Sebastien Buemi feels that Toyota has “no real hope” of fighting for the overall win in Sunday’s 4 Hours of Shanghai, admitting they will even face a challenge from LMP2 machinery.
It comes amid considerable slowdowns handed to LMP1 machinery this weekend, in the latest round of Success Handicaps to the top class.
Buemi’s championship-leading Toyota TS050 Hybrid has been slowed by 2.74 seconds per lap, through fuel flow and energy reductions that has put the Japanese manufacturer on the back foot.
The No. 8 Toyota ended Friday’s Free Practice 1 sixth overall on the time sheets, 1.7 seconds slower than the pace-setting No. 1 Rebellion R13 Gibson and also slower than the quickest LMP2 car in the session.
“I think it will be the first time where we’ll be actually fighting with the LMP2s. It’s pretty extreme,” Buemi said.
“We’ll do the best we can. Obviously it’s a four-hour race and things can happen, but on pure pace, we have no real hope to fight the other guys.
“It’s going to be difficult because they’ve reduced the power and boost so much that now even we struggle to pass GTs. It’s really extreme.”
Buemi said the slowdown, which has been in the range of five seconds compared to last year’s times, has notably affected their ability to activate peak tire performance.
“We don’t get the tires to work in their right window now,” he said.
“It’s difficult. We’ve been trying to optimize everything we can but it’s going to be a completely different challenge that we’ve had in the past.
“I think Fuji, at the end of the day, it was already a hit. But we could have a good race and a good fight. Here, I think we’re completely out of the fight.
“We’re most likely going to start fourth or fifth and we’re going to try to have a fight. But right now, it looks like we won’t be able to have a fight.”
Toyotas “Stuck Behind” LMP2s Lap After Lap
The extreme slowdown has placed an effect in the LMP2 class, with the Toyotas struggling to overtake the Gibson-engined prototypes, which have so far produced similar lap times.
“It is tough,” said Jackie Chan DC Racing’s Ho-Pin Tung. “We’ve already noticed it in FP1. Especially the Toyotas, they seem to really struggle to pass us.
“If a Toyota is behind us, you can clearly feel they are fast in some sections. But because of the fuel cut they have they struggle to use the boost to pass.
“We had situations where they were just stuck behind us three or four laps.
“We were not blocking them at all; It’s not that we’re trying to keep them behind us, it’s just as it is.
“We’re trying not to sacrifice our own pace too much as well.
“Everyone is racing for their own class in the end. It’s a different challenge.”
Despite having similar lap times, Tung doesn’t believe an opportunity to fight for the overall win will present itself on Sunday unless it turns into a race of attrition.
“It’s totally something that’s not on our minds,” he said. “It’s a scenario that could happen but it will only happen if the P1s run into trouble and we have a clean race.
“We’ve been in that position before, two years ago at Le Mans.
“I think of all the races this year this is probably the biggest likelihood for it to happen. But we’re really purely fighting for our own championship.”