Saturday kicked off fine and sunny (again) if a little chilly here in southern France. As we got to the track (07:30) the approach roads were already packed with fans making the journey down for today’s public session; we saw licence plates from France, UK, Germany, Portugal and NL in just the few moments it took to scoot past the waiting fans in the media lane (now we know how the old Soviet Proletariat must have felt back in the days of the official ‘limo’ lanes).
As usual, track action kicked off at 9am sharp with Toyota and Audi the first of the LMP1-Hs out on track.
All three of the manufacturer LMP1 Hybrids put in plenty of track action this morning with Porsche again topping the lap numbers with 73, closely followed by Audi (69) and Toyota (65).
As yesterday, Porsche topped the morning’s lap times (although with the #1 car today) with the new 919 Hybrid throwing in a 1:37.886. Toyota’s Stéphane Sarrazin put in the second fastest time of the session just 0.387s slower than Brendan Hartley in the Porsche with Marcel Fässler in the Audi slotting into a distant third with a 1:39.563.
It is worthy of note that while we should not read too much into any of the times set over this test for various reasons (testing programs, snadbagging etc.) for the same morning day 2 session in 2015 Porsche also set the fastest time (1:39.157) and today have bettered that 1.271s using at least 7% less fuel – quite an achievement!
In the privateer LMP1 class Rebellion ended the session the two fastest with the byKolles CLM some 6s adrift of the Anglo/Swiss team.
The #36 Signatech Alpine again topped the LMP2 timing sheet setting a respectable 1:46.974with the #26 SMP Racing BR01 some 0.7s adrift with 1:47.647. The #35 sister car of the pace setter was left to slot into third spot under 0.3s slower than the Russian machine setting a time of 1:47.926.
The AF Corse Ferrari 488 Italias locked out the top two fastest times in GTE Pro with the #71 and #51 setting 1:58.083 and 1:58.352 respectively and the #67 Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT sliding into third spot with Marino Franchetti setting a 1:58.914.
LM GTE Am morning honours went to the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR with a time of 1:58.816 (0.096 faster than the #67 GTE Pro Ford GT). The #2 83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia set a 1:59.145 to take second spot with the 911 RSR of Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing rounding out the top three setting a time of 2:00.503.
Aston Martin Racing continued to work through their pre-planned test program including a day of testing compounds on the new Dunlop tyres.
A few non-serious incidents scattered the session with Tor Graves in the Manor WEC Oreca 05 Nissan and the #71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE of Sam Bird making contact in Turn 9 with both cars sustaining damage.
There was also a brief red flag at 12:20 for the Toyota that stopped on track after some of the bodywork had become dislodged and required transport back to the pitlane. The session resumed at 12:29.
With 8 minutes of the session to run, the team manager for Signatech Alpine #35 was summoned to the Race Control office ….
Again, Porsche dominated the afternoon session here at Ricard giving them a clean-sweep of all five sessions over the two days. Brendan Hartley in the #1 919 Hybrid shaving 0.441s from his morning pace to set a very respectable 1:37.445.
Kamui Kobayashi at the wheel of the #5 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid put in the session’s second fastest time with a 1:38.527 with Benoît Trêluyer in the #7 Audi Sport R18 just 0.3s seconds behind him.
The three LMP1-H cars put in 196 laps between them this afternoon with Porsche agaian topping the lap chart with 76 and Audi & Toyota on 60 a piece.
In the privateer class the two Rebellions again took the top places with a by-now exhausted Oliver Webb narrowing the gap to under 0.6s to the Rebellions in the byKolles CLM 01.
The LMP2 category was shaken up a little this afternoon with two of the three fastest times set by teams not yet featuring in our timing reports. The G-Drive/Jota Sport Oreca 05 Nissan finished the session with the fastest time clocking in with a 1:47.024, set on the 57th of their 59 laps.
New entrant Manor WEC with Tor Graves at the wheel took second-fastest time setting a 1:47.696, just 0.672s behind Roman Rusinov in the G-Drive car. Third spot in class went again to the #35 Baxi DC Racing Alpine of David Cheng setting a 1:47.704.
Moving on to LM GTE Pro, the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT clocked in at the top of the table with Marino Franchetti clocking in a 1:58.786. The #71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE of Davide Rigon setting a 1:59.034. Olivier Pla rounded out the GTE Pro top times and giving another ‘double podium’ spot to the Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK clocking in with a 1:59.068 in the #66 Ford GT.
The #86 Gulf Racing 911 RSR Porsche (1:59.248) and #83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia (1:59.249) were joined by Christian Ried in the #78 KCMG 911 RSR setting a 2:00.373 1.
Overall speed times were dominated by Michelin-shod cars with the exception of LMP2.
So, to a word of caution again – we must remember that these are still tests. Teams will be very unlikely to show their hand yet, rather remaining ‘poker faced’ as they progress through their own testing plans. Indeed, some may well even be ‘sandbagging’ and deliberately setting engine maps etc. to slow the cars down while their competitors watch on.
What is clear here is that top speed is not everything; cornering and getting the power down onto the track are key. While Porsche topped out the lap-times in all of the sessions over the two day tests their overall top speed was a not un-respectable 301.7 kph, set by Marc Lieb on the morning session of day 1. However, this was actually only good enough to set them in 6th fastest spot of the tests with both of the Rebellions and the CLM faster through the speed trap!
Fastest speed of the test was set by Stéphane Sarrazin in the #5 Toyota TS050 on lap 6 of the Day 1 morning session clocking up a whopping 340.7 kph through the trap when running the low-downforce aero package – 39 kph faster than the Porsche.
It’s all shaping up to be an epic battle at Silverstone in three weeks time !!