8 Hours of Bahrain: Free Practice
Title Tussle Begins for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s preparations for its FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) title showdown intensified when on-track action began with two practice sessions for the season-ending 8 Hours of Bahrain.
An exciting Hypercar campaign reaches its climax on Saturday, when TOYOTA GAZOO Racing aims for a fourth consecutive World Championship double. That would cap an exciting season which has already seen the team earn its fifth Le Mans 24 Hours victory and eighth win at Fuji Speedway.
A trouble-free race will secure the manufacturers’ crown, with only one car needing to see the chequered flag to achieve that honour. Preparations got off on the right foot with two constructive 90-minute practice sessions in the Bahrain heat on Thursday.
In the drivers’ contest, Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, in the #8 GR010 HYBRID, must finish ahead of the Alpine crew to add a World Championship to their Le Mans victory. They made a promising start today with the second quickest lap in practice, just 0.045secs away from the pace-setting #93 Peugeot.
Reigning champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in their #7 GR010 HYBRID, have a mathematical chance of retaining their title, should misfortune strike the #8 and Alpine crews. They recorded the fourth fastest time of a day which saw the top four Hypercars separated by only 0.160secs.
Shortly after midday, Kamui and Sébastien were behind the wheel of their respective cars to get the track activity underway with first practice, which started in bright sunshine as air temperatures hit 34°C.
Last season, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing topped every session in both Bahrain events, with one-two victories in the two races coming from pole position after the team was fastest in each of six free practice sessions. That unbeaten Hypercar run era ended in first practice this year, when Peugeot #93 set the quickest lap.
However, individual lap times were not the priority during a clean session which saw all six drivers complete productive stints, contributing to set-up analysis and Michelin tyre testing. The #7 was third quickest following Kamui’s best lap, while Sébastien was fastest in the #8, which ended the session in fifth.
With Saturday’s eight-hour race starting in daylight and finishing in darkness, second practice offered teams an opportunity to experience the 5.412km Bahrain International Circuit under floodlights, with temperatures a few degrees cooler.
Mike and Brendon set the fastest laps of the session for their cars in the opening minutes. After those initial five-lap stints, both cars reverted to longer runs to analyse tyre performance on a track surface which is particularly abrasive, as well as further optimising mechanical and aerodynamic set-ups for the race.
Preparations continue on Friday in a final one-hour morning practice before the grid for Saturday’s race is decided in a 10-minute qualifying shoot-out, starting shortly after sunset, at 5.10pm local time (3.10pm CET), when a potentially critical point for pole position can be earned.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “We have been making progress, just trying to adjust the car and find improvements. The temperatures are high here and the track surface evolves a lot, so it’s hard to judge where we are. We have been looking for a good consistent balance for the race and, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter so much about lap times now. It is close but our target is to have a strong race set-up because that is the important part of the weekend.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “It has definitely been a struggle to get the car balance exactly how we want it. It seems like the feeling changes on each stint so it is quite tricky and it’s hard to know which direction we need to go in. The car feels strong on new tyres but there is a big shift in grip over a stint due to the tyre degradation. It’s not unusual here so we will go through a process of analysing everything and adjusting the set-up for qualifying and the race.”
José María López (Driver, car #7): “It was a tough first day. Obviously Alpine and Peugeot are quite quick so we have some work to do in terms of our race pace, because we seem to be lacking a bit. The drivability of the car needs improvement as well but it’s always hard on the first day here in Bahrain due to the nature of the circuit. The track surface will be better tomorrow so we will work hard before then to make some adjustments. It is a still a long weekend ahead.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “It has been a challenging day for us, to be honest. On our car it feels like we are on the back foot compared to the others after the first practice sessions. So we need to work hard to find some improvements for tomorrow and come back faster in general. We will look at the data and do everything we can to adjust the set-up and find solutions. We are only on day one so things can change and we will be pushing hard.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “We didn’t have any major issues on our car in either session but I wouldn’t say I am particularly happy with practice. In terms of balance I don’t think we are exactly where we need to be; it wasn’t the best day in terms of car feeling. But we have been here before and we know we just need to stay calm, look at the data and find some improvements. We still have FP3 before the big race so there’s a bit of work to do until then. I am sure we will get there and be competitive.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8): “This is my first race here in Bahrain. I tested the car last year after the race but this weekend is all kind of new and I have many things still to learn, and I need to adapt my driving to this track. Step by step I am improving and I am pleased with my progress from FP1 to FP2. We still have one more practice session so we will fine-tune the set-up then keep our fingers crossed for qualifying. It looks like it’s going to be a close fight in the race and I am looking forward to it.”
8 Hours of Bahrain – Free Practice 1
1st #93 Peugeot TotalEnergies (Di Resta/Jensen/Vergne) 1min 50.536secs 29 laps
2nd #94 Peugeot TotalEnergies (Duval/Menezes/Müller) +0.877secs 35 laps
3rd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +1.139secs 38 laps
4th #36 Alpine Elf Team (Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxiviere) +1.260secs 32 laps
5th #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +1.381secs 42 laps
6th #83 AF Corse (Perrodo/Nielsen/Rovera) +1.608secs 38 laps
8 Hours of Bahrain – Free Practice 2
1st #93 Peugeot TotalEnergies (Di Resta/Jensen/Vergne) 1min 49.613secs 39 laps
2nd #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +0.045secs 44 laps
3rd #36 Alpine Elf Team (Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxiviere) +0.077secs 37 laps
4th #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +0.160secs 43 laps
5th #83 AF Corse (Perrodo/Nielsen/Rovera) +2.174secs 9 laps
6th #22 United Autosports USA (Hanson/Albuquerque/Owen) +2.380secs 37 laps
Pictures will be uploaded here during the event