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Bahrain Thursday Notebook

Sportscar365’s Thursday FIA WEC notebook from Bahrain International Circuit…

Photo: James Moy/Toyota

***Rigorous COVID-19 testing measures have been implemented for all members of the FIA World Endurance Championship paddock arriving in Bahrain for the 2019-20 season finale.

***All arrivals into the Gulf island nation including WEC visitors are required to produce a negative PCR test result after landing. Bahrain International Circuit has set up its own testing facility at the country’s airport, with members of the paddock including drivers praising the efficiency of the dedicated service.

***This weekend’s schedule is a tight one to limit costs, although track time has not been compromised despite the condensed timetable. Teams set up on Tuesday after their cars had been unloaded from their DHL shipping containers. Free Practice 1 didn’t get underway until this evening, while the other pre-race sessions are all on tomorrow.

***The two Toyota TS050 Hybrids are back in high-downforce configuration this weekend, after contesting Spa and the 24 Hours of Le Mans with low-downforce aero. The high-downforce setup last appeared at the 6 Hours of Circuit of The Americas in February. Toyota’s cars will be equipped with the ‘soft hot’ or medium slick tire compounds supplied by Michelin.

***Toyota presented a scale model of its LMP1 car to outgoing Le Mans Endurance Management CEO Gerard Neveu, who is leaving his position after this event. Additionally, the two real-life TS050 Hybrids are carrying ‘Merci Gerard’ stickers.

***Aston Martin Racing’s cars have new door decals celebrating the British marque’s recent clinching of its first-ever GTE manufacturers’ title at Le Mans.

***The 24-car Bahrain entry is the smallest-ever for the WEC, while an LMP2 car on the overall podium is effectively guaranteed with only two cars racing in LMP1. The last instance of a car from the second-tier prototype class finishing in the outright top-three occurred at Le Mans in 2017.

***Ferrari’s GTE-Pro lineup is without Alessandro Pier Guidi for the first time in four years, or 23 consecutive races. Daniel Serra, who was a part of the No. 51 AF Corse crew at Le Mans, is joining James Calado for his second regular-season WEC appearance. His last non-Le Mans GTE-Pro outing came at last year’s 1000 Miles of Sebring as an additional driver.

***Porsche’s 2021 WEC GTE-Pro driving crews will be revealed on Dec. 12, during the manufacturer’s annual ‘Night of Champions’ event.

***Rumors of one potential driver change have emerged recently with 2016 WEC champion Neel Jani believed to be in line for one of the full-time Pro seats. The Swiss driver, who is making his GTE debut at Sebring this weekend, currently has no full-time racing on his agenda after being replaced by Pascal Wehrlein in Porsche’s Formula E lineup for 2020-21.

***United Autosports is free to choose which of its several Le Mans automatic invitations it uses up. The team has so far earned four auto-entries to next year’s race but can only use two, per the regulations. An ACO spokesperson confirmed to Sportscar365 that the unused invitations are not transferable to other teams.

***Inter Europol Competition’s driver lineup for its 2021 WEC debut is being finalized, according to team manager Sascha Fassbender. Jakub ‘Kuba’ Smiechowski is the only confirmed member so far. “It’s just details [that are missing],” Fassbender told Sportscar365. “I’m confident to have a decision by the end of the month that everything is clear.”

***The team is slated to take delivery of its new Oreca this week. Fassbender said he dispatched a truck from Portimao to Paul Ricard, and as of last week was only waiting on the final engine configuration from Gibson.

***Goodyear has brought its soft ‘A-spec’ and medium ‘B-spec’ LMP2 tires to Bahrain, in anticipation of the hot daytime temperatures and evening drop off.

“We expect the track temperature to drop by around 15 C [59 F] between the extreme desert heat of the day and cool evening,” said Goodyear endurance program manager Mike McGregor. “We’d expect to start the race on the medium B-spec tire and move over to the softer A-spec as the track cools down, but if it stays warmer towards the end, which means degradation is higher, there’s a possibility that teams might stay on the medium compound for the whole race.”

***In the Michelin camp, LMP2 teams have access to hard and medium compounds. For GTE-Pro, Porsche and Ferrari have both chosen to run softs and mediums, while Aston Martin has specified medium and high temperature-suited ‘medium hot’. The latter choice will also apply to Aston Martin and Porsche teams in GTE-Am, with Ferrari’s Am runners going for the soft and medium option.

***Jose Maria Lopez geared up for Bahrain by appearing in last weekend’s DTM Trophy round at Hockenheim in a Toyota GR Supra GT4. The LMP1 driver retired from the first race due to a collision but finished sixth in the second encounter. Lopez commented that his two GT4 sprint race outings this year have appealed to his touring car background: “It’s nice to come back with these types of races as well [as LMP1],” he said.

***Toyota Gazoo Racing technical director Pascal Vasselon admitted he was surprised at the extent of the positive feedback from his drivers after the first rollout of the Japanese manufacturer’s LMH car last month.

“We expected them to complain that it was heavy, slow or not reactive,” Vasselon told Sportscar365. “But all drivers reported that it was good to drive. They have enjoyed it much more than we expected.”

***While Vasselon wouldn’t go into detail on how exactly the three-day session at Paul Ricard played out, he said the LMH had more running than Toyota envisioned. With 60 days until the car’s launch, the manufacturer teased a set of images from the Paul Ricard test.

***Following various lineup changes, only three of the GTE-Am crews in Bahrain have lasted this season without any adjustments. They are the championship-leading TF Spot Aston Martin squad and the No. 83 and No. 54 Ferrari entries from AF Corse.

***Pedro Lamy, who has been brought into the No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE at short notice, is wearing Augusto Farfus’ race suit and helmet this weekend. Farfus, who has driven a handful of races with No. 98 car owner Paul Dalla Lana this year, was unavailable for Bahrain because of his commitments in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

***Dalla Lana said that received the call to seek a replacement for Richard Westbrook whilst having dinner with Lamy in Monaco on Wednesday. “I had no time to go back home to get anything,” enthused Lamy. “I am trying to wash my clothes every single day!”

***Le Mans is set to clash with the Canadian Grand Prix next year, following Tuesday’s release of the provisional 2021 Formula One calendar. The last time this scheduling conflict occurred was in 2016, although one was also set to happen this year before both FIA world championships’ calendars were adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

***Friday’s track action gets underway with Free Practice 2 starting at 9 a.m. local time (1 a.m. ET, 7 a.m. CET). Qualifying is due to begin at 6 p.m. (10 a.m. ET, 4 p.m. CET).

John Dagys contributed to this report

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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