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Bahrain Friday Notebook

Sportscar365’s Friday notebook on the eve of the 8 Hours of Bahrain…

Photo: James Moy/Toyota

***Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon said it was a “small surprise” to see the No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid out-qualify the sister No. 7 entry, which has a larger Success Handicap this weekend. 

***The Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez-driven entry is running with a 2.51-second handicap compared to the reference car, with 2.72 seconds handed to championship leaders Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley. Hartley and Nakajima ended up 0.345 seconds ahead of the sister car.

***Vasselon expects the Success Handicap to impact the Toyotas even greater in Bahrain compared to the challenges of Shanghai, which saw LMP2 and even GTE cars overtake the LMP1 hybrids on the straights. “Here, it’s another power circuit so for sure it’s difficult,” he told Sportscar365.

***Toyota has yet to simulate how the projected Success Handicap will impact its cars at Circuit of The Americas, which has become a late replacement for Interlagos.  Vasselon joked that COTA was a bad swap for the team due to the lack of churrascarias (Brazilian steakhouses) in Austin.

***Aston Martin Racing driver Ross Gunn decided to skip Thursday’s running due to a case of food poisoning which left him ill. The Brit hopped in the No. 98 GTE-Am car for the first time this weekend in Free Practice 3 on Friday before the entry qualified sixth in class. Gunn told Sportscar365 that he is feeling “much better” compared to yesterday and will be able to race.

***Aston Martin Racing’s qualifying run in GTE-Pro was compromised on both fronts, with the No. 95 entry of Nicki Thiim sustaining a flat-spot tire and opting to qualify with only a single set of tires. The No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE, meanwhile, will start last after Maxime Martin’s two flying laps were disallowed for exceeding track limits.

***Martin explained the reason behind having his lap times deleted, admitting it was his mistake on both occasions. “I locked up the fronts then locked up the rears and I went wide in most low-speed corners,” said the Belgian.

***There were a total 31 track limits violations during qualifying on Saturday, which saw lap times deleted, including 22 alone in GTE qualifying. 

***Kevin Estre says he didn’t expect to have a Porsche front-row lockout in GTE-Pro in qualifying: “We knew our car would be strong but honestly it was a bit of a surprise that we were one-two at the first set because so far Aston and Ferrari has been very strong in quali,” Estre told Sportscar365.

***GTE-Am class pole-sitter Ben Keating told Sportscar365 that he was surprised by his run in qualifying after driving for the first time on fresh Michelin tires. The Bronze-rated Texan, who earned his first career WEC pole, set the fifth quickest time in qualifying.

***Team LNT has fitted a set of upgrades for Bahrain designed to help the team’s Ginetta G60-LT-P1 AERs at the warmest race event it has faced to date. “We had some brake cooling upgrades that were brought over in a suitcase, so the guys fitted those overnight on Wednesday until 6  a.m. Both cars are all set now,” team owner Lawrence Tomlinson told Sportscar365.

***Saturday’s race will mark the 30th for Kamui Kobayashi with Toyota Gazoo Racing, while Jose Maria Lopez is set for his 20th start in the Japanese manufacturer’s LMP1 program.

***Rebellion CEO Calim Bouhadra is recovering from surgery since the team’s breakthrough win in Shanghai, having had a torn ligament in his right shoulder. 

***Aston Martin Academy winner Tom Canning has been added to Aston Martin Racing’s No. 95 Vantage GTE for Sunday’s Bahrain Rookie Test, with the newly crowned British GT4 champion set to get his first laps in the manufacturer’s GTE machine. 

***Canning told Sportscar365 that he received a last-minute call from the AMR team at midday on Thursday before taking an 8 p.m. flight out to Bahrain for his first test in the GTE-spec Vantage.

***No further updates have come from Aston Martin on its Valkyrie Le Mans Hypercar program, with AMR president David King not in attendance this weekend. A manufacturer spokesperson, however, told Sportscar365 that they are still “full steam ahead” on the project.

***Aston Martin Racing managing director John Gaw confirmed to Sportscar365 that its current five-year GTE-Pro contract will now run through the end of the 2021-22 WEC season, after initially announcing through 2021 prior to the launch of the championship’s reverse calendar format.

***It would theoretically result in factory Aston Martin programs in both Le Mans Hypercar and GTE-Pro for the next two seasons, although Gaw, who is employed by Prodrive, declined to comment on the status of Hypercar.

***Gaw revealed that Gunn will skip February’s Asian Le Mans Series season finale in Buriram, which now clashes with the re-scheduled WEC race at Circuit of The Americas.

***Gunn had been previously confirmed for a full season with D’Station Racing’s Aston Martin Vantage GT3. “We’ve got to find a Silver driver for D’Station. There’s plenty of good Silvers around,” Gaw said.

***Both Alessandro Pier Guidi and Davide Rigon, who are also racing in the Asian series this season, are expected to prioritize WEC as well. 

***ACO sporting director Vincent Beaumesnil confirmed to Sportscar365 that the Buriram round will not be moved. “The WEC really had no other options,” he said. “We have to live with that. I think it was the best compromise to put COTA on that date.”

***It will mark the third time two ACO-run championships have competed on the same weekend on different continents, with previous clashes at the 2014 WEC 6 Hours of Fuji and Asian LMS round in Shanghai as well as the WEC 6 Hours of Circuit of The Americas and three-hour Asian LMS race at Shanghai one year earlier.

***Several personnel, including race director Eduardo Freitas and Asian LMS/WEC TV commentator Graham Goodwin, will face the direct clash for the first time. Beaumesnil, meanwhile, said the ACO team will be able to set up two separate teams in a “very professional” manner.

***Beaumesnil confirmed that despite the release of 2020 technical regulations on the FIA website, LMP1 hybrids will not be eligible in 2020-21, with LMP1 non-hybrids the only grandfathered prototypes in the top class for next season.

***United Autosports co-owner Zak Brown is attending his first WEC race of the season, with the McLaren Racing CEO having recently wrapped up the Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi. Brown is slated for a media roundtable on Saturday to provide an update on McLaren’s possible Le Mans Hypercar program.

***Proton Competition has continued its streak of receiving €1,000 fines, with the German squad reprimanded for late driver announcements of both Khaled al Qubaisi and Adrien De Leener in the team’s No. 88 Porsche 911 RSR.

Daniel Lloyd & Slade Perrins 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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