Toyota Gazoo Racing began its 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours challenge with a trouble-free official test session at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Today’s eight hours of testing are the only opportunity to experience the 13.629km circuit, which partly utilises public roads, prior to race week so the team planned a full programme of fine-tuning the TS040 HYBRID.
Last year’s pole position winner Kazuki Nakajima joined World Champions Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi in the #1 TS040 HYBRID. Kazuki drove two stints to confirm a rapid recovery from the back injury he sustained in Spa a month ago.
As a precaution, test and reserve driver Kamui Kobayashi completed four timed laps, giving him experience in the unexpected event he would be called upon to race.
In the #2 car, Alex Wurz and Stéphane Sarrazin, who have competed in a combined 21 Le Mans events, teamed up with Mike Conway, who completed his first LMP1 laps of La Sarthe.
I forgot how quickly the LMP1s go by!
The team’s primary targets for the day were to evaluate its low-drag Le Mans aerodynamic package, compare various mechanical set-up options and assess the tyre characteristics.
Persistent rain in the morning session made for difficult track conditions but did allow analysis of the Michelin hybrid intermediate and wet tyres, as well as car set-up in low grip conditions.
A lunchtime shower meant the afternoon session started on a wet track but conditions improved and allowed some slick tyre running before the rain returned.
The two cars and seven drivers recorded a total of 173 laps throughout both sessions, completing a combined distance of over 2500km. At the end of a busy day, the team was satisfied with its progress in wet conditions but will work hard to improve in the dry prior to the race, which begins on Saturday 13 June.
Toshio Sato, Team President: “Thanks to the hard work of the team we came here well prepared and ready to begin our 2015 Le Mans challenge. The weather was a big factor today, with track conditions changing regularly. This gave us an important chance to learn about our car and tyres in such conditions. Normally we expect to experience that at some point in the race so it is good to have this information already. Both cars ran very reliably which is a positive sign for the race but we need to find more performance in dry conditions. With so little dry running, it is hard to draw conclusions looking only at the classifications but we got a lot of data which will help us to come back well prepared for the race.”
TS040 HYBRID #1 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)
Morning: 8th (3min 27.071secs), 45 laps
Afternoon: 7th (3min 25.321secs), 47 laps
Anthony Davidson: “It was a difficult day in terms of the changing weather, which made it very challenging for the drivers. I didn’t get to drive any laps in the dry which was a pity, but there was only a relatively small window for the slick tyres. I hope there will be plenty of time for that in race week. Looking at the time sheets, we have work to do to improve. It’s a different situation to last year so we have to get our heads down and see what we can do.”
Sébastien Buemi: “In the morning session we experienced all the weather conditions we could face in the race: dry, wet and heavy rain. I did a lot of laps in the afternoon so that was positive; I have a good rhythm in the car. Our task was to learn and get data. It’s a test day so we tried to do as much as possible to be ready for the race week. Clearly the lap times are not as quick as we want to be. We need to analyse everything and get the most out of our package.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “It was great to be back in the car, especially here in Le Mans. I didn’t have any problems and I feel I’m in good condition. It was a good first day of driving after the accident at Spa and it showed I can drive at the same level as before. The afternoon session was a bit tricky for me due to the conditions. The track was drying and we did an interesting test to study the changeover point for the tyres. When we switched to the slick tyres I enjoyed it, even though there was still some drizzle around the track. I could get a proper feeling in dry conditions and I had a better feeling than in the morning session; more like I remember from last year.”
Kamui Kobayashi: “It was a nice sensation to drive an LMP1 car at Le Mans for the first time, even though I didn’t do many laps. Considering the weather today, I am pleased I could experience the car in dry conditions. The performance of an LMP1 car here is even more than I expected. My only experience here is in a GT car, when you are always looking in your mirrors for the prototypes coming by. But obviously it was the opposite today and I experienced the challenge of overtaking the GTs. That is an important part of being fast here at Le Mans so it was good experience for me.”
TS040 HYBRID #2 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway)
Morning: 7th (3min 26.929secs), 42 laps
Afternoon: 8th (3min 30.334secs), 39 laps
Alex Wurz: “I had a few dry laps. We were doing some tyre tests between the two cars to get some data on their performance and the changeover point between the dry, hybrid intermediate and wet tyres. Other than that, there is not a lot to be gained in this very mixed and moody Le Mans weather. Now we focus on the race week and prepare ourselves in the best possible way.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “It was an interesting day with the weather changing all the time which gave us the opportunity to use all tyre specifications. We improved many parameters on the car but we still have to find pace, as we are missing some lap time. We have a week or so to understand it and find the best solutions for our package. We know Le Mans is a very long, complicated race; the challenge is to be quick and reliable. Let’s see what the race week will bring.”
Mike Conway: “We had really mixed conditions today. Every corner was different; one time it would be dry next time it would be wet so it was quite tricky. It was good for me to drive on this track for the first time in LMP1. All the information I learnt two years ago was coming back; on each lap I was learning and getting a better feel for the car. Compared to LMP2, the lines are the same but you approach a lot quicker and the braking distance is shorter. When I went by the LMP2 cars I was thinking ‘that was me two years ago’. I forgot how quickly the LMP1s go by!”