive start for Rebellion considering the lack of testing during the winter break. Unveiled to the world in Bahrain at the end of last season, the two SMP entered BR1s between them ran 515 laps.

It was a quiet but good weekend for ByKolles in the updated CLM P1/01. The team dropped out of the 2017 season after Nurburgring as planned to focus on developing the new car. The car managed to run 331 laps, a significant improvement on this time last year when at Monza, they ran just a handful of laps.

#6 CEFC TRSM

CEFC TRSM (Manor/Ginetta to you and I), step up to LMP1 this year with a pair of Ginetta G60-LT-P1s. They experienced a number of minor issues throughout the test, struggling to get anywhere near the competition in terms of lap times complete. The #6 car finished with 121 laps on the board whilst the #5 made a late debut on Friday after a water leak stopped the team from running early on Friday. It was a fantastic job from the Ginetta and Manor pit crew to get the car up and running considering it was still being built on Thursday. The #5 made an initial run around sunset on Friday evening but was forced back to the pits with a few teething problems. The car returned later that night with Mike Simpson at the wheel before getting some consistent running in early Saturday morning, managing to clock 138 laps as a result.

DragonSpeed split their efforts between LMP1 and LMP2 this year, running a Gibson BR1 in LMP1. This was one of the first outings for the car with the team focused on trialling different set ups and getting track time for Henrik Hedman. They completed the session with 145 laps on the clock.

LMP2

#38 Jackie Chan Racing

Its the same old faces but with additional variety this year in LMP2. Jackie Chan DC Racing return to the championship with their two Gibson powered Oreca 07s alongside TDS Racing and Signatech Alpine. Championship regulars and 2016 champions G-Drive have stepped back from a full season campaign and were absent at The Prologue but will join the grid at Spa in preparation for Le Mans. Team Nederland join the championship running the Dallara P217 whilst Larbre return to the WEC but this time in the Ligier JSP217, not the GTEAm Corvette of recent years. Along with multiple chassis this year, the teams are also running different rubber, split between Michelin and Dunlop tyres.

#31 Dragon Speed

It was a pretty quiet event for LMP2 with none of the teams signed up to run the full 30-hour session, all of them pulling into the pits before the sun set and re-joining the following morning. The DragonSpeed Oreca will be driven this season by Roberto Gonzalez, Ben Hanley and Pastor Maldonado, looking to relaunch his career after a few years out of F1. Maldonado was the quickest driver of the class, the only one to lap.

GTE Pro

#91 Porsche

Porsche took a 1-2 finish at the top of the time sheets looking dominant throughout the weekend, the #91 leading the way in the hands of Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni with a time of 1:51.332, half a second ahead of the #92 which posted a time of 1:51.837. Ford were the only real challengers of the weekend, the four cars completing over 200 laps and split by less than a second.

The latest generation of the Ferrari 488 GTE struggled all weekend. The #71 caught fire during re-fuelling early on Saturday and didn’t run again that day whilst the #51 struggled with tyre wear.

#95 Aston Martin

Aston Martin Racing debuted the new Vantage this weekend, not going for outright pace but favouring long distance running. The #95 completed 852 laps with all six drivers behind the wheel at one point or another, some of them splitting time between the #95 and #97 which got a further 235 laps under its belt.

It was the championship debut for the new BMW M8 GTE (which had its official race debut at The Rolex 24 At Daytona back in January), the #82 car clocked up 682 laps whilst the #81 only completed a six-hour run.

GTE Am

#86 Porsche

Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda return as defending champions in the #98 Aston Martin. They will once again face up against Dempsey Proton, who this year field a two-car line up, Gulf Racing back once again with the #86 Porsche, Spirit of Race Ferrari and Clearwater, each of whom have entered one car for the season. The class regulars will be joined by Team Project 1 (911 RSR), MR Racing (Ferrari 488) and TF Sport (Aston Martin).

As in GTEPro, Porsche led the way in GTE AM, each team for the first time running the 911 RSR. Gulf Racing UK and Dempsey Proton were the ones to watch, the #88 of Matteo Cairoli eventually taking and holding the top spot with a time of 1:52.936. What was interesting about GTEAm however this year was how, on one lap pace, they mixed times with the GTEPro category. Will some of the faster Am drivers be able to fight with the back runners in GTE Pro?

The Class of 2018

17 Prototypes and 19 GTE cars lined up at Paul Ricard. There is clearly still a lot to learn and no one is really giving away their true performance just yet, however, it is going to be an incredible season. The championship new comers will hopefully shake the championship up this year, the privateer LMP1 teams challenging Toyota, the new LMP2 chassis with varying tire choices adds another variable to the competition who will have the advantage this year after an Oreca chassis lock out in LMP2 in 2017?

Can BMW and the new Aston Martin Vantage look to challenge Porsche and Ford who have both enjoyed successes in the past couple of years?

And with a number of championship new comers joining the fight in GTE Am, will it be the experienced WEC veterans who come out on top or the new challengers?

Join us at Spa Francorchamps in May when the season truly begins.