8 Hours of Bahrain: Free Practice
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing leads the way in Bahrain
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing overcame challenging conditions on a disrupted first day of practice for the title-deciding 8 Hours of Bahrain, the final round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
High winds and heavy rain combined with red flags at the Bahrain International Circuit, where the destination of the drivers World Championship will be determined at the end of Saturday’s race, but TOYOTA GAZOO Racing set the pace on the opening day.
The team is already confirmed as the manufacturers’ World Champions for the fifth consecutive season and is in prime position to add the drivers’ crown in the seventh and final race of the year, at a track where it has won eight of the 11 WEC races.
Reigning champions Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, in their #8 GR010 HYBRID, lead team-mates Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in the #7 car, by 15 points with 39 available in Bahrain. Both Ferraris are also still in the hunt.
Kamui’s best lap of 1min 46.851secs, set in second practice, was the fastest of the day and signalled the #7 crew’s determination to take the title fight to the wire. Brendon set the best time for the #8 car, also in the dry evening session, to end up second fastest overall.
First practice began at lunchtime but was red flagged after just nine minutes due to the unusually bad weather, which included strong gusting winds. Action resumed after a delay of 45 minutes, however heavy rain created a new challenge and the two GR010 HYBRIDs completed the remainder of an extended session on wet tyres.
Track conditions gave no opportunity for improved lap times and the #7 GR010 HYBRID crew therefore ended the session at the top of the timesheets thanks to Kamui’s early flying lap. Sébastien’s best effort in the #8 car made it a one-two for the team.
The weather improved for second practice, taking place after sunset and with floodlights illuminating the 5.412km circuit, so the team finally had an extended opportunity to evaluate the medium and hard Michelin dry tyre compounds available this weekend.
A programme of aerodynamic and mechanical set-up analysis, which began in first practice but was compromised by the wet track, also continued as drivers and engineers worked intensively to find the best compromise around a circuit which is known for high tyre degradation.
Those preparations were disrupted by a red flag after an hour following an incident for a GT car. The session resumed with 18 minutes remaining and both cars completed a productive evening, finishing with a combined total of 159 laps, covering 860km.
Preparations continue on Friday with a final practice at midday before qualifying, which takes place just as the sun is setting, at 5.05pm local time (3.05pm CET). Saturday’s race starts at 2pm local time (4pm CET).
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “So far everything has gone smoothly, and our performance looks pretty competitive in the different conditions. Second practice was very important to evaluate the tyres and we are starting to get a better understanding. Even though we have driven a lot of laps at this track with our GR010 HYBRID, we have to learn almost from zero in terms of the tyres because we have no tyre warmers this season. But it has been a positive day, and we will work hard to keep up the momentum.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “We looked competitive in all conditions; we were quick in both the wet and the dry. It was nice to get some wet running but it’s very unusual here. After a couple of laps of first practice, the sky suddenly got very dark and then the rain really came down. At least we are prepared now, just in case. On our car, we are looking for pole position tomorrow to help us in the championship and hopefully we can achieve that, but my focus is all on race preparation.”
José María López (Driver, car #7): “It has been an interesting and productive day for us. Mike and Kamui did a great job and it’s nice to finish the day as the fastest car. I had some laps on slick and wet tyres. I am happy with how it went although it felt like just a short time behind the wheel, so I am looking forward to getting more laps tomorrow. As usual, it is tight between the two cars so we know it will be hard for the championship, but we will keep fighting because anything can happen.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “We had an eventful day, doing lots of laps as well as a qualifying simulation, to get ready for tomorrow. Obviously, the competition is very hard, so we need to get everything right. We have a lot of tyre degradation here. It will be very important to find the best set-up possible and choose the right tyre specification. We split the preparation work between car #7 and #8 to maximise the time and I hope that helps us get in good shape.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “That was first time I have driven in Bahrain in the rain, so I experienced something new after all those years of racing here. It was interesting, particularly to see where the standing water is. Aside from the weather, it has been a relatively clean day. We look quite strong at the moment, although we never know what our competitors are doing. We tried various set-ups and the different tyre compounds. Degradation is very high on this track, and this is going to be a big topic for the race.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8): “It was crazy to see the rain earlier in the day; I have never seen weather like that here. We managed it well but hopefully we don’t experience similar conditions in the next few days. We managed to complete a lot of laps which helps us to understand how the car and tyres are behaving. Degradation is high for the tyres, so we need to work hard to manage that for the race. Overall, it looks like we have made a strong start so we will keep pushing like this.”
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