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Bahrain Friday Notebook

John Dagys’ Friday notebook from Bahrain International Circuit…

Photo: James Moy/Toyota

***Fernando Alonso is still yet to be officially announced for Sunday’s Bahrain Rookie Test, with Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Pascal Vasselon admitting there could be “some flexibility” to confirm additional drivers at the last minute. It’s understood teams are able to nominate drivers as late as Sunday morning.

***Toyota currently has only a single TS050 Hybrid entered for the test, for Mike Conway and LMP1 rookie Thomas Laurent, who was selected by the WEC to test.

***Vasselon said he’s unsure if the 19-year-old Frenchman will get more than his required 30-lap minimum as the team has a detailed tire development program planned, set to be undertaken by Conway. “These test days are unique opportunities to test special tires in hot conditions,” Vasselon told Sportscar365. “Usually when we test, it’s in winter, so we have to extrapolate a lot. We have quite an important tire test program on Sunday, so we will see how many laps we can give him.”

***While it’s understood the intention is for Alonso to test, a contract has reportedly yet to be signed, as of Friday afternoon. The holdup is believed to be related to the Spaniard’s engine deal with fellow Japanese manufacturer Honda.

***Both of the Toyotas are sporting further updates following an initial set of developments rolled out to its high downforce aero kit in Shanghai. Vasselon said the “small aero bits” are not visible.

***Neel Jani will go down in the history books as having claimed both the first and last pole with the Porsche 919 Hybrid, having teamed with Marc Lieb for the its maiden pole at Spa-Francorchamps in 2014. The Swiss driver also claimed the car’s first win, at Interlagos in 2014. “At least in qualifying we’ve closed the circle, let’s hope we can close the more important circle tomorrow,” he said.

***Sam Bird and Davide Rigon’s GTE-Pro class pole, their fourth of the season, crucially denied a potential bonus point being scored from the title-contending Ford and Porsche driver pairings. Bird and Rigon’s AF Corse teammates James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi therefore maintain their two-point lead in the GT Drivers’ World Championship heading into tomorrow’s race.

***The No. 86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR missed qualifying after a fire in FP3. Extensive rear-end damage was sustained, which has seen members of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing give a helping hand in the rebuild. The team, the smallest in the WEC paddock, is expecting to be on the grid tomorrow afternoon.

***Brendon Hartley said his full-season Formula One deal with Toro Rosso for 2018 was firmed up “a couple of weeks ago” according to the newly crowned two-time WEC Champion. “I’m really, really happy,” he said. “Right now the focus is on this weekend… But I couldn’t be happier and it’s a massive opportunity for me.”

***The WEC’s primary support series, World Series Formula V8 3.5, has announced it will not run in 2018 due to a lack of interest from drivers and teams. Just 10 cars are on the grid for this weekend’s season finale in Bahrain, with the champion set to drive the Porsche 919 Hybrid in Sunday’s Rookie Test.

***Aston Martin Racing has already conducted extensive testing of its new-for-2018 Vantage GTE car, with it having completed more than 8,000 miles in multiple endurance tests with a dedicated test team, according to AMR Managing Director John Gaw. “We know how difficult it is to beat some of the guys along here,” he said. “It’s going to be a really tough season next year with BMW coming along, but we’re excited by it.”

***The car will be launched on Tuesday in London alongside the new Vantage road car. The British manufacturer is understood to be finalizing a switch from Dunlop to Michelin tires for the 2018/19 ‘Super Season.’

***Proton Competition is still planning an expansion to a two-car GTE-Am effort next season, according to team principal Christian Ried, who confirmed to Sportscar365 they will take delivery of its first mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR next week. The German squad had four of the six allocated customer GTE cars for next year.

***Driver lineups have yet to be finalized but Ried said he’s requested the services of Matteo Cairoli again for 2018, with the Porsche Young Professional driver having impressed in both WEC and ELMS competition.

***Despite the car having been developed on Michelins, Ried said they plan to begin its testing program with its current tire partner Dunlop before making a final decision on its tire choice for the ‘Super Season.’ 

***Gilles Simon is attending his first WEC race in his new capacity as FIA Technical Director. Simon, who replaced Bernard Niclot in September, previously worked alongside now-FIA President Jean Todt at both Peugeot and Ferrari in engineering roles.

***The WEC announced the results of its global fan survey, which saw a response of more than 54,000 fans from 179 countries. The survey determined the championship attracts a largely affluent fanbase who have a low engagement in other sports and interests, except for technology, with 43 percent of the respondents under the age of 35.

“Endurance racing fans are some of the most knowledgeable in motorsport, as revealed in the survey now available, and they display an interest and dedication to the WEC which should not be ignored,” said WEC CEO Gerard Neveu.

Luke Smith contributed to this report.

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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