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Buemi: “Difficult to Say” Whether Toyota Has Advantage

Sebastien Buemi believes Porsche is yet to truly show its hand at Le Mans…

Photo: James Moy/Toyota

Sebastien Buemi believes it is too early to deem whether Toyota has the edge over Porsche in this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, preferring to reserve judgment until the German marque has shown its hand in practice and qualifying on Wednesday evening.

The Japanese manufacturer dominated proceedings at the pre-Le Mans test day, locking out the top three positions. By comparison, Porsche failed to complete a lap within three seconds of the fastest time set by Kamui Kobayashi in the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid.

While 2014 World Champion Buemi was boosted by Toyota’s performance at the test day, he remains wary of the threat posed by Porsche, and will continue to be until the true pace of the 919 Hybrids becomes clear.

“It’s always very difficult to say whether we are really in front or not,” Buemi told Sportscar365.

“If you look at the race trim and the qualy trim, or what we can consider qualy trim, it looks like we are ahead.

“Obviously we’re not 100 percent certain, so we will wait until they really show their hand. But I’m confident in the fact that we should be able to fight at the front, definitely.”

Porsche’s Neel Jani told Sportscar365 on Sunday that he thought the front row was out of reach, and while Buemi agreed that Toyota did have an edge across one lap at Le Mans, he has already seen the margin between the teams vary so far this season.

“You know at Silverstone, they were 1.6 seconds slower over a timed lap, and then at Spa they were like us…” Buemi said, shrugging his shoulders.

“So you don’t necessarily know if they’re going to be good or not. The feeling is that they are a little bit behind.”

Form unpredictability was clear at the 2016 race. Audi set the pace in LMP1 at the pre-race test, finishing eight-tenths of a second clear of the field, before Porsche then stormed to a front-row lock-out.

Come the race, though, it was Toyota who held the advantage.

Buemi was part of the No. 5 Toyota crew who suffered the heartbreaking defeat at the end of last year’s race, having enjoyed an edge over Porsche through the race despite being over two seconds adrift in qualifying.i

The Swiss driver said that avenging the loss in last year’s race would be the perfect narrative for the whole Toyota team, but he is well aware of the challenge that lies ahead in the next five days.

“Especially when it’s your car that stops like this, one lap to the end, it’s hard to accept,” Buemi said. “But if we could win this year, it would be an amazing story for the entire team, maybe even more for us as car No. 8.

“But we will see. It’s such a long race. You never really know or can predict what will happen.”

Luke Smith is a British motorsport journalist who has served as NBC Sports’ lead Formula 1 writer since 2013, as well as working on its online sports car coverage.

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