Sebastien Buemi says he expects the 6 Hours of Bahrain to be “more difficult” than the eight-hour season finale held at the same circuit next week due to the race’s time of day and level of tire degradation they could face.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver and fellow FIA World Endurance Championship competitors are entering the first-ever double-header event, with Bahrain International Circuit hosting back-to-back races on consecutive weekends for the first time.
It presents a unique challenge in Saturday’s six-hour contest, which will be held in full daylight conditions for the first time, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with next weekend’s season finale running mostly under the lights and ending at 10 p.m. local time.
Buemi, who along with co-drivers Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima finished runner-up in last year’s 8 Hours of Bahrain, believes the daytime heat will affect their Toyota GR010 Hybrid Le Mans Hypercar the most.
“Since we are in the Hypercar we struggle a bit more with the tire deg than we did with [the] LMP1 [car],” Beumi told Sportscar365.
“Obviously it’s still the first year so some of the stuff is more difficult.
“I suppose it will be a bit more difficult for us. It’s the first race, so there will be potentially a little less rubber on the track than you would expect in the second race.
“When it gets dark the temperature goes down quite a bit. If you overheat the tires like we will do, then it’s a bit easier when it cools down.
“I expect the first race to more difficult.
“We have quite a lot of experience here. But still it might be a challenge.”
Co-driver Hartley said tire management will be the “big question” of the weekend.
“It’s going to be hot,” said the Kiwi. “The first six hour [race] being all in daylight and in the heat of the day might factor in tire wear and tire temperature.
“We are expecting to be overheating the tires and struggling on the second stints. I think that might come into play.
“We’re limited on tires for the six-hour race.
“We haven’t driven here yet. Some of these questions will be answered later on in Free Practice when we see how the degradation is.”
GTE-Pro championship leader James Calado agrees with the Toyota drivers in that the heat — with temperatures in excess of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) — will likely play a factor this weekend.
“We’re here in hot temperatures,” said Calado. “It’s hotter than I’ve experienced in the last five years here in WEC. It could change things a little bit.”
Calado, however, doesn’t feel the eight-hour will present additional challenges.
“It’s just two hours more,” he said. “It’s not chalk and cheese difference.
“It doesn’t really change anything. We’ve got all the same fuel, the same setups and tires and everything.
“At the end of the day it’s just different conditions because the second race is in the night. It makes things a little easier for the drivers physically.”
Inter Europol Competition’s Renger van der Zande, whose co-drivers Alex Brundle and Kuba Smiechowski sit fifth in a tightly contested LMP2 title race, is taking it almost as a single event held over two races.
“I think it’s key to be focused on the 63 points that are up for grabs which is over two races,” van der Zande told Sportscar365.
“At the end of the day, it’s like a big chunk of the championship to be gained here.
“That’s how we’re approaching it. If it’s a six-hour race or an eight-hour race, it doesn’t really matter. There’s points that you go for.
“The only strategy you look at how to not wear out the drivers in the heat of Bahrain and maximize the speed that we have between the three drivers.
“We don’t know yet. We’re going to see in practice and we’ll learn a lot this week about how hot it really is going to be and how much we’re going to be worn out and how to maximize it for an eight-hour race.
“The difference is not any different than going into any other six-hour race but in practice we’ll learn a lot how to approach it.”
The Dutchman added: “I think physically we’re all fit enough to do this. But the tire wear is going to be huge. And I think the tire wear and the heat, some drivers can cope better with that than others.
“If you have a tire whisperer in the team as a co-driver, you’ll stick him in at the heat of the day.”