6 Hours of Portimão: Free Practice
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing on the pace in Portimão
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing hit the ground running in Portugal and made a promising start to practice for the 6 Hours of Portimão, the second round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
The World Champions began the season with a dominant one-two victory against a record Hypercar field in the first round at Sebring four weeks ago, and the team built on that by setting the practice pace at Portimão.
Sebring winners Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in their #7 GR010 HYBRID, were quickest on the opening day with a lap of 1min 32.155secs set in the afternoon session.
Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, in the #8 GR010 HYBRID, made it a clean sweep for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. Their pace-setting lap in morning practice was the second quickest overall, 0.637secs behind their team-mates.
Single lap times were, however, not the priority. Victory in round one was built on meticulous preparation, development of competitive race set-ups and an in-depth understanding of tyre characteristics, and those factors were the focus of practice in Portugal as the team seeks a repeat performance.
An intense programme of adjusting the updated GR010 HYBRID to the demands of the 4.653km circuit on its first visit to Portimão since last April 2022 began on a sunny, windy morning with air temperatures of 14°C.
Both cars made maximum use of the 90-minute first session to compare different aerodynamic and mechanical set-ups whilst adjusting control settings. Despite two brief red flag periods, the GR010 HYBRIDs recorded 43 laps each, more than any other competitor in the 37-car field.
Sébastien’s lap of 1min 32.792secs early in the session put the #8 GR010 HYBRID on top of the timing sheets. The sister #7 car was second quickest, 0.384secs back, courtesy of Mike’s best effort, with the top six Hypercars covered by one second.
Second practice took place in mid-afternoon with warmer track temperatures compared to the morning. Those conditions were ideal for comparison tests with the two different compounds of Michelin rubber as the team intensified its focus on finding the right solutions for Sunday’s race.
Another trouble-free session, this time without any red flag interruptions, saw Kamui Kobayashi set the fastest time in the #7 GR010 HYBRID, with Ryo recording the second quickest lap.
Set-up improvements based on data from the today’s running will be put to the test in final practice late on Saturday morning, before a 15-minute qualifying session at 5.20pm CEST in the afternoon. The 6 Hours of Portimão starts at midday local time (1pm CEST) on Sunday.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “I am happy with how it’s gone today. The two cars were running different programmes and it has gone smoothly. On car #7, we initially struggled in first practice to find the right performance window for the tyres, but it improved in the afternoon. One of our big targets was to understand the tyre performance, which depends a lot on track temperatures. It is much closer here in terms of the competition so we are working hard and our car will improve over the weekend.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “We were in decent shape from the start. We spent the day trying to maximise our car for the conditions we expect in the race. We are learning how the tyres behave on this track and tried a few slightly different set-up directions. It has gone well so far although it’s hard with the traffic on this track; it’s very busy and there’s not a lot of distance between some corners, so you can lose a lot of time quite quickly. As drivers we’re adapting to that as well because it will be a factor in the race.”
José María López (Driver, car #7): “It was a good day and we tested a lot of things, just going through our plan. The car is running well, without problems during the two sessions which is always a positive start to a weekend. It is too early to have a clear view where we stand compared to our competition because we don’t know what the others are doing. We saw in Sebring how we were on top until qualifying and then Ferrari showed their performance. We looked competitive as a team today, so it is a positive start.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “We have had a positive day, without any incidents which is always good news on a short track like this, which is very packed with a lot of cars out there. We did a good amount of laps with encouraging lap times. There was a lot to learn, especially about the tyres and the behaviour of the car in the wind, which was quite strong. We need to look at the data and adapt the car in the best way to deal with the conditions.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “It was a smooth day with no dramas on either car which is a good start for the team. We had different run plans between the two cars over the sessions, testing different tyre compounds and comparing set-ups, and we learned a lot which will help us fine-tune our car for the race. Overall, it has been a very positive day. A little bit of focus now goes towards qualifying when we’ll be trying to take our first pole position of 2023.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8): “I think the team did a very good job with a one-two in both sessions and a lot of useful data to work with, so I am happy. There are still many things we can improve which is good because it means we can make the cars even stronger for the race. Personally, first practice was frustrating because the red flags meant I couldn’t do many laps but the afternoon was better, I had a lot of time in the car and did good lap times. I am happy with the car, so let’s keep pushing for the weekend.”
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