Alpine Endurance Team anticipates running within “the same second” on average as Toyota during the 24 Hours of Le Mans, despite facing a larger deficit to the Japanese manufacturer in Hyperpole qualifying.
Philippe Sinault, whose Signatech outfit runs the Alpine program, suggested that the gap between the two Hypercar-class entrants can be expected to come down in the race.
Nicolas Lapierre qualified the Alpine A480 Gibson third on the grid with a time of 2:35.574 in Thursday evening’s Hyperpole, while both Toyota GR010 Hybrids driven by Kamui Kobayashi and Brendon Hartley ended up 1.6 and 1.3 seconds clear of the Frenchman respectively.
Lapierre managed to out-qualify both Glickenhaus 007 Pipo LMHs, but only by 0.065 seconds after a late charge from Olivier Pla.
Toyota also paced four of the other five track sessions held since the official test day on Aug. 15, while Alpine set the fastest lap of Free Practice 3.
Sinault told reporters that he was happy with where his team’s grandfathered LMP1 car ended up and expressed confidence that a closer battle will be had during the main event.
“I think the gap will be closer,” he said. “Because I think it’s impossible to keep this level of lap time during the race. But it’s my personal feeling.
“We expected a small [3m] 25, not a 23.9 [from Toyota]. But they did well. They know the exercise, especially at Le Mans. They are really experienced.
“To be in the same average lap time and with the Toyota and Glickenhaus, I think we can match in the same second in the lap times during the race.”
Alpine is aiming to match the 12-lap race stints of the Le Mans Hypercar machinery from Toyota and Glickenhaus, to maximize its chances of challenging for the outright win.
At previous FIA World Endurance Championship rounds the ORECA-based Alpine driven by Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Andre Negrao was unable to get level with the Toyota due to its smaller fuel tank capacity.
It is unclear precisely how Alpine has managed to simulate stints that are equal with its LMH rivals, with Sinault declining to say whether the fuel tank size has been increased.
Although official data shows that team did not complete a single 12-lap run during the test day or the build-up sessions this week, he is confident that the required number can be achieved.
“The game is never to do all 12 laps in a row [during practice],” said Sinault. “We have all the tools to be sure that we can achieve 12.
“[It is] thanks to the BoP, to be honest. It was not possible at the start of the season to achieve 12 here, but now it is.
“When I say 12, it’s a nominal situation. It could be maybe 12.1 or 12.2, but our target is not 13. It is 12 and no more.
“I can’t give all the ways of implementing it. But we have worked on many details.”
Toyota Expecting Rivals to Be Closer
The technical director of Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe, Pascal Vasselon, believes that Alpine and Glickenhaus will be closer in the race than they were in qualifying.
Vasselon suggested that the Hyperpole track conditions played into the favor of Toyota GR010 Hybrids.
“They are very quick,” he said. “We were clearly worried [for Hyperpole] as they are very quick. We have been surprised they were at 1.5 seconds [slower] because we have seen them much closer.
“It seems like they’ve been struggling with tire temperature. One of the factors of the good grip was that for us we were just cool enough to perform and not too cool to have problems.
“This was probably for us a very good tire window.
“I would say Glickenhaus is a bit slower than we were expecting following Monza. But it’s their first Le Mans so they may make another step between Hyperpole and the race. They have the potential to be very close.”