Toyota has shown that it may be the team to beat this year at Le Mans, as the Japanese manufacturer led the way in Sunday’s official test day for the 24-hour endurance classic.
Pitted against fellow LMP1 factory efforts from Audi and newcomers Porsche, it was the No. 8 Toyota TS040 Hybrid of Sebastien Buemi that was quickest. The Swiss driver reeled off a best lap of 3:23.014, set early in the four-hour afternoon session.
Buemi and co-drivers Anthony Davidson and Nicolas Lapierre, who have scored victories in the opening two FIA World Endurance Championship races, led a Toyota 1-2 in testing, with the team’s No. 7 entry of Kazuki Nakajima posting a time just 0.142 seconds slower than the sister car.
“We did a good job and completed a lot of kilometers which was the target, so I’m really happy,” Buemi said. “We saw some useful indications about which direction to go with set-up; now we just need to analyze everything because there is still a lot we can learn.”
Twelve-time and defending race winners Audi, meanwhile, wound up third and fourth on the time sheets. Marco Bonanomi turned a 3:24.453 lap time around the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe in the morning session, which held as quickest of the German contingent.
Teammate Loic Duval was fourth quickest of the day in his No. 1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro he’ll share with Lucas di Grassi and record nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen.
Porsche, returning to top-level factory prototype competition for the first time in more than 15 years, were also within range, with Neel Jani’s 3:24.692 set in the afternoon session good enough for fifth quickest of the day.
Jani’s fast lap was recorded after a small fire in the No. 14 Porsche 919 Hybrid, which cost the team less than 20 minutes of running time.
The No. 20 Porsche, driven by Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and ex-F1 star Mark Webber, also making his return to Le Mans, was seventh on the time charts. Remarkably, the factory LMP1-H entries were separated by less than two seconds at the end of the day.
Rebellion Racing, the only LMP1 privateer in this year’s race following the late withdrawal of Lotus, were significantly slower than the works entries, with the new No. 12 Rebellion R-One Toyota of Mathias Beche turning a best lap of 3:31.700.
The car, in the hands of Nick Heidfeld, crashed at the Porsche Curves with less than five minutes left in the afternoon session. The session did not resume.
A late flyer by Roman Rusinov put G-Drive Racing atop the time charts in LMP2.
The Russian ace turned a blistering 3:37.795 in his OAK Racing-run Morgan-Nissan to edge out the No. 48 Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03R-Nissan of Karun Chandhok, who was quickest during the latter half of the final session.
Four different chassis occupied the top-four positions, with the No. 37 Alpine A450b-Nissan third quickest, followed by the brand-new OAK Racing Ligier JS P2-Nissan, which ended the day fourth with a 3:39.191 lap time.
The two other Onroak Automotive-built coupes, however, faced issues throughout the day, with the HPD-powered OAK Racing Team Asia entry only turning a total of 28 laps.
GTE-Pro was led by Porsche Team Manthey, thanks to a 3:57.260 lap time set by Fred Makowiecki in the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR.
The defending class winners, however, had a mixed day as its No. 91 entry suffered an off-course excursion through a gravel trap, which resulted in suspected chassis damage. As a precaution, the car did not run in the afternoon.
Ending up quickest in GTE-Am, and surprisingly second best among all GTE entries, was the No. 90 8Star Motorsports Ferrari F458 Italia, thanks to a 3:57.403 lap by Paolo Ruberti.
Ruberti will share the U.S.-backed entry with Gianluca Roda and Frankie Montecalvo, who is a late fill-in for team owner Enzo Potolicchio.
Other noteworthy incidents over the eight hours of testing included separate accidents from the No. 38 Jota Sport Zytek Z11SN Nissan of Simon Dolan and the No. 76 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche.
Of note, the Nissan ZEOD RC, turned its first laps of Le Mans, with Wolfgang Reip recording a best time of 3:52.574 in the electric-powered prototype. The Garage 56 entry aims to become the first car to complete an entire lap on electric power during the race in two weeks’ time.
RESULTS: Le Mans Test Day